This is the first in a three-part series on former K-State football coach Bill Snyder. This story focuses on that part of his life from childhood through college and his early years of teaching.
By Dewey Terrill
Former K-State football coach Bill Snyder credits educators with having a big impact on his life. It was a message during an address to an audience of the Kansas Association of Retired School Personnel in Junction City on Thursday. “The people who have had the greatest impact on my life are people like you, people who sat with me in the classrooms, people who guided me, people who gave me direction , people who have redirected me in so many, many ways.”
Snyder told the story of his childhood. “My mom worked at a department store in downtown St. Joseph, MO..” He added that she worked 12-hour days, six days a week and didn’t make a lot of money. They lived in a one-room apartment, her mother had never driven a car in her life, and she had to walk to work. At night, he slept on a Murphy bed and his mother on a cot. “But I thought we were rich because of my mom and everything she did for me.”
Snyder attended the University of Missouri where he struggled and after one semester returned to St. Joseph where he attended community college with no plans to continue his college education beyond that level until until William Jewell College football coach and athletic director, Dr. Norris Patterson, came to see him. Snyder decided to attend school and between the jobs that were provided and a need-based scholarship, he worked his way through college. “I didn’t want my mum to have to pay anything, so I made sure I had enough jobs to pay for what scholarships didn’t pay and I was able to do just that.” He worked his way through college and entered teaching at Gallatin High School in the small town of Gallatin, MO.
Snyder told a humorous story that had his audience laughing out loud about how he was forced to take a foreign language and enrolled in an unfamiliar language, Spanish. He took the two necessary courses. “And I thought I’d take one more and it would give me a minor, and I’d have a minor in something.” Big mistake in my life! When he arrived at Gallatin, he was informed by the principal that he would be teaching four classes of Spanish. “I don’t know if it was fortunately or unfortunately such a small school, the largest class was seven students and the smallest four.” Snyder recounted how he stayed up late every night just to prepare for the next day’s lesson. “I had a head start, that’s all, period!
Later, Snyder would become a teacher and assistant football coach at Indio High School in Indio, California. On the first day, he learned his teaching responsibilities, including physical education and, unexpectedly, for a semester…Spanish!
After serving as a graduate assistant in the USC football program, he returned to Indio High School for three years as head football coach. He then moved to Foothill High School in Santa Anna, California, with plans to become an assistant football coach and physical education teacher. While laughing, explained that on the first day, the principal informed him that a teacher had left. “And we would love for you…you guessed it right? So for one lesson a day I’m back in class with the Spanish students. I thought I’d never make it, I have to get into university coaching where this does not take place.”
But one point was clear in his remarks. Although he might have forgotten the names of some acquaintances over the years, he could clearly remember the names of his teachers. “I can recall them so quickly and imagine the images because of the impact they had.”
Snyder went on to coach at Austin College, North Texas State, the University of Iowa, and finally Kansas State University, where he undertook the enormous work of trying to grow the Wildcat football program.