MANHATTAN, Kan. – A year after disillusioned donors threatened to cut support for cash-strapped Kansas State following revelations of the outgoing administration's financial mismanagement, the Wildcats have set a record for cash contributions.
Bill Snyder may be the least surprised. The passion and loyalty of Kansas State fans is something he knows well heading into his 19th season as head football coach.
"That's why I'm sitting at this table today," Snyder said Friday at Kansas State's annual media day. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here. It's been about people. What makes them so special? I'm not sure I can answer the question."
Year after year, the Wildcats have to get by with one of the smallest budgets in the Big 12, a shoestring compared with wealthy titans such as Texas and Oklahoma, and even the well-heeled Kansas Jayhawks down the road.
But with $14.47 million donated in 2009-10, the Wildcats broke their old record by more than $4 million. The money does more than help keep the athletic department afloat. It also reminds everyone of the loyalty and family-like relationship K-Staters have with their teams, Snyder said. It's something players and coaches both sense.
"I think there's a genuine, sincere, caring loyalty they possess," Snyder said.
Snyder had retired after 17 successful seasons in which he earned former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer's vote for "coach of the century." But three years later when his successor was dismissed and the Wildcats were in trouble, he put the golf clubs and the fishing pole back in the closet and dusted off his playbook.
Now, following a 6-6 record last year, he's ready to embark on year No. 2 of tour No. 2, with a goal of rewarding Kansas State fans with a winner.
"For me, it goes back to when I first came here," he said. "That's why I came. That's why I stayed. That's why I came back. If it wasn't for the people of Kansas State, I wouldn't be back."
Improving on last year's record won't be automatic, but no one would count Snyder out. He'll go into the season with senior running back Daniel Thomas, who led the Big 12 last year with 1,265 yards rushing.
"Even though we didn't go to a bowl game last year, I think the leadership started to emerge in the locker room," Thomas said. "We're a better team than we were last year."
Thomas' year was even more remarkable because he played almost the entire season with a sore shoulder.
"I hurt it the last play of the first game," he said. "After that, it continued to get worse. It's 100 percent right now."
Exactly who'll be handing off to Thomas still is up in the air. Snyder said three candidates are close, including Carson Coffman, who was the starter at the outset of last season.
"I think the sky is the limit for us," Thomas said. "We have a lot of playmakers on offense so I think we can be as good as we want to be."