Both coaches started at their current jobs with designs on rebuilding programs. The coaches will be in the same position again Saturday, except this time there is no rebuilding to do, only a championship on the line.
Missouri travels to No. 19 Kansas State with the Big 12 Conference North Division title and bowl positioning on the line.
The Tigers are 7-3, 3-3 in the Big 12, and the Wildcats are 9-3, 5-2.
Snyder steps up
As a coach looking to move up in the ranks in college football, Snyder left his job as offensive coordinator at Iowa to take over a Kansas State program that was one of the nation’s worst before the 1989 season.
The Wildcats were on a 27-game losing streak and had two winning seasons in the previous 32 years before Snyder’s arrival.
Fast-forward 13 years and Kansas State fans can buy a video called “A Decade of Dominance,” about the rise of the football program under Snyder. Snyder has a 125-54-1 record in his time in Manhattan.
Along the way, Snyder’s teams have been to nine consecutive bowl games, including a win against Syracuse in the Fiesta Bowl in 1997.
Snyder said there were myriad reasons for his program’s pointed turnaround, but it starts with a couple of things.
“It’s a thing of values,” Snyder said. “Having people that really, genuinely wanted to be a part of something very positive happening is extremely important. The intrinsic values like responsibility, accountability and discipline are so important.”
Pinkel makes progress
Although the Missouri program Pinkel inherited wasn’t quite in the dire straits of the Wildcats, the Tigers had many problems.
Pinkel’s arrival from Toledo on Nov. 30, 2000, brought renewed hope to Missouri fans, who were enjoying bowl trips only two years before.
Pinkel knew it was going to take some time to rebuild. Snyder suffered through a 1-10 debut season in Manhattan. He followed that with a 5-6 season before making the leap to 7-4 and setting the Wildcats on the path to success.
Pinkel said he looked at the job Snyder did as an example of how to turn around a program.
“I look at any successes anyone’s had,” Pinkel said. “I looked at his ingredients for doing the things he does from the standpoint of scheduling, trying to examine how they recruit.”
Pinkel’s observations seem to be paying dividends this season after the Tigers struggled in his first two seasons at MU. The Tigers were 4-7 in his first year and 5-7 in 2002.
Like Snyder’s Wildcats, Missouri has turned it around in Pinkel’s third year.
A winning team
Snyder built Kansas State using a variety of tactics to build confidence and winning seasons. Trademarks of the Snyder era, such as recruiting junior college talent as quick fixes and scheduling nonconference games against smaller schools, gave Snyder the momentum he needed to make the Wildcats contenders.
Pinkel said the job Snyder has done is impressive.
“It’s very interesting the things coach did there, just a remarkable rebuilding job,” Pinkel said. “I tried to analyze many of those things to see that if I was ever in that situation that I could apply some of those principles to what we do.”
Pinkel has applied some of the lessons from Snyder’s rebuilding job to what he is doing at Missouri. Although he hasn’t recruited the number of players from the junior college ranks that Snyder has, Pinkel has found a few strong players to solidify positions of weakness.
Moving up the ranks
Missouri’s scheduling practices have not been as easy to recognize as Snyder’s were. Aside from Illinois, MU has not played many teams from any of the Bowl Championship Series conferences. It has played some of the best mid-major teams, such as Bowling Green, though.
Snyder said he could see the momentum Pinkel’s teams are gaining.
“From what I hear and what I’ve seen, the results would indicate he has moved that football program in the appropriate direction,” Snyder said. “I have a great appreciation for what seems to be a tremendous amount of discipline in the development of that program.”
Time will tell whether the Tigers can achieve the level of success that Kansas State has had over the past 10 years, but receiver Darius Outlaw said a win Saturday could go a long way in speeding up Missouri’s progress.
“Those guys compete for championships every year, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” Outlaw said. “We are trying to start a blueprint of our own and I think coach Pinkel is putting down the first layer of the floor.
“There is not a game that I can think of on the list that has importance like this one.”