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June 4, 2009

Wildcats optimistic again with Snyder's return

Looking to build its program back to the conference championship contender level it was at earlier in the decade, Kansas State ended up going back to the man that got it there in the first place.

With the return of legendary head coach Bill Snyder, the Wildcats have a renewed sense of optimism heading into the upcoming season. If anyone can rebuild KSU back to national respectability, it would have to be Snyder.

The problem, however, is that the Wildcats aren't exactly built for an immediate rebound. The biggest issue of the offseason, along with the obvious introductions of new coaching philosophies on both sides of the ball, is finding a replacement for quarterback Josh Freeman, who was first-round NFL draft pick in April.

To get a feel for how the rebuilding process is going down in Manhattan, Kan., Huskeronline.com chatted with KSU beat writer Jeffery Martin of the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle to get his take on how the first spring practice of Snyder's second term went for the Wildcats.

What was the overall feeling following spring practice with Snyder's return?

"(Snyder) talked a lot about how the team had a long way to go, which they should because there's a lot of work to be done. But at the same time, I think they ended the spring with a pretty good feeling. I think it went smooth enough. Bill said he had to get kind of re-acclimated back into the swing of things, and I think the players had to adjust to what he wants. I know camp was much more rugged and demanding than what they were used to under Ron Prince, but I think they kind of dug it."

There's obviously got to be quite a bit of excitement from the KSU fan base about having a guy with Snyder's reputation come back to rebuild what he started?

"No doubt. The thing we kept hearing was, 'Well, his record speaks for itself.' He won almost 140 games. I think that's the deal, people are just kind of like if anybody can get this thing turned around it's the guy who built it in the first place. There's a bit of that, but I also think that's a little overblown. I think that's what Bill's kind of cautioning against. He's saying, hey, he's only one guy and there's a whole lot of progress he needs to make. That said, there was a lot of fundamental coaching mistakes this team made the past year or two years, and just by better coaching I think they're going to get rid of a lot of those problems. I think the real feeling is guarded optimism going on. I think they feel it's possible. I'm not saying they're going to turn around and win eight or nine games (this year), but I do think they feel they can be better."

Did the team make any headway in finding a replacement for Freeman?

"The guy who was the leader from the start was Carson Coffman. He's a junior and was one of Josh Freeman's pretty good friends and sat behind him last year. He doesn't look the part like Josh did, but he's a kid with pretty good command and a pretty good arm. Let's be clear: he's not going to throw for 3,000 yards like Josh did. I'd be shocked if he even threw for 2,000. I don't think that's what they're going to do. I think it's going to be more run based. I think they'll always run the ball. The offense is going to be one of those things where they don't want to hurt the defense and special teams. I think it's just going to be ball control and not taking a whole bunch of risks and playing it close to the vest and just scoring enough points. I think that's the plan right now, but we'll see if the defense is up to that challenge."

How about the other side of the ball? Last year the Wildcats were downright ugly on defense, ranking 117th nationally in total defense. Things looking any better for the defense?

"They brought in two defensive coordinators, Chris Cosh, who was at Maryland and they were like 24th in the country, and Vic Koenning, who was at Clemson and they were top 20. They might have had better athletes, but at the same time it's the principles and fundamentals they're teaching. That's the biggest thing that we've heard from the players. They're just like, wow, I'm in position. I know what I'm doing. They're going to shift to a 4-2-5, which a lot of teams are probably messing with because of the spread and it just makes more sense in the Big 12. I don't know if they're going to use it full time, but the first team defense used it exclusively in the spring game, which I thought was interesting. But overall, it's from the instruction aspect, I think they're going to be better off this year. They weren't that bad last year. Obviously stats don't lie, but at the same time, to think that only two or three teams were worse from them is a little far fetched. I feel like they can only get from last year. I do think the coaching is going to make a huge difference."

Are you as optimistic as some K-State fans that Snyder can get the Wildcats back to where he had them a few years ago and competing for conference championships?

"I'll say this: I think the schedule sets up pretty favorably. The non-con schedule is pretty favorable. They've got home games against Mizzou, and I think Gary Pinkel has never beaten Bill Snyder. They've got a home game against KU. I don't know. I think if you take care of some business at home in conference, steal one on the road somewhere and take care of your non-conference, you get to seven wins right there. Do I think that's going to happen? No, I don't. I don't think there's enough talent there, especially on offense, to make that muck of a difference. But I do think they're going to be a lot better than people think. I think they've got some pieces in place.

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