Philadelphia — The future spread in front of Quin Snyder like a sprawling, conquerable plain. At 32 he was a prodigy. College basketball’s next big thing. Telegenic, charismatic, he was a natural.
He was a tireless worker, with a Duke pedigree, and hiring him to his first head-coaching job at Missouri, passing on Bill Self and John Calipari, seemed like a bold and brilliant move.
Snyder was smart and slick in a good way. He had a law degree, an MBA. He knew how to work a room.
And Snyder wore his passion on his sweats. He believed in basketball. He was most comfortable in the gym. He loved coaching. He loved counseling. He loved winning. And, on some level, he even enjoyed the agony of defeat.
Snyder was the can’t-miss kid. In 1999, he succeeded Mizzou’s favorite son, Norm Stewart, and became the coach in the fishbowl in Missouri.
Then for the next seven years he tried to do the impossible. He tried to be everything to everybody.
“I realize that I’ve led a very public life,” Snyder, who has become a member of new Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins’ staff, said this week as he prepared to coach the Sixers in the Orlando Summer League. “But it’s not something that I’ve ever really wanted.
“I realize it’s part of the profession, but it’s not something that’s to my liking. There’s no question that I didn’t want to put my life on display.”
For Snyder, Missouri was seven years of severe turbulence. No matter what he did, he couldn’t replace Stewart in the eyes of the boosters. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t avoid the spotlight.
The former Mercer Island, Wash., star took his first four Missouri teams to the NCAA Tournament. He went to the Elite Eight in 2002, but eventually things spiraled out of control. And his fall from grace was precipitous.
He made poor decisions. His program came under NCAA scrutiny. He was named in 17 NCAA allegations between 1999 and 2004. The program was imploding and so was Snyder.
Finally during a six-game losing streak in 2006, Snyder was fired. The university said he resigned, but Snyder says, “There is no doubt I was fired. I don’t even like the idea of resigning. It’s like quitting. I always remind myself that I got fired. It’s very freeing.”
At the same time, Snyder went through a very public divorce and slid slowly into depression. He was tabloid and blog fodder, and all he wanted to do was disappear.
He had to escape the spotlight, the appearances on SportsCenter and Big Monday, the sold-out crowds and the hot house hoops and rediscover what was important in his life.
After he was fired from Missouri he had to get as far away from basketball as he could.
So he spent some 16 months practically underground, out of touch, out of sight, out of mind. He lived with Collins for a while. He spent time in Costa Rica. He lived in North Carolina.
“I didn’t like where I was, but I also didn’t feel some sort of desire to repent,” he said. “You go from being very successful and, in a very fundamental way, from being very good, to being bad, and you feel like it’s all gone.
“Now, not only have you failed in your profession at some level, but you’re also a bad person. You know it’s not true. You know it’s bull, but it’s a very real thing.”
Snyder seriously considered getting out of basketball. Friends counseled him to use his law degree, he said, to “get off the hoop horse.”
But, as he planned his future, Snyder kept coming back to basketball. He didn’t miss the attention, but he still wanted the gym, still loved the culture of coaching.
“I decided, you know what, I like my horse. I don’t want to get a different horse. I’ve got a good horse,” he said. “But there was no question I didn’t want to put my life on public display again.”
Snyder wanted the gym without the boosters. He wanted hoops without hoopla.
He wanted to coach, without all of the political, social and diplomatic obligations that are part of coaching in big-time college hoops.
“I had to decide how and where I wanted to coach,” Snyder said. “More than anything I went back to something I could do, something I was pretty good at and found a level of comfort and security.”
Three years ago, he resurfaced in basketball’s backwater, the NBA’s D-League, coaching the Austin Toros. He took the eight-hour bus rides. He coached in empty arenas in places like Bakersfield and Bismarck.
In his three years there, the Toros won more games than any D-League team. And Snyder sent more players to the NBA than any other coach.
“I had more control over my life,” Snyder said of his time in Austin. “No one knows what I did there. No one cares that we won more games than anybody else. But I don’t care that no one knows it. For me, it’s something to hold on to.”
In front of tiny home crowds, practicing in a recreation center, far from the buzz of the game, Snyder, 44, rediscovered his basketball bliss in Austin.
“It was a gradual thing. It was organic,” he said. “You’re off the radar. People don’t see your name or your face. And I think that separation provided more clarity for me. Now I have a lot more control over my life with what I’m doing now. And I feel more at peace with what I’m doing now.”
He says he is Collins’ fourth assistant, still in the game, but still out of the public glare. It is part of his slow re-emergence.
“The biggest thing for me now,” he said, “is to be around people who know me and I trust and I enjoy being around. People use the word redemption, but I just went back to what I know.
“I thought about what I wanted in life, and it turns out I wanted the same thing I had before. To a certain degree I think I realize how day-to-day my life is. But I love what I’m doing. I love my wife. I love my son and I’m with a group of people now who are my friends and who I know are real.”
The future is spread in front of him again. But now Snyder appears more prepared, more anchored, ready for this new challenge in Philadelphia.