Many criticized Kansas State for lacking imagination when it reached into its past, dusted off its Hall of Fame football coach and announced he would replace the ousted Ron Prince.
In reality, the re-hiring of Bill Snyder to coach in the stadium named after him counts as bold and imaginative. The athletic directors’ hiring manual dictates a young coach, often an assistant from a national powerhouse, must be hired so he can smile into the cameras, babble platitudes and promise the moon.
You don’t hire someone with white hair to coach teenagers. You hire him to give speeches and to reach into rich guys’ wallets. You bring him onto the field, present him with a citizenship award and let him wave to the worshipping masses.
Snyder was 69 when the Wildcats gave him back the job he regretted surrendering within weeks.
He turns 72 on Friday. His team is 4-0 with victories against Miami and Baylor the past two weeks because Snyder has made a series of smart decisions. Same old Snyder, just older.
More than sound clock management makes K-State such a tough fourth-quarter team. Don’t minimize Snyder’s hiring of strength and conditioning coach Chris Dawson after his steadfast loyalty to Mark Mangino made him the first of the firings from Mangino’s Kansas University staff, well before Turner Gill’s hiring. Funny how athletes trained by Dawson don’t grow tired when foes fade.
The sound judgment and quick decision-making used for that hire are the same traits that enable Snyder to get so much out of so little during games. Just one player on K-State’s roster made the All-Big 12 preseason team, and he already has left the Wildcats, at least temporarily. Running back Bryce Brown, ranked as the nation’s No. 1 recruit when he signed with Tennessee out of Wichita, carried the ball three times for 16 yards all season. He left the team Sunday.
Even if the ’Cats’ No. 20 national ranking doesn’t last much longer, Snyder’s quick start ought to change the way administrators view coaching searches. They need to look deeper into the sport’s past and coax energetic, sharp minds out of retirement. Hall of Fame coach Terry Donahue, whose performance in 20 years (1976-1995) at UCLA qualifies him as the most underrated coach of the 20th century, comes to mind.
Donahue won bowl games in seven consecutive seasons, finishing in the top 14 in the nation each time. He had a winning record against USC and had 14 players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. A great teacher of the game because of his communication skills and knowledge, Donahue brought extreme intensity to practices and games and classy polish in interacting with the public. He enjoys working in the broadcast booth, but some school ought to be smart enough to unload a few Brinks trucks onto his driveway and see if he bites.
Donahue’s 67, a year younger than Joe Paterno when his Penn State team went 12-0 and finished second in the nation, and three years younger than when Bobby Bowden’s Florida State squad won the national title.
In coaching, old is the new young.