Study the recruitment of Kansas University offensive coordinator Chuck Long as a quarterback from Wheaton North High in Illinois for a hint at why Hayden Fry and Bill Snyder became such fruitful coaching trees.
Long played in a running program in high school and did not receive his first recruiting call until Thanksgiving Day of his senior year. Iowa, Northwestern and Northern Illinois, then a Division I-AA school, were the only schools that recruited him. He developed into the best quarterback in the nation, a Heisman Trophy runner-up to Bo Jackson.
Fry was the head coach, Bill Snyder the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for Iowa then.
The retired Fry and the out-of-retirement Snyder shared a gift — the ability to evaluate high school talent and accurately project how it translates to college — that ranks as the most underrated qualification for a successful college football coach.
After identifying Long as worthy of a scholarship, the rest fell into place for the Hawkeyes.
“The place was great, but it’s the people you’re attracted to,” said Long, whose recruitment to Iowa was started by Snyder and closed by Fry. “They just had great salesmanship. They were coming off 20 non-winning seasons in a row, but it didn’t feel like it when you met them.”
Snyder’s not a fast-talking salesman, but when a coach believes in the potential of a recruit, that resonates with the recruit.
“He’s really good behind closed doors,” Long said of Snyder. “He doesn’t get excited in his voice when he talks to you, even when he’s recruiting. But it was really the combination of him and Hayden Fry.”
Snyder was Long’s position coach at Iowa and, in title, was Fry’s offensive coordinator, though Fry called the plays, Long said.
In addition to Snyder, such big-name coaches as Barry Alvarez (formerly of Wisconsin), Bret Bielema (Wisconsin), Kirk Ferentz (Iowa), Jim Leavitt (formerly of South Florida), Long, Dan McCarney (North Texas), Bo Pelini (Nebraska), Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) and Mike Stoops (formerly of Arizona) all worked for Fry. Two of the biggest turnarounds in college football history were authored by Fry and Snyder, who is in his second revival act at K-State.
“It was a magical staff,” Long said. “You just knew going in there, even before the winning started, that something was going to happen. I think it all stems from (how) Hayden knows people. And he would hire the best chemistry staff, rather than just get the best X’s and O’s staff. As a collective unit, they were very powerful because you felt the chemistry and the closeness they had.”
The same goes for Snyder’s staffs, Long said.
“The Bill Snyder/Hayden Fry combination has been a powerful influence on me,” he said. “Those were my mentors at a very impressionable age, as a college kid.”
He shared what he stole from Snyder, to whom, he said, he has drawn close through the years.
“He’s very even-keeled,” Long said. “He didn’t raise his voice much. He talked to you more from an educational standpoint. He’s not a yeller or screamer.”
Snyder proves low-key can work, as long as the right talent judgments are made in recruiting.