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Columnist Vahe Gregorian offers musings about the sports scene in and around Kansas City

Flunking out of Mizzou in 1958 helped make Bill Snyder who he is

08/07/2013 7:42 PM

08/07/2013 7:42 PM

As organized and persnickety as Bill Snyder came to be, it’s hard to fathom now how he flunked out of the University of Missouri as a freshman in 1958.

The best way to reconcile the contrast is that that episode was the impetus for how Snyder came to be, as he suggested himself on Monday.

And that transformative experience may even explain to some degree why he seems to work so hard to keep walls up around his program, one of, if not the, least media-accessible in major-college football.

While Snyder joked that his initial failure at MU was because his IQ was probably “single-digit” and acknowledged there had been some “goofing around,” he soon offered what he believes was the most telling reason:

Without a strong academic support system at the time, without “all those things that they have now,” he was “just lost.”

When Snyder, who has previously referred to himself as the “10th-string” quarterback on the freshman team, returned to his home in St. Joseph, he was heavy with guilt because of how his mother, a single parent who worked at a department store, had sacrificed for him.

That’s when then-William Jewell football coach Norris Patterson offered Snyder fresh hope in the form of financial aid if Snyder would “do right,” “take care of business” and perform in the classroom.

With that offer, which included a chance to play football again and work as a custodian at the athletic complex, Snyder was revived and wasn’t going to squander the opportunity.

“It just kind of put me back on my feet as much as anything. Dr. Patterson had an impact on my life,” said Snyder, who said his sense of debt to Patterson made him strive to be as good as he could be in the classroom and everywhere else.

As he reflected Monday on his stumble at MU, Snyder noted it had been “all a new world” to him.

And then he added, “Which it is to a lot of young people when they come here, and that’s why it’s so significant” to have so many programs “that surround our football program” to help initiate them and get them through school.

That’s why Snyder is so pleased about KSU’s West Stadium Expansion project, which reduces distractions and essentially brings together under one roof the entire football operation, including the training table and academic learning center.

“We’re self-contained now, so our guys are not back and forth and back and forth to campus,” he said. “They’re able to finish their classes, come here, have study tables here, meetings here, lift weights here, practice here, go to lunch here, dinner here (and go) back and do study table here.

“So it’s all self-contained. You think about the amount of time that young people spend (on being student-athletes). It’s monumental, and they don’t have much free time whatsoever

“My projection is that we’re saving them about an hour a day.”

(Never mind that that hour likely is just reinvested in football. Snyder is legendary about trying to save time, or at least maximizing it.

As he chatted casually on the field Monday after his news conference, he noted that he has no real hobbies but allowed that he likes golf. Still, he hasn’t played since he returned to coaching four years ago, he said, because it takes too much time.

Snyder’s solution?

“I always thought what they really ought to do is make that game kind of like basketball: maybe two 30-minute halves, go play and when time’s out, go home.”)

But back to the point at hand: the wall-to-wall support system for his players.

There are some potential issues with this, of course, because what he described further insulates them from real college life, puts them on a pedestal, arguably coddles them instead of simply helps them and could cynically be seen as just another way for him to exert control over the program.

Then again, all of this is part of how Snyder engineered the greatest turnaround in college football history.

And there’s no denying that he cares deeply about his players, that much is indeed asked of them and that his own experience always will make him think the more structure for them the better.

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