Vahe Gregorian

Vahe Gregorian: After long fall from Mizzou, Quin Snyder reinvents himself the hard way

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder signaled from the sidelines Game 2 his team’s second-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, May 4, 2017, in Oakland, Calif.
Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder signaled from the sidelines Game 2 his team’s second-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, May 4, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. AP

As then-Kansas coach Larry Brown thinks he remembers it, anyway, Quin Snyder should have been a Jayhawk if not for some odd dustup among KU players during Snyder’s mid-1980s recruiting visit from Mercer Island, Wash.

“That might have sealed the deal for Duke,” Brown said Friday — albeit with a laugh allowing for the possibility his memory was helping him make an excuse.

But being rejected by Snyder didn’t make Brown reciprocate.

That meant dinner with Snyder and Billy King (who’d also chosen Duke over Kansas) after Kansas beat the Blue Devils in the 1988 national semifinal at Kemper Arena in Kansas City.

It meant Snyder joining Brown as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers.

It even meant maintaining a paternal feeling towards him after Snyder and Brown’s daughter, Kristy, married and divorced.

“I just felt a connection to him,” Brown said of Snyder.

“Amazing charisma” and “this aura about him” were Mike Krzyzewski’s first perceptions of Snyder, he said in response to emailed questions by The Star earlier this week.

Such has been and remains the magnetic power of Quin Snyder, a force that actually might leave you feeling “Must … Obey … Quin” upon meeting him.

That power of persuasion — and his considerable will and intelligence — has helped Snyder reinvent himself since his chaotic days at the University of Missouri left him at a career crossroads.

His first instinct was never to coach again, period.

So the odyssey from there to coaching the Utah Jazz in the NBA playoffs is “a pretty serious discussion,” Snyder said recently, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. “If you would write about that, you could write a book.”

Clippers Jazz Basketball(2)
Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder arrived for Game 6 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, April 28, 2017, in Salt Lake City. Rick Bowmer AP

If it were up to us, the first chapter would be about how Snyder largely disappeared from public view for months, including time reportedly idling in Costa Rica or convalescing through yoga … with perhaps some other mystical aspects to it.

Then it would delve into what was happening inside: After separate interviews with Snyder, the Seattle Times and Sports On Earth reported he battled depression.

Whether they meant that in the clinical sense or not, Snyder clearly was in distress for one of the first times in a life where everything always seemed to have come so easily for him.

Missouri athletic director Mike Alden, middle, introduced Quin Snyder, 32, as the Tigers' new head basketball coach during a press conference Wednesday morning in Columbia. Rich Sugg

He had had it all: becoming head coach at Mizzou at age 32, matinee idol looks with Duke undergraduate degrees in philosophy and political science and an MBA and law degree from the school.

Then … he’d been fired by MU amid numerous NCAA issues and the Ricky Clemons affair and losing his way.

At least unlike most in the profession, Brown joked, Snyder could have done a lot of other things.

But basketball maintained its allure — just not at the collegiate level.

So he’d have to start over with no assurance of what was to come.

“I think (Missouri) affected him … (and) got him down emotionally, but he didn’t let it stop him,” said Jay Bilas, the ESPN analyst and close friend of Snyder’s since their days as Duke teammates.

Once Snyder decided to stay with the game, his fascinating journey since included a humbling stop in the NBA Developmental League and coaching in Moscow on his way to helping revive the Jazz and coax them into the NBA Western Conference semifinals.

“When he’s in, he’s all in,” Bilas said, adding with a laugh, “Guys who don’t want it don’t pick up and go to Moscow to coach.”

Added Brown: “I don’t think he’s looked back; he’s only looked ahead.”

Now all of this looks a lot like redemption, especially if you knew how frazzled Snyder was at Mizzou — even if those who know him well scoff at the notion he needed that.

From Krzyzweski’s perspective, even “resurgence” is too strong a word.

“I believe … that he was destined to be a pro coach,” he said, adding, “He has his PhD now in basketball.”

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski reacts during the game against Michigan State as assistant coach Quin Snyder watches the action in the NCAA Final Four semifinal game on Saturday, March 27, 1999, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. Duke beat Michigan State 68-62. ED REINKE Associated Press

Indeed, Snyder’s capacity to grow and absorb and learn should be no surprise.

Bilas, a practicing attorney himself, says Snyder “thinks on a higher plane than most people” and even remembers Snyder being the first person he knew to have one of those newfangled “desktop computers.”

Combined with his wit and glamorous looks, it made for an irresistible charm.

“He was George Clooney before I knew who George Clooney was,” Bilas said. “Everybody wanted to be around Quin.”

Enough so that where he led, others were bound to follow.

On the court, where he was a guard on three Final Four teams, and off the court.

In a scene that reminded Bilas of the movie “Breaking Away,” he recalled being part of a group at a quarry near Durham, N.C.

As others hesitated to jump in the water, unsure of its depth and how safe it would be, Snyder suddenly just leapt in.

“We followed him,” Bilas said, laughing, “but we thought about it.”

Snyder had pretty much known that feeling all his life until he arrived at MU. He feared little, if anything, and he knew he could make others believe in him and didn’t really know what failure looked or felt like.

While he enjoyed a big splash and some fine moments at MU, which chose him over Tulsa’s Bill Self to replace Norm Stewart in 1999, his regime ultimately was marked by mayhem.

Before he even conducted his first practice at Mizzou, Snyder and his staff broke well-known NCAA rules by flying in families of recruits on a private plane.

MU barely was penalized for the brazen violation, emboldening Snyder as he took the Tigers to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and an Elite Eight run in 2002.

But it all caught up with him in the form of Clemons, whom many in college basketball avoided recruiting knowing he had been involved in a domestic violence case in junior college.

Months after enrolling at Mizzou, Clemons was arrested and charged with second-degree domestic assault.

He later pleaded guilty to domestic abuse and false imprisonment and was sentenced to 60 days in a halfway house.

Which, of course, is when the story became surreal: the jailhouse tape recordings of Clemons’ bizarre conversations with Carmento Floyd, the wife of then-university system president Elson Floyd (along with Amy Stewart, the wife of then-MU athletics administrator Ed Stewart) … and Clemons’ ATV accident at Floyd’s house … and just stuff you couldn’t make up.

Clemons, who also was involved in academic fraud, one way or another represented what the NCAA meant when it slapped Snyder with failure to adequately monitor the program as part of a three-year probation ruling against MU in 2004.

MU went 16-17 the next year, and Snyder was fired with a 10-11 record in the middle of the 2005-06 season.

The toll was evident on Snyder, who had been transformed from a radiant persona to gaunt and haggard and clearly troubled by the end.

Former head basketball coach Quin Snyder discussed his thoughts on his dismissal from and the outlook for the University of Missouri basketball program at a Holiday Inn Select on Tuesday, February 14, 2006, in Columbia, Missouri. Shane Keyser

As he reflects on that time, Krzyzewski still insists Snyder “built a good program there” and suggested what had gone awry was less on him than his staff.

“In our game, sometimes and assistant or people working for you can do something that then as a leader you’re responsible for,” he said.

Bilas will tell you Snyder has always had a high level of integrity, that he is “pure of heart in everything that he does” and correctly notes that there is always more to the story when it comes to NCAA investigative stigmas.

No matter how you look at it, Snyder faced a reckoning with himself.

“Any time you change jobs, you’ve always got to re-evaluate where you are,” said Brown, the career nomad who should know that better than most.

In Snyder’s case, his reassessment landed him with the Austin Toros of the NBA D-League.

Snyder went from the public eye in Columbia to virtually anonymity in Austin, where he was making not millions but $75,000 a year and sometimes relegated to long bus rides and maybe having to make use of paper towels instead of real towels and occasionally having to hurry through practice so the homeless could shower in the gym.

This was coaching at its essence, though, something Snyder needed in and of itself, something that reinvigorated him over his highly successful three years there.

Next thing you know, he’s in player development for the Philadelphia 76ers, then an assistant with the Lakers.

Then he’s coaching in Moscow before returning as assistant head coach with the Atlanta Hawks and taking over the Jazz in 2014.

Funny thing about that: Snyder was hired by general manager Dennis Lindsey, for whom he’d worked when he was with the Toros, just coaching for the love of the game again.

“How you handle disappointment really is something critical,” Brown said. “Things happen for a reason in this game.”

So the Jazz trail Golden State 2-0 in their series as of Thursday night, and it’s hard to picture Utah coming out on top of this.

But that won’t take away from how Snyder, now 50, has made his way.

“With his preparation and intensity, you can feel that when you play them,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers, a friend of Snyder’s, said during the first round of the playoffs. “That’s from Quin. He also just runs great stuff. He understands who their team is.”

And perhaps who he is in an entirely new way since seeming so lost at the end in Columbia.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian