Sean Snyder had just taken a walk along the coast, wearing a T-shirt and shorts. It was mid-January. He swears he wasn’t rubbing it in.
But in his first full winter in Los Angeles, half a country away from Kansas, he’s enjoying some of those perks. That and being able to walk around without anyone really knowing who he is.
That was not the case for the past three decades, as an All-America punter and then eventually the associate head coach for Kansas State’s football program, which morphed in that time from a doormat to a national power. There’s also the fact that his dad, Bill Snyder, was the guy in charge of all that.
“The anonymity is a nice thing,” he said with a chuckle in a phone interview with The Mercury this week. “I’m getting adjusted to the number of people, but that’s OK.”
Snyder, 51, is in charge of special teams at the University of Southern California. He took that job last February, leaving K-State for the first time since his playing days in the early 1990s. He ran special teams under his father, then was relegated to an off-the-field administrative position for a year when Chris Klieman took over the program. He always said he wanted to get back to hands-on coaching, and consistently has said he eventually wants to be a head coach.
He had a good year. USC ended up 5-2 in an abbreviated pandemic season, making it to the Pac-12 championship game, where it lost to Oregon.
By one measure, his efforts produced the best result in all of Division I football: In terms of net field position produced, USC’s special teams topped the nation. That means the combination of the net yards created by the punt team, the kickoff team, the punt coverage unit and the kickoff coverage unit was better than any other outfit in the country. For reference, Kansas State was in the middle of the pack nationally in that stat; KU was second-from-last.
“It turned out pretty good,” Snyder said. “This is a group of players who want to win, and as they picked up my coaching style and the schemes, things started to move really well.”
Snyder said the toughest part was trying to put in his systems while hamstrung by coronavirus restrictions.
“The first order of business was to get to know the players, and that was the hardest part, because everything was through Zoom,” he said. “Once we got around them in the weight room and then the field, and there were things they could see, then things started to move good.”
The Pac-12 initially announced that it would not play football at all in 2020, then reversed course. That meant the entire program was “really up and down,” Snyder said. “I commend the players for staying with it. One minute we’re playing, then we’re not playing, then it’s pushed back. To go through the roller coaster, the excitement and frustration ... players did a great job of staying on task and prepping for the unknown.”
His dad was very hands-on with every aspect of the program, “as everybody knows.” USC head coach Clay Helton gives coordinators more leeway, Sean said.
But Helton’s expectations for players and coaches is similar to Bill Snyder’s, and the overall direction of the program fit very well with his past experience.
And Helton understands the importance of special teams and puts as much emphasis on them as anyone, Sean said.
“I didn’t have to come in here and make a sales pitch,” Sean said. “Everybody’s all-in on all three phases,” referring to offense, defense and special teams.
The other contrast?
“Obviously the big difference is in recruiting,” Sean said. “LA is a lot easier to recruit to than Manhattan.”
Sean and his wife Wanda returned to Manhattan earlier this month, in the typical break period for college coaches. He said they had a good time visiting friends and family; they kept their house here.
In California, they live in Rancho Palos Verdes, about a 20-minute drive from work. That’s longer than it took to make it from the west side of town to the stadium named for his family, but he said the traffic is not nearly as bad as people told him it would be.
“It’s been good,” Sean said of the entire transition. “I really enjoy the staff here. Coach Helton has been awesome to work for, there are good people here, and the players have been great. Everything has been pretty smooth.”