SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Poor Chip Kelly.
Here he is, preparing Oregon for Thursday night’s Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State, and all anybody can ask him about, all any Ducks fan seems to be truly interested in, is whether he’ll jump if an NFL team makes him an offer.
Black Monday claimed the jobs of seven NFL coaches. And Kelly is the hottest commodity in college football, a coach with one of the brightest offensive minds who, reports say, will interview with the Cleveland Browns on Friday.
If there’s one thing an NFL owner likes these days, it’s a coach with a brilliant offensive mind.
So, any day now, Kelly could be gone. And Oregon could be left in the lurch. And even though he refuses to talk about what might happen, Kelly cannot escape the speculation.
Now rewind 15 years, to when Kansas State’s Bill Snyder was the hottest thing going in the college coaching ranks. “Miracle in Manhattan I” was in full bloom and Snyder’s name was swirling in the rumor mill.
But nothing much ever came of those rumors because Snyder so eloquently but emphatically squelched them.
Interesting, then, to consider what Snyder had to say about coaching in the NFL on Wednesday during his final meeting with the media before Thursday night’s game.
“There were a number of those (NFL) opportunities that came about during my first tenure here,’’ Snyder said. “I responded to none of them, other than to say, ‘No, thank you.’ ’’
Snyder, 73, never even got to the flirting stage with an NFL franchise. He was faithful to Kansas State and faithful to the players he feels most comfortable coaching.
Would Snyder have made a good NFL coach? It’s difficult to imagine that he wouldn’t have, given his ability to connect with and motivate players.
But he has a system that seems best suited for college players. It’s difficult to know how his 16 goals for success would play among NFL types. Something tells me they might not be as receptive as the 18-, 19-, 20- and 21-year-olds who are feeling their way in the world.
And to Snyder’s credit, he has always understood his boundaries.
“My feeling is that (the NFL) is such a different environment,’’ he said. “You really don’t have the capacity to have the kind of impact that you would like to have on young people. And I always said, I’m not sure I want to work someplace where the people you’re supposed to have control over make more money than you do. That’s kind of the way the NFL is.’’
Snyder is about developing players physically, yes, but he’s most interested in helping them prepare for adult life. NFL players are already past college and well into adult lives.
When Snyder was out of coaching for three years, following his retirement in 2005, he immediately became involved in a Kansas Mentors, a program developed by former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to help the state’s youth. He is still the chairman of the board.
Sappy as it sounds, Snyder coaches in part to help make a difference in the lives of young people. Yes, he’s a tactical genius when it comes to football, and the ins and outs of the game have always ignited his passions.
But it’s the players and their journeys that interest him most. And that’s what has kept him around college football for all of these years.
“We’ve had a large number – whether I was at Iowa or here – a large number of guys go to the NFL,’’ Snyder said. “You get stories back from the players in the NFL and sometimes you wonder who really is in control.’’
Snyder likes control, and he has as much of it at K-State as any coach in the country.
It says something that K-State hasn’t changed its football uniform in Snyder’s time there, which began in 1988. It says something that Snyder has always gone about his business in the same way. It says something that he can get young people today to put on a coat and tie when they’re in public and that they seem happy to be dressed up.
As much as Snyder loves the Xs and Os of football, he loves the XOXOs just as much. His relationship with his players is tight and there is no shortage to the number of guys with limited football futures he has taken and molded into contributors and, in some cases, standouts.
So while Kelly is trying to deflect questions about his interest in coaching in the NFL, Snyder gets to talk solely about his team and about the game coming up against Oregon.
His name isn’t being mentioned for the openings in Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, Arizona or Buffalo. His NFL time has passed.
“I don’t think it’s a comfortable position,’’ he said when asked about how he might have fared in the league. “At least it wouldn’t be for me, because I would like to make sure I felt comfortable with, A, that I have an impact on the lives of young people and, B, that you have a fair degree of control over the program yourself.’’
A and B never added up to C (you later) for Snyder, who is where he belongs. No regrets, no looking back. It’s fitting that “commitment” is the first of Snyder’s 16 goals for success.