MANHATTAN — One coach celebrates touchdowns by chest-bumping his players. The other prefers a simple pat on the back.
One coach throws passes during practice. The other watches from the sideline.
One coach regularly chats with his players about rap music, video games and dating. The other likes to talk about family, academics and life.
There may not be a more drastic contrast in coaching styles than what will be on display Saturday in Lubbock, Texas. Kliff Kingsbury, a 34-year-old former Texas Tech quarterback turned coach who still dreams of playing in the NFL, will stand on one sideline. Bill Snyder, a 74-year-old who gave up retirement to return to coaching at Kansas State, will be on the other.
At first glance, they are polar opposites. But once you look past their obvious differences in age and approach, how different are they?
Kirby Hocutt can answer that question better than anyone. The Texas Tech athletic director hired Kingsbury last year and played for Snyder at K-State, helping him reach his first bowl game in 1993 as a standout linebacker.
He hired Kingsbury because of his youth, energy and knowledge of the program as a former player. He credits Snyder for pointing him down a path that led him to a successful career in college athletics.
“They are both intense competitors and they both are very driven, hard-working, focused individuals,” Hocutt said. “The approach is very different, but there are more similarities than you might expect. When it comes to competitive spirit, organization and work ethic, they are the same.”
The Kingsbury effect
Kingsbury is the epitome of cool. He is young, he has GQ style and he has risen up the coaching ranks at warp speed, becoming a head coach at his alma mater five years after entering the business as an offensive quality control assistant at Houston. He coached Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel as a coordinator at Texas A&M. Then he became the first coach in Big 12 history to win his first seven games.
Ask Texas Tech star tight end Jace Amaro about playing for a coach with that pedigree and he responds with one word: “Amazing.”
In Amaro’s eyes, Kingsbury has done more than turn Texas Tech into a winner and boost fan support in a few short months.
“He is definitely a player’s coach,” Amaro said. “He is really easy to relate to. He is almost like another player on the team. You can talk to him about anything — food, music, movies or girls. He is so easy to relate to. He is basically in our generation. When you have a coach like that, you really want to give everything you have for him. That is something that has helped drive us this year. We want to win for him.”
Hocutt boldly says Kingsbury “can relate to today’s student-athlete as well as any coach I’ve been around.”
Kingsbury made headlines for asking players for music suggestions and blaring them during practices, by running onto the field after big plays and by using social media.
But Kingsbury credits something simpler as the true key to developing relationships with players.
“It’s just getting to know them,” Kingsbury said. “Just having conversations on a daily basis. Anytime one of them walks by, you want to check on them and see how their family is doing. ... Anytime you have an opportunity to get to know them better, you should take advantage of it.”
The Snyder way
Snyder is an institution. He works with his son, he coaches his grandson and he has won so many games at K-State (174) that his name resides on the stadium and the highway leading into Manhattan. He turned a perennial loser into a consistent winner.
His approach worked when he became a head coach in 1989 and it still does today, with few modifications. Even his go-to motivational tool — wearing a jacket during summer practices and sweating on the sideline while players are sweating on the field — hasn’t changed.
He preaches his 16 core goals, meets with players twice a year and keeps things matter of fact. The immediate goal is to win football games. The lasting hope is to provide life lessons.
“He doesn’t just teach us Xs and Os,” K-State kicker Jack Cantele said. “He tries to teach us how to be successful people. Every team meeting he will say something about the game and being disciplined and he will say, ‘I don’t just mean in football, I mean in life.’ He is trying to grow us into better men.”
The process left an impression on Hocutt.
“I understand the lessons he was teaching us much more today and with much clarity than when I was 20,” Hocutt said. “Looking back, I realize he was teaching us about life while we played a game that we loved.”
Snyder has changed some over the years. He sends e-mails and texts. He poses for pictures he knows will end up on Twitter. But building lasting relationships remains the core goal.
“I just try to be open and honest with them and applaud them for the good things that they do,” Snyder said. “I also address the things they need improvement on and try to relate everything to things other than football. The old-school guys believe it is relative to what takes place in the rest of their lives.”
Cantele has a dream.
It starts with a game-winning field goal and ends with a chest-bump from Snyder. He knows it will never happen, even if he were to connect on a 65-yarder against a top-ranked opponent. He’s fine with that, even though it might happen if he played for Kingsbury.
“There is only so much you can do to relate to players, unless you put the pads on and play with us,” Cantele said. “What it all comes down to is how much you care about your team. I know Coach Snyder cares about us. I’m sure (Kingsbury) cares about his team, too.”
K-State at Texas Tech will be a coaching battle of contrasting styles: new school vs. old school.
It will also be a coaching battle of peers that value hard work, relationships and victories.
“Both coaches are very successful in their own rights,” Hocutt said. “Kliff does things in a unique way that give him an advantage over other coaches. So does Coach Snyder. He is one of the best football coaches ever. His approach worked in the mid-’90s and it is still successful today. I guess that shows there is no perfect way of doing things.”