New Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Snow believes he’s got this whole Big 12 explosive offense thing figured out.
You’ve got a special sort of play action with your nimble quarterback and up-tempo pace? Snow has a package for that. It’s right there in his 8-inch-thick playbook that each of his Bears players is studying every day after a predawn practice awakens their football souls.
The 61-year-old Snow, who started coaching on the high school level in Berkeley, Calif., way back in 1976, has seen all the trends. He spent four seasons in the NFL. He’s been a defensive coordinator at three different Pac-12 schools. War hero Pat Tillman was his defensive play-caller at Arizona State two decades ago.
New Baylor head coach Matt Rhule met Snow when the two were at UCLA in 2001. Snow was Rhule’s defensive coordinator at Temple for four years. So he was an obvious choice to follow Rhule to Waco.
As Snow explained it, several of the coaches in the AAC, where Temple dominated, have extensive Big 12 roots. Phil Montgomery, a former offensive coordinator at Baylor, is now dominating the AAC. Former Texas quarterback and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite is running the show at Houston. And new Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley used to be at East Carolina.
So Snow didn’t need to be playing a specific Big 12 team then to be familiar with what he’ll be seeing this fall.
Snow is viewed as such an all-knowing sort of coordinator that his players have nicknamed him Yoda, the iconic character from “Star Wars” who used to tell Luke Skywalker “fear is the path to the dark side.”
Snow’s pitch is that a defensive coach should never fear an offense.
“I talk to a lot of defensive guys, and they make me mad,” Snow said. “They’re scared of the offense. Well, their kids aren’t going to play good. We’re not scared of the offense. So, we’ll go play, and whatever happens happens. They’ll make some plays, but so will we.”
“That man is a guru,” gushed linebacker Clay Johnston. “We call him a Yoda. He’s a Yoda of football. We asked him yesterday, “How’d you learn all this?” He said, “Forty years of coaching.” He’s very wise. He’s the man.”
Snow mainly will be trying to get this Baylor bunch to be as successful as his teams at Temple. Defense was how the Owls won games. Statistically, only Michigan and Alabama were better nationally last year than Temple, which allowed 282.5 yards a contest.
Rhule brought all his defensive assistants with him to Waco. So there is continuity in what Snow is teaching his new defenders. There are six returning starters from last year’s Baylor defense, which ranked 81st in the country, giving up 431 yards a contest. Safety Travon Blanchard, the Bears’ best returning defender, still is suspended because of offseason legal issues. The school will decide whether Blanchard can return.
Snow believes in his heart that in a perfect defensive world, all you need is a four-man rush. But he concedes that it’s OK to blitz and “manufacture” a rush, especially in this league. He likes his secondary to be adept at both man and zone. The middle linebacker and two safeties have the most responsibilities on the field.
He’s installed about 40 percent of his defensive playbook. So there is a ton more to learn.
The entire Baylor team is having a football immersive experience for the opening 10 days of preseason camp. All players have moved into the dorm and have turned over their car keys to the coaches. A shuttle picks them up at 5:30 a.m. for practice. All meals and snacks are in the dining hall.
But Snow was stumped by his new nickname. He asked his wife, “Who is Yoda?” Maybe he can play safety.