OUT WITH MARMIE, IN WITH RICHARD NIXON

Head football coaches live in a terrifying dream world. In that world, tumultuous laughter and happiness can instantly turn into a nightmare. Great victories are the other side of the coin to heartbreaking defeats.

These coaches are very much like politicians. They are addicted to adulation. They distrust and dislike the media but are nevertheless drawn irresistibly toward the danger zone created by cameras and microphones.

A football coach understands from the start that docile media coverage can make him appear to be a giant, but that one or two irresponsible renegades in a press corps can shatter the very foundation of his football program.

Barry Switzer, the former coach at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, speaks frankly about his aversion to sportswriters:

The sportswriters I like the least," he says, are the so-called serious reporters, who think a sports story must involve money, drugs, cheating or controversy in some form or other."

His view is shared by most coaches these days. We would all like to confine ourselves to the games. But how do you avoid all the rest of it?

Larry Marmie, who has already become a name from the past, always seemed like a terrified deer caught in the headlights of a runaway truck when he walked into press conferences after games.

Marmie, the perfect assistant coach, failed at the top job because he was numbed by the shameful politics required of a head coach in college football. Marmie was not a talented liar. He never learned to take credit for things he hadn't earned. Worse still, he didn't know how to blame his assistants and his players for things that went wrong on the field.

Unfortunately for Marmie, he succeeded Darryl Rogers and John Cooper in the Arizona State University head coaching job. Both Rogers and Cooper were adept at the art of dodging responsibility for errors and taking credit for anything that went right within a quarter of a mile of them.

And now Marmie has been replaced by Bruce Snyder, the Richard Nixon of college football coaches.

Like Nixon, Snyder often has been counted out. He has been in coaching 30 years already, and, for much of that time, he has labored in obscure places or in big places where he played an obscure role.

But, like Nixon, he is forever bobbing back up to the surface.
At an age when most coaches on the fast track were already at major schools, Snyder was at Utah State University, where he spent seven years, compiling a record of 39-37-1. He was the football equivalent of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag Archipelago.

From there, Snyder went to the Los Angeles Rams for another three years and the anonymous job of backfield coach. It actually took some real convincing on Snyder's part to win the University of California at Berkeley job on such slim credentials.

Snyder's great strength is that he has always been a constant observer of the college job market.

He also has been a tireless, if slightly boring, public speaker who has appeared at countless coaching clinics. His encyclopedic knowledge of the places where jobs are likely to open is legendary among fellow coaches.

Here is what Bruce Snyder announced the day he took over as head football coach at California in 1987:

I want to stay here at least 15 years and then retire." Snyder's team won only 12 games in his first three seasons. But in his final season, the Golden Bears were good enough to be ranked in the top ten in the country. And they lost by only one touchdown to the University of Washington, probably the best team in all college football.

So here was Snyder at Berkeley, which has been described as a place where half the people want to overthrow the government and the other half are seeking the perfect croissant.

He was hired at $131,000 and was making $250,000 at the end of five years.
When Snyder applied for the California job, his resume included recommendations from Lavell Edwards of Brigham Young University, John Robinson of the L.A. Rams and Eric Dickerson, the great running back and former L.A. Ram.

As a backfield coach for both the Rams and the University of Southern California, Snyder has coached Dickerson as well as running backs Anthony Davis and Ricky Bell. While an assistant at the University of Oregon, he coached wide receiver Ahmad Rashad.

Whenever Snyder is mentioned, the names of these players pop up. This is strange. The one thing in football that is generally acknowledged is that no one can coach running backs to greatness. They either have it or they don't. It is a totally natural phenomenon.

Did you ever hear anyone take credit for the running feats of Jim Brown, Walter Payton or Gale Sayers? But Snyder understands that an aura must be created around the head coach. So he persists in the fiction that he was responsible for the success of Eric Dickerson.

He knows how to cover himself with safe cliches. He knows the drill." He understands the vocabulary of the head coaching clan. He will be focused." His team will be willing to pay the price." They will move ahead one step at a time."

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