By Parmida Schahhosseini
With many people focusing on how to stop Baylor, or wondering how Baylor will adjust on the road, the coaching duel that will take place in Manhattan, Kan., seems to be overlooked. Both Baylor head coach Art Briles and Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder have rejuvenated programs that were at one point bottom feeders of the Big 12.
Snyder’s first tenure at K-State was from 1989 to 2005, in which he led the Wildcats to three Big 12 titles, six 11-win seasons, and helped turn Kansas State into a contending, winning program on an annual basis.
“Coach Snyder has done a tremendous job without question,” Briles said. “You can model after that and be very successful.”
After the 2005 season, Snyder decided to retire and the program crumbled. From 2006 to 2008 Kansas State had a 17-20 record and seemed to be on the decline. Fortunately for the Wildcats, Snyder came back in 2009 and turned around the program for a second time. In 2010, Kansas State finished with a 7-5 record and went to the Pinstripe Bowl. The Wildcats followed with a 10-3 campaign, finishing No. 8 in the BCS standings earning an invitation to the BCS Cotton Bowl. Just when people thought Kansas State reached its ceiling, Snyder’s team shocked the nation on its way to 10 straight wins. Despite the loss to Baylor, the Wildcats finished with an 11-1 regular season record and went to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. He also propelled former quarterback Collin Klein to be named a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Despite Snyder’s wealth of success, Briles has his own unique coaching style he believes helps resurrect collegiate football programs.
“We’ve always done what we think is right for us,” Briles said. “That’s something that helps us on the field because we’re not trying to be like anybody else or mimic anybody else in any shape, form or fashion. We’re going to be the standard. We’re going to do what we do as well as we can. If you do that, you have a chance to be successful.”
Prior to Briles’ arrival, Baylor wasn’t known as a winning program in football. In fact, saying it was the opposite would have been an understatement. Briles led the Bears to back-to-back bowl wins for the first time in 25 years, the program’s first Heisman Memorial Trophy winner in Robert Griffin III and put Baylor on the national map.
Baylor is also one of only three teams (Florida State, Washington) in the country with a top 10 offense and a top 20 defense. With continued improvement, Baylor is on its way to becoming a national powerhouse.
“My freshman year we ended up going to the Texas Bowl, which was a huge deal at the time,” senior nickel back Sam Holl said. “We just got better from there. The next year Rob [Robert Griffin III] won the Heisman, we go to the Alamo Bowl and we went to the Holiday Bowl last year and got a huge win. It’s been great.”
After the success of RG3, people began to wonder if the success would continue, but after a successful 2012 campaign those doubts were put to rest. Briles’ offensive strategy and his recruiting skills have led to a dynamic team filled with speed, toughness and physicality. Briles is able to relate with his players.
“He really is a players coach,” senior center Stefan Huber said. “I mean he keeps us fresh, fast and physical and that’s all you can ask from a coach. He’s very inspiring and you really want to work hard for him.”
Briles is not new to reviving programs. Before inheriting a job at the University of Houston, the team was two years removed from a 0-11 season. Briles turned that program around on the way to four bowl games.
His ability to get the most from his players and assistant coaches make him a strong leader. Despite constant media pressure regarding the defense, Briles and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett continued to stay patient. Having gone through the rebuilding process before, Briles knew how to handle the situation.
The defense leads the nation in tackles for loss with 10.3 per game. It also ranks 17th in the nation in total defense, giving up 321.3 yards per game after ranking last the previous year.
“We’re the same defense as last year as far as physically goes, but mentally we’re light-years away from where we used to be,” senior safety Ahmad Dixon said. “Guys are seeing things they didn’t see coming at all. Guys know the defense like we’ve never known it. We have guys playing linebacker making safety calls and safeties making linebacker calls. We’re back there on the back end making line movements, just helping each other out.”
Thanks to Briles, Baylor is enjoying a winning tradition and the program keeps trending upwards year after year since his arrival in late 2007.