Tom Hayes has multiple memories of Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder.
Now the first-year secondary coach of the Wildcats, Hayes first encounter came in 1986 at the Rose Bowl: “I was at UCLA and all I know is that he caused me some late nights preparing for his offense at Iowa.”
A 1971 graduate of the University of Iowa, Hayes coached on the defensive side of the ball for the Hawkeyes through the 1978 season when a coaching change was made with Hayden Fry’s arrival in Iowa City, and with him, a young offensive coach by the name of Bill Snyder.
While the two exchanged hellos and goodbyes at that time, the two faced one another in that Rose Bowl of 1986, and later when Hayes was on the Oklahoma staff from 1991-94, and then again when at Kansas at 2001.
“Preparing to play his offense causes you headaches and sleepless nights,” said Hayes, who is 3-2 against Snyder-coached teams. “His teams are always very diversified. He figures out what you’re going to do before the game, but then has the ability to adjust during the game. One year (1994 – KSU 37, OU 34) his K-State team had far less talent than ours at Oklahoma, but it didn’t work out that day.”
Hayes said he was somewhat familiar with the futility of K-State football prior to Snyder’s arrival in 1989, which allows him to marvel at the accomplishments of the Wildcats during the last 20-plus years.
“A lot of coaches would not have had the courage to come here. He had a sense of adventure to him to take on this job because it was certainly a risk,” said Hayes. “But he had a vision and a plan, and it’s obviously worked. You have to give him a ton of credit.”
Hayes then added, “What’s sometimes forgotten is that once you have it rolling, it’s not an easy task to keep it rolling. It’s just been a phenomenal accomplishment by Bill, and those people surrounding him. He’s just a good, very honest man. He’s straight forward and very organized … just a gifted coach.”
Hayes will be entering his 30th coaching season in the fall with previous stops in the high school ranks, to collegiately at Tulane, UCLA, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Kansas and Stanford, plus the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints in the National Football League.
Of his experience at current Big 12 schools, “It sure doesn’t hurt. I’ve been blessed as a coach to be with some tremendous players, and coach with some great head coaches and assistant coaches. I’ve been blessed to have been around some tremendous talent … All-Americans to Pro Bowl players.”
For the record, Hayes has a 10-3 record in bowl games, and has coached 26 defensive backs that have played in the NFL, including five first-round picks.
Of this wide range of experience, Hayes said, “I think it’s a positive to have experienced the problems you have at every level. I know the changes that a young person goes through because the change is just as big going from high school to college, as the jump from college to professional football. Each time you’re entering a new world and it’s an entirely new game.”
Hayes, who coached the Saints in 2006 and 2007, and the Redskins from 1995-99, defines the NFL as “a country club.” He explains, “There you have the elite 1,800 guys out of a zillion playing the game. It is so selective and they are so highly skilled. It takes tremendous skill, but also a mental toughness to remain in that league.”
A native of the small western Iowa community of Atlantic, the 61-year-old Hayes says that coaching old teenagers and young men in their 20s in college might carry a bigger challenge as compared to the NFL.
“You wear so many more hats as a college coach,” said Hayes. “In the NFL, you’re just a coach at a level where they are grown men. In college, you’re the psychologist, the coach, surrogate father, tutor, mentor, pastor … you name it. You do a lot of things than coach football.”
At the collegiate level, he continues, “Recruiting is the lifeblood of what you do. It’s the establishing and maintaining relationships with people you can depend on, and then evaluating talent.”
In looking for cornerbacks/safeties, Hayes says the first ingredient is recruiting speed. As he says, “Everyone you’re playing on offense is really fast. It’s not fair to ask a defensive guy to lineup and cover someone faster than you. What we look for are those good athletes. We want guys who have been basketball players and members of their 4 x 100 relay teams in track.
“You don’t always get what you want, but you’re after an overall skill set of quickness, speed, ability to change direction and closing ability,” said Hayes. “The package of wishes for that position is pretty big.”
Then, there’s the ability to play a variety of defenses between zone and man.
“I heard a long time ago it will never be 50-50, but you want do to what you want to do when you want to do it,” Hayes said. Adding a laugh, “Sounds simple.”