That paid off this summer, when Rhule was trying to lighten things up during the practices between training camp and the regular season. He’d match up coaches for sprints, and then paired Snow and 32-year-old Joe Brady in a push-up contest.
Guess who won? (There might be some debate about this, as Brady contends he did more. It’s possible that since Snow simply kept going without pause, he might have been declared the winner for continuity).
“Whatever,” Snow said with a laugh. “All I did was the push-ups, I don’t know who won.”
That humility is also part of the reason Snow is so beloved among his staff.
It’s an odd collection of the very young, and guys who have been together since Temple. Secondary coach Jason Simmons played for Snow at Arizona State before his NFL career, and they’ve mixed and matched parts around him. None have his kind of experience. But when they walk into the room, that doesn’t matter.
“I mean they fight in there,” Rhule said of Snow’s defensive meetings. “They sit in the same room, Jason who played for him, and Siravo who’s been with him forever. They argue over things, but at the end of the day, they have one vision, and they came up with it together. That’s a pretty good thing.”
As one of the junior members of the group, Cooper said the lesson is clear.
“With coach Snow, you know immediately he’s one of those guys,” he said. “He’s forgotten more about football than most people have ever known. He’s literally taught me everything I know about the game. You immediately gravitate to him, because he knows so much football. He’s a likable guy, but you learn something from him every time you talk about the game. When coach Rhule gushes about him, it’s not because he likes him, it’s because he knows so much.
“When people reach a certain level of success, they only want to do things a certain way, the way they know. With him, he’s seen so much, he’s willing to listen if someone has a better idea. He’s not afraid for you to challenge him, but if you do, you better bring it. You have to know what you’re talking about. I mean, we’re all different individuals, but he’s the elder. He knows how to facilitate good conversation to get the best results.”
Siravo said he’d notice the way Snow built his incredible base of information on an everyday basis, at football clinics or on recruiting trips, anywhere there was a chance to talk ball.
“The great thing about him is his humility,” Siravo said. “He will talk to a high school coach or a D-3 coach the same way he talks to an NFL coach. Whoever wants to learn and study football can teach him something. He’s always in search of more information. His research is so thorough, and he watches the game differently. He sees the whole game.
“He just has an incredible knowledge. In 2013 (at Temple), he’s teaching three new coaches a defense they’ve never run. His patience and his knowledge are amazing. He’s like a teacher and a researcher. If he sees someone run a play, he understands each block, every nuance. He came up as a back-end coach, but he could coach linebackers or the line easily. He’s detailed, but it’s the depth of detail that sets him apart.”
Snow chuckles a little when such things are mentioned. He laughs easily and gently, giving him a grandfatherly vibe around this staff. And whether it’s the youngest coaching assistants on staff, or the players who are almost all in their 20s, there’s a universal respect for his work. Creating that, Snow said, is a matter of listening as much as talking.
“I think what’s really important, and Matt’s this way too, but everybody’s opinion matters to us,” Snow said. “I’ll ask the youngest coach in the room what they think. We involve everyone in the room. And when you do that, people think what they do matters. And they’ll work hard for you. We have a really good close relationship, a really good staff.
“Here’s what I’ve found over the years, no matter what level of football. Knowledge is power. If they think you can help them become better, then no matter how old they are, they will listen to you. Listen, a 14-year-old kid knows if you’re not telling him the truth or you’re playing games with them. So we’re real direct with the players, real honest with them. They can speak their minds to us, and we can tell them straight-up what we think. And if they think you can make them better, they listen. So that’s how we’ve gone about our business. we spend time with them, so they know we care about them, and it works out fine.”
Even though it comes from a 65-year old man, that directness can be sharp. You don’t mess with Yoda, just because he’s short and wrinkled.
“You think he’s old? Coach Snow’s a young guy,” cornerback Donte Jackson said. “He fits right in with this group. A lot of personality. You don’t want to get him mad, you want to make sure you do your job. You don’t want to see the bad side of Snow.
“You don’t want to be on coach Snow’s film not running to the ball or not being physical.”
“Man, Snow is straightforward. Very straightforward,” defensive tackle Derrick Brown added. “You’ve got to love that about him. If you mess up, he’s coming straight to you. But he holds you accountable. I think if you want to build a great defense, the coaches have to be held accountable and have to hold the players accountable just the same.”
That’s another way of describing trust.
Snow invests his in coaches and players, so he expects it back from them. It’s that simple, and anything short of the standard is not good enough.
“Truth bridges all gaps,” Siravo replied when asked how he communicates through a generation gap. “A player might be taken aback by how direct he can be sometimes. He’s not going to sugarcoat anything for anybody.”
Cooper, who credits his football education to the man, knows that builds a loyalty that goes both ways.
“He’s the kind of guy you want to go to bat for,” Cooper said. “Because he will for you.”
Building that level of confidence from above and below takes time.
During the offseason, Rhule mentioned that Snow was probably among the best golfers on the coaching staff. And while a few of them snuck in a round this past long weekend after the Thursday win against Houston, Snow wasn’t among them. His clubs only come out of the garage in the offseason.
“Yeah, I put ’em away,” he said during a break Sunday. “I could have played the last three days, but I just have no interest. My mind is completely not on golf.”
That leaves all the room in his head for football.
When Rhule was praising Snow last week, he talked about how adaptive he is. They’ve played different defenses at different stops along the way, always changing based on the personnel they had, or the challenges posed by particular opponents. It’s like listing a table of contents of a coaching manual when Rhule talks about all the different schemes they’ve run.
But the thing that sets Snow apart — and the reason Rhule’s dragged him from Philadelphia to Waco to Charlotte — is simple.
“Phil’s a worker,” Rhule said. “I was his graduate assistant, he used to yell for me, ‘Is that coffee pot broken?’ and I had to go check and make sure he had a cup of coffee. He is a special, special man. A great coach. . . . I think Phil does an amazing job of taking stock of what he has personnel-wise and what they do well, and he’s going to relentlessly work. He doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low. If we have success, it doesn’t matter to him.
“He’s an example to all of us young coaches, and I’m not a young coach anymore, but of how to work and do it the right way.”