Snow Days - Part two

Phil Snow at ASU (Getty Images)

There's no question Phil Snow has the resume you like to see in a defensive coach. He's been in the Pac-10 the last 16 years at three schools - California, Arizona State and UCLA. He's coached NFL players like Adam Archuleta, Pat Tillman, Robert Thomas, Kevin Miniefield and Craig Newsome. His defenses have been consistently ranked near the top of the Pac-10 and nationally as well. So how does he get it done? And how does he get the players to get it done?

Phil Snow talked to Dawgman.com about those things and gave us his general blueprint for success on the defensive side of the ball.

When it comes to the type of defense Snow likes to run, he talks more about certain keys that it takes to get the job done. "The front wins football games, and it's the back's job to allow the front to win the game," he told Dawgman.com. "Whatever it takes - if we need a 5,6,7-man rush to win the game, we'll keep more guys in the box to stop the run and that's what we'll do. The secondary has to allow us to do that.

"Scheme-wise, you have to do what it takes to win the football game. In today's football, you can't stop the run with 7 guys in the box anymore if they have two backs, because of the rules offensively. So you've got to be able to put 8 and 9 guys in the box when you need to. You've also got to blitz and get to the quarterback. I don't think you can play great defense unless you're real aggressive. To do that, you've got to have secondary guys that can cover."

Snow's defensive philosophy appears to be relatively simple, based on three basic principles. "There's three areas of the game that, no matter where you coach, or who you have, that you have to accomplish," he said. "First, you have to execute. Which means you don't beat yourself with mistakes. The second is what I call 'six seconds', and I'm sure the Huskies have a different term for it, but all it really means is how hard you play from snap to whistle. If you get 11 guys going after the football with one purpose, then you are going to eliminate big gains and cause some turnovers. And third, you have to tackle.

"So no matter what scheme you run, those are the three things you have to do - you don't beat yourself, play real hard when you get there and you tackle."

All you need to do is look at Snow's record to see those three keys in action. The UCLA Bruins ranked first in the Pac-10 in total defense in Snow's first season at UCLA in 2001. The unit also finished the season ranked second in the league in rushing defense and scoring defense. Thomas, a first round selection by the Rams in the 2002 NFL draft, earned 2001 Pac-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. Kenyon Coleman was the defensive winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-10's best lineman. By Snow's account, the situation that was given in Westwood was a unique challenge, one that he had to specifically scheme for to handle a lack of depth in the secondary.

"I did more zone blitzing at UCLA than ASU because we didn't have extra defensive backs," Snow told Dawgman.com. "In 2001 we didn't go one snap in a nickel defense and maybe did 10-12 snaps the whole year in the nickel, so we stayed in our base people on the field, even when defending 5 wideouts. So in that situation you have to zone blitz and I developed a zone blitz system at UCLA. But up until that point I was more into man-blitzing."

In his last year in Tempe, the Sun Devils ranked first in the nation in fumbles recovered and third in the country in number of turnovers created. The group was headlined by Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Archuleta and conference Freshman of the Year Terrell Suggs. His 1996 team may have been the best defense he's had, as they shut out Nebraska that year and finished first in the conference in rush defense (98.0) and pass defense (104.2). They also held the opposition to under 10 points in five games that season. Snow also coached consensus All-American DE Derrick Rodgers that year, and in his 16 years in the conference has coached 14 all-conference performers.

So how does Snow find the talent? And more importantly, how does he get them to come to the school he's coaching at? For him, it's all about treating players and parents with respect and treating them with care. And it's natural that Snow would recruit the area he grew up in and knows best. "Normally I recruit the Sacramento area into the East-Bay and Northern California," he said. "But as a recruiter, I like players. And I think the players sense that and I've always had a good relationship with the guys I coach and when I recruit. And kids are kids - it doesn't matter where they come from or what color their skin is - if they think you care about them and you have their best interests at heart, they are going to be receptive to you. That's what I've tried to do in coaching and in recruiting."




Click here for part one of 'Snow Days'

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