FRISCO, Texas — The stories have become all too familiar by now.
Last fall, Baylor coach Matt Rhule had recently suffered an onerous loss to Kansas State when a hand-written note showed up from Bill Snyder, the iconic K-State coach known for penning a letter to his opponents after virtually every game during his 26-year run with the Wildcats.
Consider this Rhule’s welcome to the Big 12, as the former Penn State linebacker was just five games into his Baylor tenure.
“I don't know that I ever have (received a letter) after a game,” Rhule recalled last week at Big 12 Media Days. “That's something I remember (former Penn State coach Joe) Paterno and guys I played for would do things like that. To see him do it was pretty cool.”
In Rhule’s own words, the gesture was "old school, cool and classy." The old school aspect is becoming an exception rather than the rule with more neophytes making the leap to big-time college football. At 78, Snyder doubles as the oldest active coach in the Big 12 and all of the FBS — he has 12 years on Alabama's Nick Saban, his next closest age competitor.
Just five years ago, Snyder wouldn’t have felt so old school at Big 12 media days. The 2013 football season would be Mack Brown’s final year at Texas.
Bob Stoops, who retired from Oklahoma in 2017, was still around winning Big 12 championships.
These days, Snyder is holding serve in a league full of youth. The Big 12’s average head coaching age of 47.8 — a decrease from 52.2 in 2013 —heading into the 2018 season is the youngest among Power Five conferences. Remove Snyder, and that number dips to 44.4. And these figures stand even with the longevity of Gary Patterson, 58, who enters his 18th season at TCU, and Mike Gundy, 51, who has 13 years under his belt at Oklahoma State.
Rhule, sporting a beard equipped with traces of salt and pepper, asked if he was considered young or old. He enters his sixth season as a head coach, but he’s still part of the younger generation along with Oklahoma’ Lincoln Riley (34), Iowa State’s Matt Campbell (38) and Tom Herman (43), all of whom were hired within the past two or three years.
This doesn't even include Kliff Kingsbury, who is just 38 years old but is considered a Big 12 veteran with five years of experience leading Texas Tech.
“There's a good group of young coaches that hopefully will be a bunch of great battles in the Big 12 against each other for years to come,” said Rule, who turned 43 this past winter.
Coincidentally, all four enter the 2018 season at critical junctures in their tenure.
Campbell, who starts his third year at Iowa State, has his team positioned to take the next step following a breakout 8-5 season. Herman is focused on revitalizing Texas back to the glory days under Brown, while Rhule is tasked with rebuilding a program, and an image, after Baylor was decimated by a sexual assault scandal.
Riley, meanwhile, has most of the eyeballs directed at him to see what the encore presentation will be after the Sooners’ flirted with a College Football Playoff championship game appearance in 2017.
Campbell pointed to Chip Kelly (formerly at Oregon), Chris Petersen (formerly at Boise State) and Dabo Sweeney (Clemson) as coaches who were either young or unproven yet built their way into national prominence.
“They've been some really great lessons learned for young coaches out there if you're willing to learn and see how successful coaches have built cultures and started to sustain success,” Campbell said.
As for Snyder, he admitted he isn’t big on advice. Instead, he informs the younger crowd they need to handle coaching in their own way.
He did offer two pieces of wisdom: Be who you are — and not someone else — and be where you are.
“Like so many coaches, I was half in, half out. I'd be at a program, and I would want to be someplace else, I'd want to move up the ladder so to speak,” Snyder said. “So if I was an assistant, I'd want to go someplace to be a head coach. If I was the head coach here, I'd want to go be at a larger program. What I found out is I wasn't very good where I was and I wasn't doing justice where I was.”
Like Campbell, Herman and Rhule are taking Snyder’s first suggestion in stride by establishing a culture at their respective programs.
Herman said the Longhorns had compliant players last year, but not necessarily a group that believed in themselves. He senses something different this year.
“Right now, there's without a doubt in my mind, the belief in that locker room is there,” Herman said. “They are closer. They like each other. They like coming to work every day. There's a familiarity with our system and our way of doing things. It's certainly smoother this time around.”
AVERAGE COACHING AGE AMONG POWER FIVE CONFERENCES
ACC — 53.2
Pac 12 — 51
Big Ten — 49.5
SEC — 48.2
Big 12 — 47.8
Note — ages are as of the start of the
2018-19 football season