Phil Snow hadn’t tasted a college football season so deliciously urgent in 19 years.
At the age of 59, a football lifer realized he could still throw his fastball.
Phil Snow shares an historical connection with the coordinator he faced in last year’s inaugural AAC Championship Game, Major Applewhite of Houston. Both Snow and Applewhite have coached for college football’s national championship.
Applewhite more formally coached for the natty, in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. His Texas Longhorns faced Alabama for a piece of crystal at a point in time when college football finally created a set-aside championship duel.
In Phil Snow’s best season as an assistant coach, the sport hadn’t yet traveled that far.
The 1996 season was played under the loose structure known as the Bowl Alliance. Because the Pac-10 and Big Ten still were still locked into the Rose Bowl, a Pac-10 or Big Ten champion couldn’t play in the Sugar Bowl for a clear-cut national title. While No. 1 Florida State and No. 3 Florida battled in New Orleans, No. 2 and unbeaten Arizona State went to Pasadena for the Granddaddy against No. 4 Ohio State. It wasn’t a two-team national title tilt, but ASU definitely contested the national title. The Sun Devils might not have split the title had Florida State held on to No. 1 by beating Florida, but since the Seminoles lost to the Gators, Arizona State would have been a split champion at worst, possibly a sole champion, had it defeated Ohio State.
The Sun Devils contained Ohio State’s powerful offense most of the day and carved out a slim lead late in the fourth quarter, but in the final minute, the Buckeyes — led by Joe Germaine, a quarterback who attended high school in the Phoenix metropolitan area — produced their best drive of the day. A dramatic touchdown wrested a piece of history from Arizona State’s grasp. Phil Snow — like the Major, 13 years later — watched a national championship dream evaporate in the Arroyo Seco.
The end of the journey stung for Snow in 1996, but under head coach Bryce Snyder, the thrill of leading Arizona State to the precipice of a national championship rated as the achievement of a lifetime.
No game more fully captured the magic of the Sun Devils’ season than their shutout of mighty Nebraska, the two-time defending national champion which nailed down its repeat title eight and a half months earlier in ASU’s home stadium. On January 2, 1996, Nebraska crushed Florida in Sun Devil Stadium to go back-to-back.
On September 21, 1996, Nebraska scored 62 fewer points than it did against Steve Spurrier:
Phil Snow had coached the game of a lifetime.
In subsequent stints with UCLA, Washington, and then the NFL with the Detroit Lions, Snow couldn’t duplicate that extraordinarily high standard, and so when he joined Matt Rhule’s staff at Temple before the 2013 season, the move hardly rated as headline news.
Last season, however, Snow reigned over the rest of the AAC, and successfully moved his defensive chess pieces against teams outside the league as well. He shut down Paxton Lynch and Memphis. He bothered Gunner Kiel and Cincinnati. He corralled DeShone Kizer and Notre Dame — the Owls very nearly defeated the Fighting Irish and would have won if they had been able to secure an interception in the final minutes of regulation.
Even in the AAC title game against Applewhite and Houston, Snow’s defense did its job. Limiting Houston to 24 points on the road represented a feat more than twice as successful as the Navy team whose accomplished defense was shredded by Greg Ward the week before, 52-31.
Matt Rhule is an outstanding young head coach who appears destined for greatness in the decades to come. He’s the main reason Temple football has become newly ascendant. Yet, Phil Snow turned in his best season as a collegiate defensive coordinator since 1996.
Now, the question remains: Will we see Snow-Applewhite II this December, in The American’s second conference championship game?
Phil-adelphia and its defensive coordinator want to see that happen.