Tomey remembers ex-ASU coach as ‘good man’
Hating your rival can be fun. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
It was never that way between Dick Tomey and Bruce Snyder, whose football teams treated this state to nearly a decade of some of the fiercest, most memorable games in the Arizona-Arizona State football series.
And when that rivalry boiled over to cheap shots and fights on the field – and heaven knows what else in the stands – Tomey and Snyder stood side by side and told everyone to cool it.
Tomey, the former Arizona head coach, remembered those circumstances Monday afternoon after hearing the news that Snyder, at 69, had died earlier in the day after a 10-month fight with cancer.
“Bruce was such a great competitor,” Tomey said. “Nothing could speak to that more than the way he competed since he was diagnosed. He was fighting tooth and nail.
“He was just an exceptional coach. When he was at Cal, when he was at Arizona State, he was just very difficult to beat. And, yet, I really won’t remember Bruce as a coach.
“I will remember Bruce as a good man and a good person. He gave a lot in his life. His life was well-lived. That is the way I remember Bruce Snyder. He was just made out of all the right stuff.”
Tomey was 5-4 against Snyder in the UA-ASU rivalry from 1992 to 2000.
The worst of the rivalry came during the 1996 game, a 56-14 rout by the Rose Bowl-bound Sun Devils in Arizona Stadium.
During the Wildcats’ late-game interception return for a touchdown, ASU offensive linemen Glen Gable, far from the play, broke defensive lineman Daniel Greer’s ankle with an illegal blind-sided clip.
That sparked more on-field fireworks, including UA fullback Kelvin Eafon sprinting off the bench to knock down Gable.
About a week after the game, Snyder and Tomey co-wrote a letter to fans.
It read, in part:
“The events in the past two weeks leave us with some grave concerns. We want you to take a moment and reflect upon what occurred in connection with the rivalry game.
“The two of us spoke this week and agreed that all members of our fine communities must place a high priority on sportsmanship and common courtesy as it pertains to one of the greatest rivalries in college football . . .
“As the head coaches of the teams involved, we pledged that we will create and promote a year-round atmosphere of respect, sportsmanship and conduct that the rivalry richly deserves.”
The result: a clean, hard-fought game in 1997.
“We just felt that the rivalry was deteriorating,” Tomey said.
“The feelings were really raw, and they were going to be even more raw. We were just trying to balance what it all meant.”
Tomey and Snyder didn’t have to hate each other. There was respect, and a friendship, that continued after both coaches were let go after the 2000 season.
Funny how both schools are on their second coach since then, each trying to recapture the heights of the 1990s – two national top five finishes for UA, a Rose Bowl and near national championship for ASU.
“The only time you get upset with another coach is because he’s hard to beat – hard to beat in recruiting, hard to be on the field,” Tomey said.
“His teams certainly were.”
Tomey is 71 now, entering his fifth season as the head coach at San Jose State. He said his health is good. He takes his coaching future on a year-to-year basis.
Former Arizona coach Larry Smith, who preceded Tomey, died in January 2008 because of cancer. He was 68.
“We lost Larry Smith and now we lost Bruce Snyder. We lost two of the best coaches in the history of college football, in my opinion,” Tomey said.
“I’ve been very, very blessed with my health. That’s not lost on me.”
While remembering Snyder, it’s not lost on the rest of us that, even in a furious rivalry, civility can rule the day.
SNYDER’S ASU YEARS
Bruce Snyder was 4-5 against Arizona while at ASU but 58-45 overall.
Year vs. UA Overall
1992 W, 7-6 6-5
1993 L, 34-20 6-5
1994 L, 28-27 3-8
1995 L, 31-28 6-5
1996 W, 56-14 11-1
1997 L, 28-16 9-3
1998 L, 50-42 5-6
1999 W, 42-27 6-6
2000 W, 30-17 6-6
• His 58 wins rank second on the school’s all-time list
• He is the second-longest tenured head coach in school history
• Led the Sun Devils to four appearances in bowl games
• More than 40 of Snyder’s players were drafted into the NFL, including seven first-round draft choices (Shante Carver, Craig Newsome, Erik Flowers, Adam Archuleta, Todd Heap, Levi Jones and Terrell Suggs)
• Produced more than 100 All-Pac-10 honorees, including one Offensive Player of the Year (Jake Plummer, 1996), two Defensive Players of the Year (Pat Tillman, 1997, and Adam Archuleta, 2000) and one freshman of the year (Terrell Suggs, 2000).