PHILADELPHIA – Quin Snyder was in a basketball nowhere land. He rode the bus on those three-movie road trips on the NBDL circuit where everyone in a uniform believed they were one big break away from a look at the big time.
He was several years and 800 miles removed from his days as the next bona fide coaching wonderboy at Missouri. Stripped of all the first-class amenities of a major D-I program, Snyder says he was happy in the minors.
"Pure basketball," Snyder said.
No recruiting trips, no late-night phone calls that a star player was in trouble. There was scant media attention, no announcers delivering bad news, and definitely no NCAA investigation into every nook of the organization.
"Everybody wants to get out of there," Snyder said. "But unless you can be there body, mind and spirit, it's tough to get out."
Snyder is out and back on a national stage. The coach who led the Tigers on a trip to the final eight before a precipitous fall knocked him out of the game, then into Austin, Texas, was hired this summer by the Philadelphia 76ers. He's part of a revamped coaching staff led by Doug Collins trying to mold a young nucleus into a playoff contender.
If his path toward the NBA was long and winding, Snyder's actual hire was like a breakneck bucket off the fastbreak.
"He said, 'Hey Q, do you want to come?'" Snyder said, laughing, of Collins' pitch.
"I know him and I trust him. He said, 'Be a coach.' I think I've got a pretty good idea what that means. If I'm screwing up, I'll get it right."
He gets his shot at the NBA because of a longstanding friendship with the Collins family.
Snyder and Chris Collins, Doug's son, became close at Duke. Snyder was an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski and Collins a 3-point shooting guard. At the time, Doug Collins enjoyed talking basketball and player development with Snyder on frequent trips to watch games in Durham, N.C.
When Snyder was hired at only 32 to replace Tigers legend Norm Stewart at Missouri, Doug Collins was invited to practice and offered advice and input. When Snyder went through a messy divorce with the school, it was Collins who offered moral support and a place to crash.
Collins and his wife invited Snyder to spend some time with the family in Phoenix. "That was a very important time for me and I'll always be grateful to him for that," Snyder said.
Collins called it the right thing to do for a friend getting ripped in the national spotlight. "Quin is like a son to me," Collins said. "My wife and I, we sort of put our arms around him. We love Quin."
Snyder's career had imploded only four years after his NCAA tournament success. His program was plagued by off-the-court problems that began with the 2003 arrest of point guard Ricky Clemons on domestic assault charges. Clemons subsequently accused a Tigers assistant coach of paying him cash, charges that an NCAA investigation failed to substantiate.
The NCAA did identify 42 violations, from improper meal purchases for amateur coaches to improper contact with recruits by Snyder and two assistants.
Missouri was placed on three years of probation, lost three scholarships and was barred from off-campus recruiting for one year. His defense wasn't helped by the only thing worse than NCAA sanctions: losing. Snyder was 42-42 and missed the NCAA tournament his final two-plus seasons
Snyder resigned in a two-sentence statement 21 games into the 2005-06 season, although he still claims that he was fired.
"Those are semantics in my mind. Technically, I resigned. In my mind, I was fired," Snyder said. "Any time you're asked to resign, it's the same thing."
Snyder had a compensation package of over $1 million a year and went 126-91 with six postseason appearances. He passed on other marquee jobs because he loved his players and is proud of his team's high graduation rate.
"I felt like we were building something that was pretty special. That ended," Snyder said. "It put me through some things that made me really ask myself tough questions about whether I wanted to coach."
An academic All-American with Duke law and business degrees, Snyder considered all types of jobs during his yearlong sabbatical, like investment banking or entrepreneurial endeavors. He just couldn't shake the coaching bug.
David Kahn was a friend of Snyder since the early 1990s. Now the GM for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kahn owned the Austin Toros in 2007 and offered Snyder a second shot at coaching far from the spotlight of March Madness.
He took over in a pinch after coach Dennis Johnson's sudden death and led the Toros to the D-League finals in his first season. Snyder insists he never wanted to use the Toros as a steppingstone job and was content in the NBDL.
The Toros were affiliated with the San Antonio Spurs, allowing Snyder a rare and welcomed opportunity to work with an NBA staff. He traveled with coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs during the postseason. He sat in on team meetings, participated in coach retreats, and stayed involved in San Antonio's summer league and preseason games.
"I had a great opportunity with people who were very supportive," Snyder said. "I had the opportunity to work in the NBA. It was one that was pretty unique."
Snyder sidestepped a question about how much longer he was willing to coach in the developmental league. It's not his worry anymore.
He moved into a house with his wife and two dogs this week and joked that he is only looking for a good cheesesteak. Snyder, who successfully recruited 76ers forward Elton Brand at Duke, knows he can make a difference on a team that hasn't won a playoff series since 2003.
"There's no fear of failure," he said. "That's empowering in my mind."