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Phil Snow
Coaching lifer Phil Snow knew his career path from a very early age
Carolina's defensive coordinator still has a great enthusiasm for teaching after decades in the profession. 
By Myles Simmons Jun 17, 2020

Phil Snow is a quintessential football coach.

The Panthers' defensive coordinator just gives off the aura of a man who's doing exactly what he should be doing. It's why even though he's obviously a football coach, Snow needs that "quintessential" moniker to really capture the feeling you get when talking to the man. After all, he's been coaching since 1976 — before some of the parents of current Panthers players were even born.

"It's really my only love," Snow said last week in an interview over Zoom.

"I've always told my wife, 'If I got out of coaching, what would I do?' I don't know what I would do. That's just what I've done my whole life."

Snow, 64, began his coaching career at Berkeley High School, working with defensive backs. But those around him knew what his career path would be long before then.

"(My mother) always told me that I wanted to be a coach when I was 10 years old. I told her that's what I was going to be," Snow recalled. "I started coaching even when I was in high school, playing sports.

"I coached my brother's seventh-grade basketball team at 6 in the morning while I was playing basketball in high school. I coached baseball in the summers. I was always coaching something — even as a teenager. So, it's just something I wanted to do."

Even after 44 years on the job, Snow still shows great enthusiasm for the profession. That's in large part because he loves teaching. And coaching combines teaching with competition, which is what keeps Snow in the game.

"You're matching wits. You put all these hours in, and the opponent does the same thing — the coaches and players — and then we go out there and put it on the line," Snow said. "It's just fun to compete and prepare for a week and then go out there and see what happens."

Snow is now back in the NFL for the first time since he spent four seasons as a defensive assistant with the Lions starting in 2005. This time around, he's facing a new challenge: He has to install his system and get to know his players virtually. And many of those players are in the same boat since they're rookies.

The Panthers last month became the first team in the modern draft era to use all seven of their picks on defense. And for a coach/teacher like Snow, having that much clay to mold is a big positive.

"When we got into the fifth and sixth round, and maybe seventh, I thought we would maybe take an offensive player," Snow said. "But (general manager) Marty (Hurney) and (head coach) Matt (Rhule) decided to go all defense, and I'm excited about all the guys we took.

"Now it's our job as coaches to develop them, and their performance will be based on how well we coach, so I'm looking forward to that."

And clearly, Snow sees a lot of potential in the new guys, starting with top pick Derrick Brown. The defensive tackle should immediately help the run defense, but that's not all.

"He's a big man that's not going to get knocked off the football, and I think he's gonna affect the quarterback (by preventing him) from stepping up and staying comfortable in that pocket. He'll make them move," Snow said.

"A lot of these quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball between 2.3 and 2.6 (seconds). So you're not going to sack them, but you've got to affect them, and I think Derrick will do that."

Snow believes second-round pick Yetur Gross-Matos can become a physically dominant defensive end as he gains more experience.

"I think he's just gonna grow into just a monster, because he's really fairly young right now," Snow said, noting that at 6-foot-5, Gross-Matos' long arms will be able to keep blockers off him. "I think he's got a lot of upside. I think we can also play him inside rushing the passer, so he has flexibility."

Position flexibility was a theme throughout the draft class, but it may not apply to any singular pick more than safety Jeremy Chinn. Snow noted that the second-round pick can play all over the field, which can aid the defense for specific weekly matchups.

"First of all, when you look at his measurables — 6-foot-3, 220 (pounds) and runs and jumps the way he does — there's not a lot of guys (like) that," Snow said. "I mean, it's hard to find a guy his size and that fast. And by the way, he's real smart too. So, he can do a lot of different things for us maybe some other players can't, and that gives you versatility."

Given the Panthers' divisional opponents, Snow feels defensive versatility is particularly important to combat NFC South offenses.

"If you take New Orleans, they have a lot of different people playing different spots. So if you don't have athletes that can match that, then you're going to be in trouble," Snow said. "If you don't have to change personnel, then you can dictate to them instead of them dictating to you. So that gives us an advantage."

Even though Snow has been coaching since the '70s, he's still finding ways to engage and connect with players. His former players at Baylor still affectionately call him "Yoda," and Gross-Matos has seen Snow's knowledge and passion come through a computer screen.

"The guy knows his football, obviously," Gross-Matos said.

As a grizzled veteran in the coaching ranks, Snow has compiled a wealth of experience across all levels for more than four decades. But 12 years after his last stop in the NFL, he's looking forward to competing at the highest level.

"Based on my age and stuff, coming back to the National Football League was something I wanted to do at the end of my career anyway, so that fit in just perfect," Snow said. "But really, it's competing against the people you compete against.

"I mean, you look at the offensive guys in our division, just the coaches and players, it doesn't get any better than that. I think that that's something we're all looking forward to. It's a huge challenge and I think it's going to be a fun time for us."

View photos of defensive coordinator Phil Snow during his three years as defensive coordinator at Baylor with Matt Rhule.

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