February 26, 2014
By Mark Janssen
To a large degree, head football coach Bill Snyder and head track and field coach Cliff Rovelto are mirror images of one another's coaching styles.
They work exhausting hours, pay attention to the minute of minute details, and on a daily basis, they get their athletes better prepared for the highest level of competition. In some - no, in many - cases, their athletes are better prepared to perform than those Wildcat student-athletes ever believed possible.
Snyder has his now well advertised "16 Goals For Success," while Rovelto, who coaches his Wildcats this weekend at the Big 12 Indoor Championships, uses many of those same goals in his coaching, but without giving them a name.
In explaining the success after coaching Erik Kynard, Jamie Nieto and Jesse Williams to second-, sixth- and ninth-place high jump finishes in the 2012 London Olympic Games, respectively, Rovelto said, "We do what we do, and that's what we did today. We did what we do."
That's being prepared to jump high - really, really high - on the world's biggest stage, like Snyder has his Wildcats prepared when the lights shine brightest on Saturdays.
Like the "16 Goals For Success" - Improve, Be Tough, Great Effort, Eliminate Mistakes, Never Give Up, Expect To Win, etc. - Rovelto's words sound just as generic unless one truly - 100 percent with both spiked feet - buys into them. It's only then that they carry an in-depth definition.
As former Wildcat Tysyn Hartman said, "The 16 goals may sound generic, but they are the foundation to this program and who we are. If you learn to dedicate yourself to the little things, your chance for success is all the greater. We have kids who come from all backgrounds, but these are our single set of core values."
While Snyder's guys come from all over the country, Rovelto has student-athletes from all over the world who become singular and united in K-State's track language and methods whether from Lithuania, Hungary, Sweden or the United States.
Like Snyder in football, Rovelto says, "I'm a teacher at heart. What I do is all about the kid and not about me. When it comes to a competition, I should be almost invisible. The coaches who try to put on an 'I coached that kid' show make me sick to my stomach."
To each, it's about the process of, in Snyder's words, "... to make each of our guys a better person, a better student and a better athlete every day."
It's to be better today than yesterday; be better tomorrow than today.
While their athletes have dialed in to these methods of Snyder and Rovelto, the two Wildcat coaches have found a comfort in the offerings of Kansas State.
Through his first 17-year stint with the Wildcats, Snyder had multiple opportunities to take his talents to higher-profile locales and for much bigger dollar signs, and even coaching at that next level.
Through his 24 years at K-State, Rovelto has had the same options as a head coach, and has even been promised a contract well above what he has at K-State to be an assistant coach at a track mega-power, with the message, "Oh yes, why don't you bring along Erik Kynard."
Instead, both coaches have been true to the Purple and White.
Each deals with publicity when absolutely necessary, but would much rather coach in seclusion - Snyder on the turf of the stadium that carries his name; Rovelto on the tartan tracks and runways of Ahearn Fieldhouse and R.V. Christian Track.
While Snyder keeps as low of a profile as possible in a community where he's considered the Messiah, Rovelto does the same. He may turn heads - "There's Cliff Rovelto!" - in European track stadiums, but it's without notice that he walks the Manhattan Town Center Mall.
In each case, it's how they want it. It's how they like it.
Both openly admit to being better coaches than husbands. Snyder admitted to shoving some family matters to the background prior to his early-retirement in 2005, while the 57-year-old Rovelto says, "I'm probably not a very good husband. My peers think I'm out of my mind because track is all I do, but right or wrong, this is my life."
Rovelto once carried a 2-handicap in golf, but says he hasn't smacked a Titleist, "for at least four or five years," and of his last movie he went to see, he gives a lengthy pause before saying, "I can't remember the last time I've gone."
This lifestyle is DNA for each.
As a California high school coach, Snyder said, "I was a coaching clinic junkie. When I was a swimming coach, I wrote articles on the physiology of the sport."
He once went to a hypnotist to see if there was a way to get more productive coaching hours out of a given day. "It wasn't one of my brighter moments," he quips.
In his early coaching days, Rovelto said, "I was totally engrossed into learning the sport. I went to every clinic I could find and spent every dime on books and tapes. I have up to 15,000 books and tapes on track."
With that being said, it's interesting that neither coach excelled at the sport they coach today.
"I was fairly non-descript," Snyder said of his own athletic abilities as a quarterback and defensive back at William Jewell College.
And from Rovelto, a prep cross country runner, he says, "I was good enough to be on varsity, but nothing more."
To complete their similarities is a coaching demeanor of being cool, calm and collected. Neither raises a voice - at least very often - but both are equally demanding to the highest of degrees on emphasizing the intricacies of their craft.
K-Staters should feel very, very comfortable, and proud, to have the likes of Bill Snyder and Cliff Rovelto as Wildcats.
In their respective sports, there are none better.