Robert A. Snyder, a legend in the professional and college football communities who played with Bronco Nagurski and coached five Heisman Trophy winners, died yesterday at Lake Park Rehabilitation Center. He was 87.
A one-time head coach at the University of Toledo, Snyder was best known nationally for his playing career with the Chicago Bears under George Halas and for becoming, at the age of 34, a head coach in the National Football League.
Snyder, a native of Fremont, played at Libbey High School, twice leading the City League in scoring during the early 1930s, then starred at Ohio University.
“He was a football man all his life,” said retired Blade reporter Seymour Rothman. “The story goes that he was a 4-year-old in Fremont when he took a football to church, tossed it to the good father in the middle of the sermon and said, `Here, catch.'
“And he was still talking football in his final days. I'd visit him and feel very bad about the condition he was in, but he'd start talking football and telling stories and you'd forget about his situation. It was just like old times. I give him credit for a lot of courage at the end.”
Snyder was credited with a lot of talent at the start and a lot of smarts as he progressed from a player into the coaching ranks.
After graduating from Libbey in 1932, Snyder played three seasons at Ohio University, including an undefeated campaign in 1935 when OU won the old Buckeye Athletic Association championship.
Snyder is a member of the City League and Ohio University halls of fame.
He played in the NFL for seven years, first with the Cleveland Rams and then for Halas in Chicago, where his teammates included Pro Football Hall of Fame members Nagurski, Clyde “Bulldog” Turner and George McAfee.
The Bears, known in that era as the ``Monsters of the Midway,'' won three Western Division titles and three NFL championships during Snyder's five seasons.
Snyder, named the NFL's top quarterback in 1938, passed for a touchdown in the Bears' 73-0 romp over Washington in the 1940 NFL championship game. He was also the team's placekicker and produced three field goals in a 37-9 win over the New York Giants in the 1941 NFL Championship Game.
Snyder left the Bears and spent the 1942 season as an assistant coach under Frank Leahy at Notre Dame University, where he was credited with installing the Bears' innovative T formation, man-in-motion offense. He returned to the Bears in '43, set two NFL kicking records and played on another league championship team.
Snyder converted a record 40 (in 41 tries) point-after kicks that season and also set a single-game record with eight PAT kicks.
After the '43 season, Snyder became an assistant coach with the Rams, helped coordinate the franchise's move from Cleveland to Los Angeles, and became the team's head coach in 1947. At 34, he was then the NFL's youngest head coach. The L.A. Rams finished 6-6 that year.
Snyder coached some of the game's most glamourous players while with the Rams, including Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch and three Heisman Trophy winners - Tom Harmon from Michigan, Glenn Davis from Army and Les Horvath from Ohio State.
While an assistant coach at Notre Dame in 1942, Snyder converted two single-wing backs - Angelo Bertelli and Johnny Lujack - into T-formation quarterbacks. Both later became Heisman Trophy winners, Bertelli in 1943 and Lujack, whose Notre Dame career was interrupted by World War II military service, in '47.
In 1950, Snyder served as head coach at the University of Toledo, leaving an assistant's position under Curly Lambeau with the Green Bay Packers. The Rockets finished 4-5 in his only season at the helm.
Another former UT head coach, Frank Lauterbur, was among the last to visit Snyder.
“I saw Bob (Wednesday) afternoon and he was obviously not doing real well,” Lauterbur said. “But we talked football, of course. He said he was going to watch the (college) championship game that night. He thought Florida State would win.
“He wasn't often wrong about those things. Bob was a legend and he'll be missed as a good man and as a font of football knowledge and lore. When I became coach at Toledo he was coaching the (Toledo) Tornadoes and he gave me a kickoff return play that we used very successfully. We became very good friends.”
Snyder was an organizer and the first coach of the Tornadoes when the semi-pro team was founded in 1962.
“Those were fun years, wonderful times,” said Irv Smilo, the first president of the Tornadoes. ``Bob was the No. 1 man in football. He had a brilliant mind for the game and was very much respected.”
Prior to that, during the 1950s, Snyder served as head coach of the Calgary Stampeders in the forerunner to the Canadian Football League. He also had stints as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers and in the college ranks at West Virginia and Villanova.
Known simply as “coach” in all circles of the Toledo athletic community, Snyder had been ill in recent years with diabetes and was a double amputee.
He is survived by his wife, Marjorie; his son, Tony; daughters Jane Snyder, Mary (Douglas) Bahnsen, Judith (Steve Verkin) and stepchildren Ellen (Marc) Pember, Jeri (Ray) Feeney and Vernon (Judy) Hanefeld, along with 15 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 5 to 9 p.m. tomorrow and from 2 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Coyle Funeral Home on South Reynolds Road.
The funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at the funeral home.