Westminster Christian Academy’s varsity football coach Cory Snyder announced Tuesday (April 12) he has accepted the head coaching position at Francis Howell High School.
Snyder, who also is a physics teacher and registrar, will be leaving Westminster on July 1.
Chris Pederson, longtime coach and offensive coordinator, has been named head coach for the 2016-17 football season. Pederson has been with the Westminster program for 13 years.
Snyder, 36, had led the Wildcats, a team that competes in Class 4, for the last five years as head coach.
Snyder met with his former players before school Tuesday and then sent out an announcement on Twitter that he was going to Francis Howell, a Class 6 program.
Snyder, 36, acknowledged he had mixed emotions about the decision.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” Snyder said. “I’m excited to get going but there’s a little bit of sadness, too. This is the only place I’ve ever worked. I’ve been here 15 years. I came here right out of college. This is my first move. I just felt like I needed to make a change and grow and get a bit uncomfortable and continue to grow.”
Snyder takes over a Vikings program that was impressively built by coach Bryan Koch, who resigned Feb. 26. Koch, 34, led Francis Howell for nine years. Koch, a 1999 Francis Howell graduate, went 72-33 in his time leading the program.
The Vikings went 1-9 in 2007, his first season as coach. The Vikings appeared in the Class 6 championship game in 2012 and lost 42-3 to Blue Springs. Francis Howell finished 10-1 last season.
Snyder will meet his new players later today. He will visit with the players at 6 p.m. and then at 7 p.m., there will be a meet and greet with the parents, school officials and the community at Francis Howell.
He met with his players earlier Tuesday. They were not caught off guard by the news.
“It kind of leaked out last week. The guys all knew about it but it was good to finalize it and make it formal,” Snyder said. “We have a succession plan in place. Chris Pederson will be the coach. It’s an official ending for me.”
The players all wished him well.
“We had like a receiving line and the guys shook my hand, gave me a hug and thanked me,” Snyder said. “There weren’t too many tears, probably more tears from me than anyone else.”
He’s heard from former players, too.
“I’ve had a ton of e-mails and tweets and text messages from the guys from the past,” Snyder said. “They are all wishing me good luck. We have kids that stop back in here all the time and that’s always great.”
Snyder began teaching and coaching football at Westminster in 2001. He came to Westminster after completing his undergraduate degree at Washington University, where he played football for the Bears.
In 2002, he was named defensive coordinator for the Wildcats.
These were the formative years for Westminster’s football program, said Head of School Tom Stone.
“Snyder was a member of a team of highly skilled and dedicated coaches who were driven by a vision of a high-impact, competitive program that would challenge players to become the men who God created them to be,” Stone said in a statement.
Snyder has been around “since the second year of varsity football” at Westminster. He’s enjoyed seeing the program prosper.
“I remember when it was all just starting,” Snyder said. “I have been involved in most of the major moments of the program. That’s been pretty special. That made it a hard decision to leave.”
Snyder was named Westminster’s head coach in 2011. After a 2-8 season in his first year, Snyder and his coaches led the Wildcats to four consecutive seasons with at least eight wins, three straight district championships, two state quarterfinal appearances, and a state semifinal finish this past fall.
In his five seasons as the head coach, the Wildcats were 44-17. In 2015, Westminster went 13-1, reaching the semifinals. The Wildcats lost 35-16 to eventual state champion Kearney.
“Every game is good but it was fun to play in the semifinals this year against Kearney,” Snyder said.
One game does stand out for Snyder.
“The game where we beat Ladue (28-20) at SLUH in 2013, that was a pretty special win,” Snyder said. “Then we played Webb City (in semifinals) the next week and that was a whole new experience.”
Webb City defeated the Wildcats 36-6 en route to winning the state championship.
During his 15-year tenure, Snyder was among the key leaders who led Westminster’s program through its early stages and oversaw its development into one of the most highly respected programs in the state, Stoner said.
“Snyder’s win-loss record is widely known, but the greatest legacy he leaves at Westminster lies in the young men whose lives have been indelibly marked and shaped by the time spent under his influential leadership,” Stoner said. “His intellectual and organizational skills contributed to his success in each of his roles at Westminster, and he will be respected forever as an exemplary role model who gave deeply – all his best – to build young men of faith and character through football. We will miss his impact and presence in our community.
“Francis Howell is a Class 6 school with a deep tradition, supportive community, and reputation as one of Missouri’s most exemplary programs. However, we all know that Francis Howell has just become the beneficiary of its greatest asset for the future.”
Snyder said he thought it was a good opportunity for him and his family.
“When I saw Bryan stepped down, and I don’t know him personally but I have a lot of respect for him, it was intriguing to me,” Snyder said. “We live in that district. My kids are in the third grade (son) and second grade (daughter). So that was important.
“I wasn’t sold on that was what I wanted to do. I thought it was worth a phone call and email. The more I learned about it, it became more appealing. Doors were opening and I went in that direction.”
It’s where Snyder wants to be.
“Bryan’s done a great job there. The coaching staff has done a great job,” Snyder said. “The community is very supportive. I can’t wait to get stated.”
Francis Howell Athletic Director Sean Ervin believes a great choice was made to replace Koch.
“We are very excited to welcome coach Snyder to the Howell family,” Ervin said. “We have very high expectations and standards for those that lead our programs and coach Snyder has displayed at his past position and during the interview process that he has the ability to lead young men and to help them become better people and football players. He is someone that we feel will continue to building the program and help to take it to the next level in the classroom, on the field, and in the community.”
Ervin knew what he wanted in the Vikings’ next head coach.
“In all of our head coaching hires, we want a leader that is going to develop the young men and women in our program both on and off the field,” Ervin said. “When student-athletes leave our programs after four years we want them to be better people because they were involved in our programs. With coach Snyder, I feel we have someone that will not only develop great football players that will represent Howell but will also develop great leaders and people that our school and community will be proud of.”
Several things sold Ervin on Snyder.
“His leadership presence was impressive,” Ervin said. “His ability to communicate his vision and the overall passion for Howell, it’s history, and the desire to continue to develop the program and the young men in it were very evident throughout the interview process.
“We had a very talented pool of applicants that applied for the position. We attracted interest from throughout the state and Midwest.”
Stoner said Snyder’s moving on is just a part of Westminster’s mission.
“Similar to how we feel about our graduates, we take pride in our faculty and staff when, in response to God’s leading, they step out with faith and courage to take on new challenges in positions of influence,” Stoner said. “In so doing they exemplify the Westminster vision of engaging the world to change it for the sake of Jesus Christ. May God bless coach Snyder and his family as he begins this new season of life. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.
“May God also bless coach Pederson as he steps in to provide continuity for our players, coaches, and program at this important time. He brings a passion for the game, admiration for the players, and deep respect from our talented coaching staff. We are confident that under his leadership our program will continue to grow in its strength and impact.”