It was mid-July, and James Snyder had just been announced as the new distance coach of Temple’s cross country and track & field programs.
The hiring secured his first full-time coaching gig after assisting with distance programs at George Mason, Florida State and Appalachian State. With control over the distance program, Snyder asserted from the get-go that he was ready to build a program that could burst onto the national stage.
“This is my first time coaching my own athletes,” Snyder said in a July interview with The Temple News. “The other positions I had were all in an assistant capacity. That was one of the attractions to this job. I can finally have my own group of kids that I can recruit who I want to recruit … and build my own program.”
As summer gave way to fall and cross country switched into midseason gear, the Downingtown, Pa., native had the pieces in place.
With the track & field program having hired three other full-time assistants that summer, he then hired a full-time assistant in Grand Valley State alumnus Aaron Watson. Snyder brought in numerous recruiting prospects from schools around the country to visit Temple and run with the team, and a young nucleus on both the men’s and women’s teams held their own in a season of transition, much of them shattering career marks along the way.
“They hired [Snyder], a really good guy with a ton of experience, they put a ton of money into the program, we saw recruits come in all [season], and I had a really good feeling about it,” senior Will Kellar said. “It was looking pretty good. It was almost looking too good.”
The wave of good feeling for a distance program seemingly on the rise came to a quick halt, as it was announced on Dec. 6 that men’s track & field would be one of seven sports cut out of Temple’s athletic budget, beginning July 1. Men’s cross country was not among the cut sports.
“It was just out of nowhere,” sophomore Will Maltin said. “There was nothing prior in the months, weeks and days leading up to it that hinted at the fact that there were going to be cuts. There was nothing that really indicated what was going to happen, and it was a shock to all of us. A lot of people, including myself, were brought to tears. … We were just blindsided.”
“It leaves a sick feeling in your stomach,” Kellar said. “We had this young coach coming in. He was putting in hours upon hours to get recruits, going above and beyond the call to get them in here. He had these insane itineraries during their visits and he’d take them all over the city, and then to see all that work go down the toilet within an hour was tough.”
“On Friday morning, we had a program,” Kellar added. “And by Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. it was gone. With how quickly it happened, it was just unreal. … It’s disappointing.”
With no men’s track & field program to complement cross country after this summer, Snyder’s rebuilding project has taken a different turn. There is no cross country team in the American Athletic Conference without an accompanying track & field team.
While the lack of a complete cross country and track & field program on the men’s side figures to hurt the team’s chances of drawing higher-profile recruits, just how much or how little remains to be seen.
The team is still waiting on news of whether it will be able to receive funding from the university to perform in “nontraditional” meets during the winter and spring seasons after this year.
While that situation is pending, Snyder said the possibility of still being able to compete in some capacity during the cross country offseason could be an attractive option to recruits. The amount of available scholarships for the cross country program is also yet to be determined.
While times have certainly changed along with the situation since Snyder’s hiring, Temple’s distance squad and its coaches have made it clear that while track & field will no longer exist as a Division I program at Temple, cross country is still moving forward with those same goals that Snyder had harped on back in sunny July.
“We had a lot going for us,” Maltin said. “It was a new transition into this fall, we had a new coach and a lot of promise looking forward. We had recruits coming in here, potential facilities, more funding, and I believed 100 percent when coach Snyder said that we were going to be a Top 20 program in this country in the next four years. I believed every word of it. I had no doubt in my mind, and I knew he was going to be the guy to get us there.”
“Is that completely off the table? I don’t think so,” Maltin added. “Is it rare that a cross country only school gets in the Top 20 and makes it to nationals? It’s rare, yes, but I think Snyder has the resources to bring this team to that level. It’s tough thinking what could’ve been, but there’s no reason to think that it still couldn’t be.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @daParent93.