Paul Snape: from Britain to Butler

BY BEN SIECK | ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

At first glance, Butler men’s soccer coach Paul Snape looks like an ordinary 37-year-old man. His British accent is the only hint that he is a man who regularly went toe-to-toe with the likes of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and some of the other best soccer players England has to offer.

Snape has been around the sport all his life, but his journey across two continents as a player and coach sets him apart from his peers at the collegiate level.

Senior goalkeeper Jon Dawson said Snape’s background is instrumental in his ability to coach.

“When you get to the higher levels, you don’t take a coach seriously unless you know that they themselves can play, and we know Snape can play,” Dawson said. “His playing background really helps us to trust him and believe in the things he is telling us.”

Growing up in England, Snape has had a ball by his feet since he could walk. He caught the eye of many English clubs, including Liverpool Football Club, his hometown team, by the time he was 14 years old.

Liverpool offered him a chance to participate in its developmental program, a privilege reserved only for the brightest young soccer players, after witnessing Snape in action at a tryout.

Snape would train with his academy teammates two or three nights per week for the first couple of years. As he got older, his training got harder.

“By the time I was 16, I was invited to day-to-day training with the professionals,” Snape said. “I was chosen to go full time at Liverpool, training five days a week and playing on the weekends against some of the best players in the world.”

By the time each academy player turns 18, Liverpool makes the decision whether or not to sign the player to a professional contract. When Snape’s 18th birthday came around, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

In the spring of 1994, Snape sat out the last two months of the season due to an ankle injury. After the season ended, Liverpool decided against signing Snape to a professional deal.

Although he may have been crestfallen at the time, Snape said he has made peace with the decision during the years since.

“I’ve heard since then that I was so close to making it professionally, and that would have changed my life in some ways,” Snape said. “But I look back on it, and I see the guys in the Premiership, and that would have been a bit of a stretch for me. I know I could have played at the pro levels, but that’s life. You have to deal with adversity.”

Over the next two years, Snape played semi-professionally and began working towards attending an English university. However, after hearing about a soccer tryout for an American college team, Snape decided to give it a go.

Snape made the sign up deadline with only a week before the tryout. Despite being in “absolutely terrible shape” and sick during the tryout, he managed to catch the eye of Oakland University assistant coach Steve Seargeant.

Snape said he always loved the idea of moving to the U.S. He even grew up a fan of the National Football League. When Snape was a boy, he and his father would regularly watch NFL games broadcast in England. Not a simple feat in a time before satellite TV.

“It was hard leaving family behind,” Snape said. “But at the same time, I needed a fresh challenge in my life, and I still believed I could play.”

Snape said the transition from English to American culture was pretty smooth, but some things were lost in translation.

“The distances are huge over here, so when people say something is just down the road, that means three miles, but in England, that means 400 yards,” Snape said.

Snape played four years at Oakland but said adjusting from a nine-month season to a three-month season was difficult. This led Snape to take a semester off in 1997 to return to England, a decision he said he is happy he made.

“You dream a lot about how great England was at the time, but I went back—and it was probably me who changed—and I wanted a little bit more,” Snape said. “Deep down, I just really wanted to get back.”

Snape briefly looked at playing in Major League Soccer after his collegiate playing career was over. However, he decided he “wanted to see if there was something else than soccer” at age 25.

After a stint as a substitute teacher, Snape was offered an assistant coaching job by Steve Burns, the University of Michigan men’s soccer coach.

Snape spent eight seasons with the Wolverines, but knew early on that he had found the right line of work.

“After two or three years, I realized this could be a full-time profession, but I had to be absolutely dedicated to it,” Snape said.

Snape felt the opportunity was too good to pass up, when the head coaching job at Butler opened up.

“I’d always heard great things about Butler, and I called my friends up who went to Butler, and they just couldn’t say enough good things,” Snape said. “I came down here and visited, and after speaking with my wife, we made the decision to come. I was an associate head coach and had gotten to the Final Four, but I was ready to be my own boss.”

Snape has enjoyed soccer as a player and coach, but the sport is always second to his family.

Snape said he is happily married, with a four-year-old daughter and twin infant daughters.

“Life is incredibly happy off the field as well. I think that’s great for me because I’m real balanced,” Snape said. “Coaches tend to be obsessed and workaholics, but it’s important to have a good family, and I’ve got an amazing family behind me.”

Snape was hired by Butler in 2011 and has already seen his English background pay dividends.

Freshman forward David Goldsmith, who is also from England and who played in a similar developmental system for West Bromwich Albion as Snape, said Snape relates to him more than the typical coach.

“He knew the opportunities I had in England, and he knows the opportunities I’ll get out here,” Goldsmith said. “He’s completely honest with me, and that’s one of the big reasons I came here.”

Snape said he is pleased with where he is at and enjoys the rewards of seeing his players’ development both on and off the field. Snape said he told his wife that, “We could be here for the next 30 or 40 years. I’m enjoying Butler so much right now.”

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