By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst
July 26, 2022
(Cover photo courtesy Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Ben Miller's colon cancer treatment will extend throughout the 2022 season and Illinois has found his replacement on Bret Bielema's Illini coaching staff in the form of a friend and former colleague of the Illini head coach.
Illinois announced Tuesday morning that Sean Snyder will take over the special teams coordinator duties with the Illini coaching staff. Snyder spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons as special teams coordinator at Southern California after spending more than two decades at Kansas State, where his father, Bill Snyder, was a legendary head coach. Illinois athletics officials confirmed Miller, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in February, will remain in communication with the Illinois staff and student-athletes as much as possible while continuing his medical plan and treatments.
"The past few months away from football have been difficult, but it has given me time to be with my family and focus on my health," said Miller in the university release. "I have a few more challenges ahead but have received encouraging news about my diagnosis. I have completed four months of chemotherapy and am awaiting liver surgery in August. I will be undergoing more chemotherapy during the fall and will miss the majority of the 2022 season. Treatment is going as planned, and I'm fortunate to be receiving the very best treatment by world-class physicians. I'm also blessed to be a part of a first-class organization at the University of Illinois. I would not be where I am without the support of my family, Coach Bielema, Josh Whitman, the Illini football famILLy and, of course, Illini Nation. I-L-L!"
"Ben continues to impress me and all of our football famILLy in his approach, fight, and faith," said Illinois head coach Bret Bielema in the university release. "He will be missed on the sideline but we are excited to have him with our student-athletes as much as his treatments and NCAA rules allow. Ben and I knew this scenario was a possibility since February. We created a plan together that we are confident will give our student-athletes the best opportunity to succeed, while maintaining his health as the #1 priority. As part of that plan, we are excited to have Sean Snyder join our Illini FamILLy as our special teams coordinator/specialists coach. Sean and I have a long history, first as teammates then as assistant coaches together, and he is always someone that I have respected. He is an accomplished special teams coach with 10 years of Power-5 coordinator experience and over 25 years total in college football. I am thrilled to be reunited with Sean and his family here in Champaign."
Bielema was a teammate with Snyder at Iowa under head coach Hayden Fry and then reintroduced himself with the Snyder family at Kansas State when Bielema was hired by KSU head coach Bill Snyder as the Wildcats co-defensive coordinator in 2002-03.
Sean Snyder began at Kansas State as a part-time assistant coach in 1994 and 1995, then served as director of football operations from 1996 to 1998, assistant athletic director for football operations in 1999 and 2000, associate athletic director in 2001 and senior associate athletic director from 2002 to 2010. He served as special teams coordinator/associate head coach from 2011-18 and special teams analyst in 2019 before moving to USC.
During his tenure, Kansas State ranked in the Top 15 of the ESPN Special Teams Efficiency rating 5 times, including first in 2017, second in 2015 and third in 2012. The Wildcats also were in the Top 25 of the Football Outsiders Special Teams Rating 6 times since 2011, including first in 2017, third in 2014 and 2019 and sixth in 2012. Snyder was named the national Special Teams Coordinator of the Year in 2015 by FootballScoop and Phil Steele and in 2017 by Phil Steele.
In 2020, USC's special teams were ranked No.1 nationally by Football Outsider and the Trojans were in the national Top 25 in NCAA statistics in kickoff return defense (10th at 17.0) and net punting (25th at 40.8). True freshman Parker Lewis was 20th nationally in field goals (1.6), Gary Bryant Jr. (also a true freshman) was 22nd in kickoff returns (26.2), Ben Griffith's 46.4 punting average was the highest by a Trojan since 2003 and snapper Damon Johnson was a Mannelly Award finalist.
Under Snyder, Kansas State's special teams units set or tied eight team records and 20 individual marks. He coached four Big 12 Special Teams Players of the Year, including three consecutive (returners Tyler Lockett in 2013 and 2014, Morgan Burns in 2015 and Joshua Youngblood in 2019). Lockett, who now plays for the Seattle Seahawks, was an All-American first team kickoff returner in 2011 and punt returner in 2014. Burns earned All-American first team honors in 2015 as a kick returner when he led the country in kickoff return touchdowns (4). Youngblood was a Freshman All-American first teamer in 2019 when he ran back three kickoffs for TDs and helped Kansas State top the nation in kickoff return average (29.5). Placekicker Matthew McCrane was a Freshman All-American first teamer in 2014 and All-Big 12 first team pick in 2017, while kicker Jack Cantele made the All-Big 12 first team in 2015. Kick returner Byron Pringle was All-Big 12 first team in 2016 and returner D.J. Reed was so honored in 2017.
Snyder was a consensus All-American and All-Big Eight first-team punter under his father at Kansas State as a senior in 1992, averaging 44.7 yards per punt. He was the Big Eight Defensive Newcomer of the Year as a 1991 junior, with a 40.5 punting average. His 43.0 career punting average was a school record. He played in the 1992 Blue-Gray Game. He was inducted into Kansas State's inaugural Ring of Honor Class in 2002 and into its Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016.
Snyder redshirted at Iowa in 1988, then saw action in two games for the Hawkeyes as a redshirt freshman in 1989 where he was a teammate of Bielema's in Hayden Fry's Iowa program before transferring to Kansas State. He earned his bachelor's degree from Kansas State in money and banking in 1994.
Snyder signed as a free agent with the Phoenix Cardinals in 1993 and the San Diego Chargers in 1994.
He and his wife Wanda raised a daughter Katherine and sons Tate and Matthew. They have five grandchildren: Katherine and her husband Colton have three kids, DJ, Declan, and Murphy, and Tate and his wife Nikki have two children, Pearce and Presley.
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