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Coming full circle: Snodgrass' coaching career returns to his rural, small-town roots at LaCrosse

It was the Saturday of regionals across Indiana.

Rick Snodgrass and his wife Teresa drove down to Seymour to see their son Blake, the varsity assistant at Jeffersonville, as the Red Devils played Bloomington South.

"I knew it as soon as I walked in," Snodgrass said. "I smiled and said to Teresa I still have that feeling in my stomach. She knows how much I love to coach, how much I love the game."

When Snodgrass, 65, stepped down at Portage, he didn't completely close the door on a return to coaching, it was a matter of whether the right situation would come along.

Who would've figured that situation would be at LaCrosse, one of the state's smallest schools?

"It's a new challenge, a new adventure," said Snodgrass, whose hiring was formally approved by the school board Thursday. "I'm as excited as I have been in a long time to do something. I don't even know how to describe it. A new door opened for me. I believe fate caused that. It's a great opportunity and I'm really looking forward to it."

LaCrosse initially hired Valparaiso assistant David Prokop, but he stepped down shortly thereafter, and Snodgrass was still interested when the school circled back around to him.

"We wish coach Prokop nothing but the best with whatever he's doing next," LaCrosse principal Brian McMahan said. "Things happen in mysterious ways and this brought Rick back to us. We're lucky that he was still there. This was a fit that was supposed to happen. To have a guy apply at LaCrosse with 40-plus years and 380-plus victories and says, hey, I want to come to LaCrosse and finish my career there, and take the position, that's really awesome."

Snodgrass grew up in Oxford in north central Indiana, attending Benton Central, a consolidation of 13 schools that opened when he was in eighth grade.

"I lived right next door to the gym," he said. "It was right by the railroad tracks. I couldn't wait until Friday night to see a ball game. It didn't have the character La Crosse has, but you'd walk in and smell the popcorn. It was a town where you could literally turn off the lights and everyone would go to the game. Growing up in a rural community, LaCrosse reminds me so much of that. It takes me back to my roots. I just love driving through those towns. That's what it's all about. I think it's a good fit."

Snodgrass' other son Brandon is the head coach at Rising Sun, a Class A school in the Ohio River Valley Conference, and joked with him as they walked around the school that he was jealous.

"It just feels different, walking in a small gym," he said. "That time we went down to Knightstown (the 'Hoosiers' gym), it was so neat. The LaCrosse gym reminds me of that. (Boone Grove coach) Matt McKay is a good friend. He wrote me a nice letter and said when you get that place packed, there's not a better place. That's my goal, to get LaCrosse to be a tough place to get out of with a win. I want the community to pack that gym. Hopefully, next year will be better and we'll be back to being able to do that."

After college baseball player at Miami (Ohio), Snodgrass took his first basketball coaching job at Hamilton Southeastern in the early 1980s. Now one of the largest schools in the state, the Carmel suburb had a Class A enrollment at the time. He went from there to Twin Lakes, Danville and North Harrison before coming north to Portage in 2007.

"I've got nothing but positives to say about Portage," Snodgrass said. "I wish them the best. I know Bryon (Clouse) will do a good job. I'm lucky to experience one of the best 4A conferences in the state -- the Duneland is well-respected -- and now one of the best 1A, 2A conferences in the state. Everybody knows about the PCC. I respect all the coaches there. I haven't experienced the (conference) tournament and banquet that are so much fun."

Snodgrass' first task as the LaCrosse coach was buying some green clothes for the meeting, where he met the board, players and parents.

"I had zero green in the closet," he said. "I had to go buy a tie and a couple shirts."

LaCrosse won just four games this season, but returns its entire roster.

"My message will be, I'm here for you, I want you to succeed, I'm going to try my best for the kids to have a good experience," Snodgrass said. "They're really good people. The superintendent (Kelly Shepherd) and principal are athletics people. I'm anxious to meet the girls coach and see if there are some things we can do. The key at a smaller school is getting the parents and the younger kids involved. We have a good starting point. I'm going to get on the team Hudl page and I'm anxious to see the kids in person, to get to know them and evaluate them. It's a learning situation."

Plans include to attend a couple summer shootouts and possibly a team camp.

"We're coming in a little behind, but we do have the summer, which we didn't have last year," Snodgrass said. "It's my 38th year and I really believe you can't coach like you did when you started. You need to keep evolving, to continue to learn every day."

Snodgrass has yet to decide whether he will retire from teaching at Portage. Teresa will continue to teach there.

"We built a house in the area and we want to stay around for a while," he said.

McMahan isn't concerned with Snodgrass not being in the school.

"I think he's going to be a good role model to our kids," McMahan said. "I think it's going to be fun for our kids to be around him. He's probably forgotten more about basketball than I know and he has the energy of a 30-year old. I'm excited for the kids. I know they want to get going and he wants to get going as soon as possible."

Coincidentally, LaCrosse opens its season against River Forest, which just hired Corey McKim, Snodgrass' long-time assistant at Portage.

"I'm so extremely happy for Corey," Snodgrass said. "He deserved to be a head coach. He's put in the time and effort. He's a loyal friend. I told him I hope he goes 21-1."

Rick Snodgrass has been hired as the boys basketball coach at LaCrosse. The 38-year head coach was at Portage since 2007. (Photo provided)

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