An article from 2007 made the following statement:
SpaceX is in many ways the exact opposite of Kistler. It's run by Internet wunderkind Elon Musk, does almost all of its work in-house with a staff of young engineers not tainted by experience. It envisions a simple float-back booster (similar to Von Braun's classic 1952 Ferry Rocket) not burdened with weighty flyback hardware.
If my understanding is correct, "weighty flyback hardware" is exactly what SpaceX is working on. So it seems that the approach changed since the publishing of that article.
More specifically, what had the company been planning before they went with the flyback route? Parachutes? Airbags?