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Weber State Wildcats find out the hard way about life on, off field
It’s a heck of a thing to be asked to go on when you lose someone close to you.
That’s why it breaks your heart as a casual observer – not even as a college football fan – to watch what the Weber State Wildcats football team has gone through this season.
At zero wins and six losses, even if you aren’t a Wildcats fan you still check the box score to see if Weber State broke through and got that first W that week.
Because at the end of the day, life is more important than football and some final score – and never has that been made more important to any group of individual athletes than these Wildcats.
Things happen for a reason, or so they say.
It’s easy to look at Weber’s win-loss record and say this season is a failure.
Statistics are down in every single category and even with a senior quarterback like Mike Hoke the Wildcats look lost – though they fight, scratch and claw every down.
Perhaps it’s fitting that on the sleeves of the Wildcats Adidas jerseys there are claw marks, which in no small way is symbolic of the battle the program is currently undergoing internally – and externally.
For one, Weber State doesn’t even have a real head coach; it has an interim head coach in Jody Sears, a farm kid from the Palouse of Washington State who was handed a program only after its new head coach John L. Smith left the program inexplicably, in the middle of night it seemed, without even saying goodbye.
But what the winless season doesn’t indicate – and never will – is the journey that these kids have undergone as they, in the course of one year lost two head coaches, one due to retirement and the other under bizarre and sad circumstances – but the saddest part of it all was that the players were never told why.
Before John L. Smith left his alma mater high and dry, Ron McBride, their longtime football coach, retired, giving no real reason other than to say he simply was done coaching at Weber State.
To the kids Coach Mac recruited, they may not have said so publicly – but his retirement caused irreparable damage to the program – though it wasn’t all his doing.
Why McBride – who is now 72, left the school, nobody knows for sure. Maybe it was that he was getting old, and maybe he just lost the kids.
After all, Weber State missed the FCS playoffs for the first time in three years in 2010 – and Ronnie Mac did what he was hired to do: he came in, and he resurrected the program and took it to new heights, just as he had done at Utah.
Weber turned to an alum, John L. Smith, a former head coach at Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State – who said in his press conference he was coming home to keep the Wildcats on top.
That’s when the trouble began.
As soon as Smith signed the contract, which was for about $800,000 per year, he was gone as quickly as he came.
For the Arkansas head coaching job, it turned out, in the wake of the Bobby Petrino scandal where he had served under the disgraced Petrino as a special teams assistant prior to being hired at Weber.
In essence, Smith left the Wildcats for more money, as it was later learned that he had mounting real estate debts totaling millions – which he could have never repaid with the salary he would have earned at Weber.
The only problem was, he never told anyone why he had to leave. And like the retirement of McBride, this departure – which happened just days into Smith’s stay at Weber – stunned everyone, including this time, Ronnie Mac himself.
McBride offered to even return to Weber State as its head coach and help out with the kids, but the school – which had already done the classy thing and held a ceremony honoring Coach Mac – politely declined.
Instead Weber hired Jody Sears, Smith’s defensive coordinator, who had also never been a collegiate head coach. And so, Sears was caught in the middle of a storm: he had a team that lost its trust in leadership.
Moreover, he had no real way to bring them back in 2012.
Several reasons compounded this. One was that Smith left just before spring ball started, which was possibly the worst time that a head coach could leave, and McBride even said so publicly.
Second was that these were McBride’s kids, and though nobody dares state it publicly, Coach Mac liked kids who had their scholastic struggles but who also had raw talent. And he searched heaven and Earth for these kids. He always had.
At Utah, Ronnie kids were a mishmash of talents and backgrounds, of kids whom BYU and LaVell Edwards didn’t want and would rarely ever take – and McBride always joked with LaVell about this.
Mac was special, a rare guy who could light up a room with a joke – and he knew everyone. In turn, everyone knew him.
And so, that charisma brought names like future NFL stars Kevin Dyson, Luther Elliss and Steve Smith to Salt Lake City from far-flung destinations and local outposts.
Smith has certainly had his share of success, sure. But he was far more intense and studious than Mac – though few players transferred upon hearing of Smith’s arrival.
On the other hand, that the majority of McBride’s assistants left when Mac did was not a good sign that life would remain the same at Weber.
And so, in a way, Smith – and Sears, for that matter – got a team filled with players who weren’t their players in the first place, kids who were from disadvantaged backgrounds and inner cities like Los Angeles and Honolulu, and who had already lived in turmoil throughout their lives- expecting something different out of life in Ogden.
They never got it this season. They never got the solace they wanted, and had worked hard for under McBride all these years – and now they were expected to change systems, coaches and entire philosophies in under one year.
They had to play Fresno State and BYU on the road, to open the season – then follow that trail leading nowhere against FCS powers McNeese State and Eastern Washington. By the time the Wildcats played UC-Davis and Cal Poly, they had nothing left.
Last year by this time, the Wildcats were putting up 40-plus points per game – and battling teams like Wyoming to the bitter end on the road.
But that’s how life has gone for Weber State football in 2012, the same year that former wide receiver Kyhaunn Woods lost his battle to cancer.
But it’s not too late for miracles, and in your heart of hearts, you hope and pray that these Wildcats have a little success so that their wrongs may be righted and their team becomes one.
BY: Brian Shaw, Utah Sports Examiner