There’s something to be said for consistency, for having constants in a world that refuses to go according to script, despite our best efforts. That’s as true in college football as it is anywhere else.
The University of Wyoming has had Craig Bohl leading the Cowboys since the 2014 season. In the sports world, that’s equivalent to about a quarter century. Seven seasons leading a program is almost unprecedented. As a USC graduate, I would kill for seven years of consistency.
No, the 2020 season didn’t go according to plan in Laramie. But let’s be honest: none of 2020 did. The Cowboys limped to a 2-4 overall record in a season that almost didn’t happen at all. A season was canceled and then brought back from the dead. Then, games were canceled. Players missed time due to contact tracing and such. The team’s starting quarterback broke his leg on the third play of the entire season. The season was a mess from the start, and gradually fell apart as the weeks went on.
In the grand scheme of things, one bad season, particularly in a season that had so many other challenges built in, isn’t really something to get worked up about. The year 2020 happened; it was awful on the field and off of it.
But let’s put it in perspective here: prior to this past season, the Cowboys had been bowl eligible four seasons in a row. That stretch included three bowl appearances, the latest a dominant effort over Georgia State in the 2019 Arizona Bowl.
As I look at the college football coaching carousel (I’m looking at you, University of Tennessee) that has been underway around the country in recent weeks, I can’t help but laugh at just how good UW currently has it.
It’s OK for fans to want more. Expectations should be high in Laramie; this program has come a long way in a few years. But let’s also remember where this program was before Bohl left Fargo, North Dakota, for The Equality State.
He inherited a program from Dave Christensen that suffered losing seasons in three of his five at the helm. Prior to Christensen, Joe Glenn had one winning season in six years. Bohl has had three eight-win seasons. Prior to his first one in 2016, UW had won eight games just twice since 1998. What Bohl has done as far as consistency is concerned is pretty remarkable.
Twitter isn’t always the best place to gauge the pulse of a fan base, but it’s the best we have at the moment, considering the pandemic and the inability to, you know, talk to people in person.
But I try my best to see what people are saying (I’ve learned to take it with a grain of salt, of course). And there always seem to be people frustrated with Bohl, whether it be due to the inability to make the offense more explosive, or being unable to win more than eight games, or a seeming unwillingness to make wholesale staff changes. A good chunk of people are sick of his occasional cliché sayings (the one about “every father in America thinking he can do two things: coach Little League and call offensive plays” is one that gets thrown around online a lot).
Let me tell you, however, that the grass is not always greener. Change is not always good. If you’ve been keeping tabs on Tennessee, where a coach was fired for cause a few days ago after all the other available coaches had essentially already been hired, you know just how wild these things can be. The formal reason for the dismissal was recruiting violations, but let’s be honest: if they wanted Jeremy Pruitt to be the head coach, he would still be the head coach.
Within the Mountain West itself, coaching changes are happening all the time, and most of them don’t work out particularly well. From Bohl’s first season in 2014 until today, here are the number of coaches each conference school has had, including interims that coached at least one game. The coaches for 2021 (as of now) at each school are included:
Air Force: One coach
Boise State: Two coaches
Colorado State: Four coaches
Fresno State: Four coaches
Hawaii: Four coaches
Nevada: Two coaches
New Mexico: Two coaches
UNLV: Three coaches
Utah State: Four coaches
San Diego State: Two coaches
San Jose State: Two coaches
That’s a whopping 30(!) coaches at the 11 other Mountain West schools over the same time period UW has had Bohl. Some have moved on because they got better jobs, like Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, now of Auburn. Some were dismissed due to poor performance; Colorado State’s Mike Bobo, UNLV’s Tony Sanchez and Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter come to mind.
In a perfect world, coaches that last seven years at one place have won a few conference championships, played in a few major bowl games and consistently dabble in the AP rankings. Not everyone can be Nick Saban and Alabama or Dabo Swinney and Clemson, however. Auburn just fired its last head coach, Gus Malzahn, despite going 68-35 over eight seasons and five ranked finishes. In a vacuum, that’s kind of insane: Why would you get rid of a coach who has done nothing but win?
Michigan fans have a somewhat strange love-hate relationship with their current head coach, Jim Harbaugh, though it’s bordered more toward the “hate” part in recent seasons. Harbaugh has a 49-22 record with the Wolverines. They’ve finished ranked in five of his seven seasons and have won 10 games three different times. He was even given a contract extension this offseason.
So why does every Michigan fan want his head on a platter? Because he’s not Ohio State or its most recent head coaches, Urban Meyer and Ryan Day. There’s only one way Michigan would have made a coaching change, in my opinion: if there had been a scandal or if a truly transcendent commodity had been on the market.
Neither of those things happened, however, and Michigan’s brass came to a smart conclusion: consistency is as important as anything. And winning a ton of games along the way doesn’t hurt, either. It’s the same reason I think USC stands by head coach Clay Helton: is there someone better out there they can guarantee they’ll get? I doubt it. He’s won a lot of games and has been a rock for a program that went through what seemed like a coach a season in recent years.
Per a 2017 Business Insider article, the average FBS head coach lasts just 3.8 years. That’s kind of insane to think about. That means, on average, a high school football player will not have the same head coach that recruited him when his collegiate career ends.
The moral of the story here is that UW fans should be thankful for what they currently have. It’s good to be critical of people in power; coaches get paid more than enough to put on thick skin. But looking around the college football landscape, schools that have undergone constant coaching turnover haven’t thrived. These schools are always looking for something better, for some edge to overtake a hated rival. And more often than not, they end up stuck in a cycle, never content with what they have, but never truly able to find the consistency they might have attained had they kept one of the coaches.
Wyoming football is at one of its greatest heights in recent memory. That is due, in large part, to consistency at the top, of leadership realizing what it has in Bohl. After the 2019 season, when UW won eight games, Bohl was a sexy name in a few coaching searches. That seems to happen after teams have successful runs. After this year’s 2-4 season, some fans seemed ready for something different.
Sometimes the best thing is the same thing it’s been. There’s nothing wrong with the status quo, especially when the status quo is solid. It’s OK to be steady. A solid foundation is in place in Laramie that, quite frankly, hadn’t been here in quite some time. That’s a reason in itself to celebrate, to know that the product on the field is going to be good, regardless of the year (I’m forgetting 2020 in pretty much all respects, at this point). Most programs in college football can’t make that claim.
Enjoy it, Pokes fans. You are witnesses to one of the Cowboys’ golden eras. And if you’re not careful, it’s going to pass you by as you have your head stuck in the clouds.