Without Ron McBride, there would have been no BCS bowls and surely no Pac-12 for Utah.
OGDEN — The end didn't come on the field, the way Ron McBride had envisioned. It came in a climate-controlled, brightly lit room atop Weber State's Stewart Stadium, not amid the crash of shoulder pads and the rifle-repeat of helmets colliding.
He would have preferred to be outside, a cold wind moaning up out of the canyons and along the foothills, snow spitting, the frozen field turning to stone. Instead, he was in the sky suites on Tuesday for his farewell press conference, explaining why he was resigning at season's end. Weber State, he said, needs a boost to another level. That's what he's done his whole coaching career, isn't it? It was Mac who told the Utes they need no longer bow under BYU's relentless dominion; Mac who took a program that for two decades had been abysmal and made it a conference consideration.
Without him, there would have been no BCS bowls and surely no Pac-12 for Utah. Ute football would have been trembling amid the New Mexicos and Utah States, fearing for its future. Seven years ago, he took over at Weber State, guiding it to the first conference title in 40 years and two postseason berths.
"I never really saw myself retiring," he said. "I saw myself dying on the field, basically. I never pictured myself being retired. I pictured my heart blowing up and somebody hauling me off."
When people would ask when he planned to retire, his answer was: "When the Lord takes me, I'll go."
Instead, a 3-6 record and three straight losses made the call. Just the week before, he had been in the office of WSU athletics director Jerry Bovee, discussing retirement for the first time in his 72 years. A broken leg sustained in a sideline fender-bender during last week's game moved the process along.
When the actual announcement came, though, McBride was unprepared. It caught him like a jailbreak blitz. It was an odd situation for a coach who spent a lifetime rising at 5 a.m. and coaching until midnight. He stumbled through his introduction, pausing as his voice choked.
"I have no idea what I'll do without football," he huskily said.
McBride stopped several times to wipe away tears. Players who didn't have classes stood scattered along the perimeter, looking somber and sad. Also in attendance were a few dozen fans and media. It was a story for everyone. Mac spent more than a quarter century at either Utah or Weber State, as an assistant and head coach.
The sixth-oldest active coach in the nation, he compiled an overall 129-101 mark as a head coach at Utah and Weber. But things have gone wrong for the Wildcats this year. They lost by 37 to Utah State, seven to upstart SUU, then suffered back-to-back loss of 35 and 20 to Montana and Montana State, respectively, after which McBride began to ponder the change.
"To retire is not my favorite thing to do," he said, "but I think it's the right thing do."
A university professor rose during the press conference and emotionally thanked McBride for his contribution.
"We love you," the man said.
"Yeah, well, I love you too," McBride replied with a self-deprecating laugh.
That's how it always was with Mac, a friend's friend. He was never polished like Urban Meyer. His voice sounded more like Rocky Balboa than Alistair Cooke, but his players loved him all the more. When a writer once sought him during the Utes' "Camp Carbon" in Price, McBride was in the dorms with his players, just another college kid on the loose. He was dressed in a red lava-lava and flip-flops, much to the delight of his Polynesian recruits. On his head was a ball cap that said "MAFU," an acronym representing mental toughness, attitude, fanatical effort and unity.
If all the letters didn't fit, surely the message did.
He collected his memories from stops at Wisconsin, Utah, Arizona, Kentucky, Weber State, and even his days as a high school and small college coach. Among his unforgettables: Chris Yergensen's 55-yard kick that gave Utah a 34-31 win over BYU in 1993.
"That kick's still going," McBride said. "That changed the whole complexion of Utah on that day."
He loved it most, though, when the weather turned fierce, reminding him of his days as a kid, playing slow-motion football in the mud with his friends.
"I love to play in bad weather," he said.
Then he was off, reminiscing on the games in the cold. When he was at Wisconsin, a reporter asked about a freeze-out at Michigan State. McBride scoffed, saying he loved it — it was 10 degrees colder than Madison. Another time he was coaching at Arizona in a brutish, mud-soaked affair against Oklahoma.
"We needed two first downs to win the game. We went for it on fourth down two or three different times," he said, his eyes taking a distant look. "It was all two yards, three yards, two-and-a-half yards; then we'd start again. Two yards, three yards, two-and-a-half yards, whatever. Get another first down. It was just a slugfest."
Now McBride's thoughts were far from the ease of the interview room, where they kept chilled water and candy in dishes. He was down on the sidelines, the cold snapping like a guard dog.
"You could hear the pads popping and you could see the helmets and you could hear the noise," he continued. "It was unbelievable, because they were getting after it. It's remarkable how it stays in your mind."3 comments on this story
One more time, just for an instant, Mac was back where he belonged.