Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
"Know when your journey is coming to an end."
A couple of weeks back, Frank Dolce and I were having breakfast at our hotel in Pittsburgh before the Utes and Panthers game. We were joined that morning by former Ute wide receiver Bryan Rowley. Our conversation was drifting from topic to topic on the Utah football program, when we came to the topic of the current Utah wide receivers trying to do too much and fumbling the football in the process.
Rowley said that when he was with the Miami Dolphins for a short time, his position coach gave him this piece of advice: "Know when your journey is coming to an end." In other words, there comes a point where you can do no more on a play, so end it before it ends badly. Pretty good advice. The Utes have followed that advice in recent weeks and the turnovers have begun to disappear, but that's not what I wanted to talk about today.
Those words have resonated with me over the last few weeks when I've watched and called games. But they really struck close to home this week with Weber State head football coach Ron McBride announcing his retirement Tuesday in Ogden. I don't think there's anyone that has lived in our state and followed sports over the last 25 years that doesn't know who Ron McBride is. After seven seasons in Ogden, Mac decided to call it quits on a career that has spanned more than 40 years, with stops at UC-Riverside, Long Beach, Wisconsin, Arizona, Kentucky and of course his two most impactful jobs: Utah and Weber State.
The reason I want to write about Ronnie Mac today is because I believe he is as responsible for Utah's recent football success and spot in the Pac-12 as anyone. McBride spent 13 seasons as head coach at Utah, starting in 1990. During those 13 years he compiled an 88-63 record and took the Utes to six bowls games (they had been to just two in the prior 97 years), and the Utes won two conference titles in 1995 and 1999 during his tenure.
But the most important thing Mac did in his time on the Hill was to make Utah football competitive and important again in the state of Utah. He brought the Rivalry Game with BYU back to being a rivalry once again. In the 20 years before McBride took over the program, Utah went 3-17 against Brigham Young. Under Mac, the Utes won six games.
In addition to breathing life back into the Rivalry Game, Mac and his staff opened the "Polynesian Pipeline" to Salt Lake City, which added a new stream of talent into the program. McBride once told me that he was made an honorary Polynesian and he oftentimes called into my radio show from a wedding or family gathering of one of his Polynesian players.
The end of his tenure at Utah wasn't great; endings rarely are in the coaching profession. He was fired after a 5-6 season in 2002. I'm sure there was some bitterness and upset feelings, but he never showed it publicly. He continued to appear at Utah football functions over the years and always called himself a "Utah Man."
In 2005, Mac got his chance to be a head coach again and once again worked his magic turning the Weber State program around, taking them to the playoffs in both 2008 and 2009. Once again, though, the most important thing that McBride did was to make the program relevant to its fan base.
It must have been sometime in the last couple of weeks that football "lifer" Ron McBride decided that "his journey had come to an end." At his press conference Tuesday, Mac was as funny and upbeat as you would expect. He said that he ultimately "wanted to do the right thing for Weber State, not for Ron McBride." Make no mistake about it; he would love to be able to continue, because at his core Ron McBride is a football coach.
There have been those who have won more and bigger games in the state of Utah. There are certainly those who have received more national fanfare for the success of their programs. But you would be hard-pressed to find anyone that has had a bigger impact on players, fans and programs in our state than Ron McBride. Ute fans, Wildcats fans and football fans all owe Mac a big thanks for his efforts, and the good news is that he'll be around.
So when you see him, thank him.
Bill Riley can be heard as the radio voice of the University of Utah on game days and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.
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