WSU, Utah Utes football: Coach Mac brings his current team to face former team

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 23 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

Weber State head football coach Ron McBride barks orders to his Wildcats while playing against Montana-Western earlier this season.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The University of Utah couldn't have picked a more fitting opponent for its 2008 homecoming game.

The Utes will welcome former Utah coach Ron McBride and his Weber State Wildcats for their homecoming game on Saturday at 6 p.m. It will be McBride's own personal homecoming and his first official appearance at Rice-Eccles Stadium since he was fired as Utah's head coach at the end of the 2002 season.

McBride is looking forward to being back at Rice-Eccles, although it may be awkward for him to run out of the visitors locker room, pace the opposite sideline he's accustomed to, and wear Weber State purple.

McBride will have a tough time generating any ill feelings toward the team he's facing. The 26 years he spent at Utah, 13 as the head coach during the 1990-2002 seasons, aren't tainted, in his mind, by how his tenure at the school ended.

"I got good feelings toward Utah," McBride said. "All my kids graduated from there, my wife graduated from there, my daughter-in-law graduated from there. They gave all of my former players an education and the players that we brought in there developed the program to where it is today. We built an outstanding life there, and an outstanding football program that's carried itself to where it is right now."

The Utah football program is in outstanding shape. The Utes beat a traditional national powerhouse in their season opener in Michigan, are ranked No. 17 in the nation, and are 4-0 for the first time since their BCS-busting season in 2004.

The roots of the Utes' success can be traced to McBride's 13-year tenure as head coach.

"I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Coach Mac," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "The bottom line is he really resurrected the Utah football program. He took it from obscurity and put it back on the map."

Rebuilding plan

People seem to forget, and younger fans may not realize just how perennially mediocre the Utes were before McBride took over as head coach prior to the 1990 season. When Utah played against Washington State in the Copper Bowl in 1992, it was the Utes' first bowl bid in 28 years.

Utah went to three bowl games in 97 years before McBride was its head coach. It went 31 years — between 1964 and 1995 — without a share of a league championship.

"Utah was a soft program, an underachieving program and a program that was

going nowhere," McBride said. "Their expectations weren't that high. When they hired me they said, 'Well, if you cannot embarrass us against BYU and be in about the middle of the league, and be respectable you can stay here as long as you want.' The bar was low. The expectations were they just didn't want to get embarrassed on Saturday."

Setting the bar low, or in the middle of the conference pack, wasn't going to work for McBride.

"I kind of laughed to myself because I knew being an assistant coach before (at Utah) what it could be if it was done right," McBride said. "You have to have a plan and stay long enough to implement the plan. Don't be in any hurry, take it one step at a time. We had our ups and downs, but we worked through the ups and downs and could play against anybody."

McBride's first priorities as Utah's head coach were to develop a tougher football team and recruit players who loved football. He took the Utes to two-a-days at Camp Carbon so that his players would train near the hard-working class of people in Carbon County to help develop some toughness.

In his first recruiting period, McBride told his assistant coaches to get him seven or eight players who considered playing football to be the top priority in their lives.

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