Weber State football: Interim head coach Jody Sears and Wildcats making the most of a tough situation
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Let's face it, folks, this is a pretty tough way for somebody to start their head coaching career.
See, you're the new head football coach at Weber State University, but they've chosen to put that iffy qualifier "interim" in front of your title after you were suddenly thrust into the job when the other guy abruptly bailed for a better gig.
So now it's turned into one of those classic good news/bad news scenarios: The good news is congratulations, you're the Wildcats' head coach; the bad news is, uh, sorry, but your first two games are on the road against a couple of perennially strong Football Bowl Subdivision programs.
Yep, we're talking Fresno State and BYU. Hey, good luck with that! That's the difficult challenge Jody Sears inherited when he took over the WSU reins in late-April after John L. Smith bolted from his alma mater for the greener pastures of the University of Arkansas.
The Wildcats opened their season last Saturday with a lopsided 37-10 loss at Fresno. And this weekend, they'll make the bus ride south to Provo to face the Cougars, who whipped that "other" WSU team (Washington State) last week, 30-6.
While Sears admits he might've had a "Holy, crap!" moment or two when he first glanced at the Wildcats' early season schedule, he's not looking around for a white towel to throw in when Saturday's game kicks off at LaVell Edwards Stadium — marking Weber State's first game against BYU since 1979.
"That's the hand you're dealt, and there's no sense crying and whining about it," Sears said. "It is what it is.
"When I was at Eastern Washington, we opened up at Oregon State and then went to West Virginia — back to back. So this isn't my first rodeo. I've been there and done that, man.
"But, really, this is just part of the process, and it's setting us up, I think, for the rest of the year. You're going to face that formidable of an opponent, you definitely know who you are and where your strengths are and where your weaknesses are. And now you can cater to it.
"I'd hate to go into our Big Sky season after beating some paddy-cakes or what have you and you kind of have a false sense of reality," he said. "We're going to have some reality now and we're going to know who we are."
Of course, the flip side to facing a couple of FBS biggies on the road (and potentially getting your tails kicked twice) is that it provides a pretty good payday for Weber State's program.
Indeed, between their trips to Fresno and Provo, the Wildcats will receive around $700,000 in guarantees — including $375K for the game against BYU, according to sources close to the Cougars' program — to help fund expenses for WSU's athletic department.
So while they run the risk of getting beat up physically and emotionally, the 'Cats need to make sure their confidence isn't shaken as they move forward from a likely 0-2 start this season.
"After this game, regardless of the outcome, we still have to have our foot on the gas," Sears said. "It's about us coming out here every day and getting better, grinding, working, stressing and getting after it. You're going to work and you're staying true to your covenants and your values of who we are and what our team is about.
"This season is a marathon, it's not a sprint. ... So you just try to get better week in and week out, week in and week out — just try to get better and move forward each week.
"These first two games are not going to define our season," Sears said adamantly. "It's going to tell us who we are but, win or lose, it's not going to define us. ... We can't let it define who we are. We have to define who we are; the leaders, our culture, our covenants, those are the things that have to define us."
The Wildcats' coach knows that the Cougars are an excellent ballclub, especially after beating up on a Pac-12 opponent like Washington State last week.
And he knows that playing in a hostile environment in front of BYU's big, loud crowd is a tall task for his team. But he's not about to shy away from what lies ahead for his Weber State squad, and he figures once these first two tough games are behind them, the Wildcats will have an opportunity to find out where they stand in coming weeks with home games against more similar-sized programs like McNeese State and Eastern Washington.
"BYU is big, physical and very well-coached," he said. "They have enough skill to compete with anybody in this country, no question, in my opinion.
They are big and they are physical, and they are very good.
"We don't have to play against the (crowd of) 65,000, but we do have to play against the 11 in blue (jerseys). ... I think the kids are excited to go down there and play in front of that big crowd.
"I'm kind of a glass-half-full guy," Sears said. "You know, whatever. I have to ride that bronc? OK, fine. That's the hand I'm dealt. OK, let's go to work. ... We've just got to stay locked arm-in-arm and keep moving forward. This game can't define our season; it can't define who we are — it may tell us a lot about ourselves, but it can't define us."
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