High school football: Former University of Utah players trying their hands at coaching

Published: Saturday, Sept. 22 2012 11:04 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — In the realm of football, some are born to play and gifted with superior athletic ability. At the other end of the spectrum, some are destined to coach and blessed with strategically innovative minds.

For four members of the 1990 University of Utah football team, both worlds have collided into reality.

It was Ron McBride's first season pacing the sidelines for the Utes that year, and it started with two straight wins, including a 19-0 shutout against Utah State. Utah, however, would slump to an overall record of 4-7 while losing to No. 5-ranked BYU, 45-22, to close the year.

Although the success wasn't necessarily seen on the field, the aftermath of that season for four offensive players has transcended into an influential role for many aspiring athletes at the high school level across Utah.

Quarterback Mike Richmond, tailback Rod Wells, and offensive linemen Ryan Bullett and Cecil Thomas are currently head coaches at Murray, Taylorsville, Brighton and Granger, respectively.

"That's kind of funny that we all played together and all got into (coaching)," said Bullet, who was a senior for Utah in 1990. "Obviously none of us got into it for the money — we all just like the game a lot. You get your satisfaction out of watching the kids implement or learn what you teach them. Maybe we're kind of the same way right there."

Thomas, who was a redshirt freshman that season, attributed his career choice to the positive experiences and relationship he built with McBride.

"Before I got to the U, one of my goals was to be a federal agent. But after playing under Coach McBride and being involved when I got close to being done playing football, I didn't want football to go away," Thomas said. "So, my next step was to get into coaching. I think obviously the influence that Ron McBride has had on us and the father figure that he was to all of us — the way he molded and influenced our lives — we all wanted to stay involved somehow with football."

Thomas, Richmond and Wells are in the midst of their first seasons at their respective programs. Thomas has guided Granger to a 5-1 record while Richmond, who was handed a heavier load and is trying to change the culture at Murray after more than a decade of losing, is 1-5 with the Spartans.

Wells, a sophomore in 1990, is also 1-5 after inheriting a Taylorsville program that has struggled to find wins.

Thus far Richmond, who started under center as a junior, has played both Granger and Taylorsville with a 1-1 record, gaining the upper hand on Wells and losing to Thomas.

"Richmond (and I) played each other this year," Thomas said of the matchup between ex-teammates in week 2, whe Granger prevailed 53-22. "We talked up until our game and a little bit after, but other than that we've always got to concentrate on what we need to get done."

The most experienced of the four at the high school level is Bullett, who has been donning the headset at Brighton for seven years and has an overall record of 30-37. The Bengals are 5-1 this season.

"Being a head coach is very stressful. You put a lot of burden on yourself and things that you thought came natural and looked easy at a certain point, those things aren't easy anymore," Bullett said. "It's a lot of pressure and you put a lot of pressure on yourself wearing the hat than if you were just an assistant coach. It's a learning experience every day."

The friendships have continued to blossom, and although the busy and often demanding schedules of football coaches limits interaction, the four ex-Utes continue to stay in touch.

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