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Weber State football: Disappointing year brings questions for WSU

Published: Saturday, Nov. 17 2012 10:31 p.m. MST

OGDEN —

To say the last year has been a very interesting one for Weber State's football program would be like saying that, well, former Wildcat basketball star Damian Lillard knew a little bit about playing hoops.

Ya think?

Indeed, over the last 12 months, while Lillard was earning himself the proud distinction of being a first-round pick in the NBA Draft, the gridiron version of Wildcats have witnessed:

The retirement of popular head coach Ron McBride.

The hiring of John L. Smith, a former Weber State player with head coaching stops at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State, to replace Coach Mac.

Smith's abrupt departure — little more than four months after he was hired — to take over as head coach at Arkansas, where he'd been an assistant.

The naming of Jody Sears, who had come on board last January to serve as Smith's defensive coordinator, as WSU's interim head coach. It was Sears' first head coaching job.

The tragic death of Jocelyn Stanley, the wife of assistant coach Ted Stanley, a few days after the birth of their first child, a healthy baby girl named Emmerson.

And, finally, a disappointing 2-9 season in 2012, which included road wins over Southern Utah and Idaho State, a winless 0-5 record at home, injuries to key personnel and more than enough frustration to go around.

Whew, that's a lot to deal with — not exactly "My Favorite Year" material — and they may not be done yet.

Now WSU Athletic Director Jerry Bovee faces a difficult decision:

Does he bring Coach Sears back next year, having seen enough positives and progress in the program over the past seven months to override the Wildcats' lousy 2-9 record?

Or does he begin the arduous process all over again of forming a search committee, opening up the job to applicants across the country, narrowing the field of candidates down to a select group of finalists and interviewing them before eventually trying to pick that right guy who will, hopefully, come in and get the program moving in the right direction?

Of course, they thought they had that right guy last December when they hired Smith, who's had more than his share of problems at Arkansas — on and off the field.

And who's to say whether John L. would've done any better with the Wildcats in 2012, record-wise, than Sears did?

"It's really a hard situation just to follow the script that everyone thinks you should follow," said Bovee, contacted by telephone in Louisville, Ky., where he watched the WSU women's cross country team post the best showing in school history, 17th place, in the NCAA national championship meet.

"Obviously we brought him in as our interim head coach, and there's a lot of things that he's done really well that need to be considered, things that are not reflected in the team's record. I've said all along that he wouldn't be assessed strictly in terms of just wins and losses.

"Every week they've played, they've been competitive," Bovee said of the Wildcats. "They haven't ever given up, and I think that's a mark of a coach that can put a game plan together and keep his guys focused. The situation we're in is?unprecedented for us, and it's been quite distracting. But we've had a tough schedule, we've had some key injuries,?and he's kept them together, and there's a lot of integrity there in Coach Sears that I really admire. All that's got to be taken into consideration."

Bovee now has a seven-month sample size of what Sears can do, although the entire situation that the interim coach inherited and was thrust into was somewhat unfair based on Smith's sudden and untimely departure after the conclusion of spring football.

"We've got a good idea of what he can do in building the program," Bovee said of Sears. "Am I confident that he can be successful? I think he can, and I feel like we're not that far removed from being competitive and being in the playoffs.

"But are we patient enough to try and build it, or do we have to make a change? In the next couple of days, we're going to determine where we're gonna go. By Monday or Tuesday, we'll determine whether we'll open it up.

"I've got a lot of boosters who really like him and say he deserves a chance," Bovee said. "But other people will say we've got to make a change based on the won-loss record. So I've got to do what's best for the program."

And what's best? Sure, they struggled through a 2-9 season, but who's to say Sears can't turn this thing around given more time?

Right now, though, he's just a real nice guy who finished almost last.

Then again, maybe it's time to cut bait, start fresh and begin the painful hiring process all over again.

Bovee and WSU officials must soon decide what to do. And it's a crucial decision, too, because the long-term fate of the Wildcats' football program is hanging in the balance.

Email: rhollis@deseretnews.com

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