We've got to raise these young men up, teach them how to be successful not just on the football field but off the football field, too. —WSU coach Jody Sears
Whenever you see the words "interim head coach" and "2-9 record" in the same sentence, it's almost always good for a guaranteed trip to the unemployment line.
But when it comes to the Weber State University football program, well, it ain't necessarily so.
Yes, the Wildcats struggled through a disappointing 2-9 campaign under interim head coach Jody Sears. But by the end of the season, WSU athletic director Jerry Bovee had seen enough progress and positive signs in the program to give Sears a new three-year contract as the Wildcats' head coach.
And the word "interim" is no longer part of Sears' job title.
Bovee would be the first one to tell you this was a difficult decision to make. He expected to catch some flak from fans for bringing back a guy who only won two games in his first season as a head coach — and Bovee definitely did catch some. But he estimated that the positive support for keeping Sears outweighed the negative comments and input by about an 8-1 margin.
"A lot of people really like him," Bovee said of Sears. "He's a good guy who was thrown into a tough situation, and he's trying to build some stability and some character in the program and people want to give him a chance.
"I received more positive support than I expected. I think, overall, I've been pleased with the response."
Bovee was impressed with the way the Wildcats were competitive in virtually every game they played and maintained a never-give-up attitude throughout the entire season, even after the losses started piling up.
He also admires Sears' tremendous integrity and the classy way the interim coach handled things after being thrust into a very challenging position when the guy who brought him here to be the Wildcats' defensive coordinator, John L. Smith, bolted abruptly from his alma mater, Weber State, in April to take the high-profile job at Arkansas.
The Razorbacks, by the way, began the season ranked in the top 10 nationally and sputtered through a frustrating 4-8 season of their own.
Sears was also impressed and appreciative of the don't-ever-quit attitude that his team possessed this season. It resulted in a rousing road win over traditional Big Sky Conference rival Idaho State in the season-finale last weekend, giving the Wildcats two road wins in their last four games.
"Despite the losses, I felt really good about things because the kids were working their tails off all year and they didn't waver one time," he said. "They were frustrated, as we all were, but the positive feeling and the look in their eyes on that sideline at Idaho State told me how much it meant to them.
"There are no excuses for a 2-9 season, and we didn't try to make any excuses for it. We don't accept that at all. Coach Mac (Ron McBride) set a pretty good precedent here, winning a conference championship and going to playoffs in back-to-back years."
Sears' goal is certainly to re-establish that type of success in the program as soon as possible, but he also wants to help build his players into being better men who will be successful in their lives away from football.
"Ultimately, that's our job," he said. "We've got to raise these young men up, teach them how to be successful not just on the football field but off the football field, too. We've got to teach them how to not only be champions in football but champions in the classroom and in the community, serving people.
"We want them to be people of high character and integrity, and we want to teach them those values and principles and hope that they will show up on the football field as well. If you're not living your life the right way off the field, it's going to show up on the field.
"At the end of the day, as a coach, that's all you can ask your kids to do," Sears said. "Are they working hard? Are they being selfless? Do they have a good attitude? Do they have self-discipline? Those are the qualities we want to instill in them, as well as help them become better football players. ... We've got to raise 'em, teach 'em, love 'em, kick 'em in the pants when they need it and hold 'em to a higher standard."
Sears has already made one key change in his coaching staff by bringing Timm Rosenbach, his former college teammate and a former NFL quarterback, to Weber State to serve as the team's offensive coordinator.
Sears will continue to serve as defensive coordinator for the time being and does not foresee any more changes in his coaching staff at this time.
He cites the offensive line as the Wildcats' most immediate need, although that's the area where he felt the team made a ton of improvement during 2012. He feels like the receiving corps and defensive line are the areas of least concern right now, but realizes that improvement must be made across the board.
And as for concern or criticism that he might be too nice of a guy to be a successful head coach, Sears says most people only see his "nice guy" public persona but that he can be plenty mean, tough and intense when it's called for.
"I was raised to be a good person, and I try to treat people fairly," he said. "I get along great with people in every setting.
"A lot of people don't see me at practice, though; they don't see me getting in somebody's grill. I have no problem with jumping right in the middle of someone if they need it."
And there's no doubt someone will need it, maybe every day from now on.
But now that he's had the word "interim" removed from his job title, he's determined not to see the words "2-9 record" in the same sentence with his name ever again.