Wouldn't you know it? Ron McBride spends 25 years as an assistant coach, earning a reputation for building great offensive lines and sound running games, and what happens? In his first year as head coach at the University of Utah, the offensive line and the running game go kaput.
McBride tried everything last season. New quarterbacks. A simplified scheme. New linemen. During a bye week he made a quick trip to California to consult with other coaches. At one point he even decided to coach the offensive line himself.But the Utes never did get the hang of the new offense, and McBride watched in dismay as his team fielded the fourth worst running game in America, gave up 39 sacks in 11 games and scored 14 or fewer points in five games.
Something needed to be done. When wide receiver coach Brad Childress took a job with Wisconsin during the off-season, McBride seized an opportunity to replace him with an assistant who could refine the offense. Initially, he met with Norm Chow, the longtime quarterback/receiver/play-calling coach at BYU, and considered hiring him. Eventually, he decided to hire Rick Rasnick, a highly successful, if extraordinarily young, offensive coordinator at San Jose State.
Why Rasnick? "Because Rick Rasnick is the perfect addition," says McBride. "If I had hired Norm, I would've had to make big changes. He would've had to be coordinator, and we would've wanted to change the offense to what he'd been doing. You couldn't expect him to come in and use this offense. But with Rasnick, we could stay with the same scheme. He's been using it 10 years, and he knows all the schemes. Plus, he has worked with Danny (Henson) before."
Henson, another former San Jose State assistant, is the Utes' official offensive coordinator, but Rasnick will handle many of the offensive coordinator duties. Says McBride, "He will handle all the blocking schemes, the goal-line package, the running game and he'll call plays." Rasnick also will coach the running backs, "because it allows me to get around to all aspects of the offense."
With their season opener six days away, Ute players and coaches are convinced that Rasnick will cure the team's offensive problems eventually. Certainly, he has the credentials.
By any coaching standard, Rasnick, 31, has risen rapidly in the business. He was the starting center and team captain of the 1980 San Jose State team. A year later, he was a graduate assistant coach, and a year after that, following the resignation of an assistant coach, he became a full-fledged offensive line coach at the age of 23. In 1987, at 27, Rasnick became the youngest offensive coordinator in the country and helped produce the nation's leading pass offense, which in turn produced a conference championship.
"I've been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time," says Rasnick. "Once I quit playing, I really wanted to coach. I worked 18 hours a day. I was very fortunate to work with (Coach) Claude Gilbert, who I consider to be one of the best X-and-O coaches in the country. He taught me a lot about defense. You have to understand defense to know how to attack it. I spent a lot of hours with him. I shared an office with him. I asked a lot of questions and I listened a lot. I wanted to be an offensive coordinator. I didn't want to be a career offensive line coach."
During Rasnick's 10 years as an assistant at San Jose, the Spartans won five conference championships, including one last season. It was midway through the '90 season that McBride flew to to San Jose to discuss the Utes' offensive problems with Gilbert and other members of the Spartan staff. McBride had adopted a San Jose-type offense, but it wasn't working. He asked Gilbert - and eventually Rasnick - to look at his game films and give him some pointers.
"I was real impressed with Rasnick," says McBride.
Rasnick agreed to meet with McBride last spring, but he recalls, "I wasn't completely convinced." After a second meeting, Rasnick decided to make the move. "I had accomplished everything I could at San Jose State," he says.
To preserve staff continuity (and egos), McBride gave Rasnick a new job title: Assistant Head Coach for the Offense. Whatever that means, Rasnick now finds himself trying to solve the Utes' offensive problems.
"Obviously, there were some personnel problems and inexperience, and they had a lot of bad breaks," Rasnick says, diplomatically.
Rasnick is confident that he and the Ute staff can turn the offense around. "We've been in this offense a long time," he says. "We know what we're doing." On the other hand, Rasnick says, "There's no question, we've recruited good players, but experience is still a problem. Of the returning starters, who will start this year? Four players? It's a new offense."
Rasnick and Henson say they will field another balanced offensive attack (a year ago, the Utes attempted 394 rushes and 398 passes). They hope the emergence of sophomore tailbacks Charlie Brown and Keith Williams, plus an improved line and offensive scheme, will improve a running game that averaged just 2.4 yards per attempt last season.
"I'm a firm believer that you have to do both (run and pass) to win a championship," says Rasnick. "It will be a multi-formation pro offense. We'll do a lot of things - dropback, run, play action, the 5-step pass. It's a mix of what the 49ers and Chiefs do. We'll have a similar form as last year, but there will be a lot of different looks this year."