It's one thing to come back to your alma mater for a football game. It's another to bring a football team along with you, with the intent of hanging a loss on your old school.
That's what John L. Smith, Weber State '71, had in mind last night at Wildcat Stadium. Smith was accompanied by the University of Idaho football team, for whom he is the new head coach. Not only was he showing that you can come home again, but you can bring your own army.Still, it was something of a triumphant homecoming for Smith. His hiring last winter as the Vandals' head coach marked the first time a Weber State alum had been named as a major college head football coach. That was something to put in the alumni magazine, even if did happen on an archrival's campus.
Not long afterward, Weber hired Dave Arslanian as its new head coach, to replace Mike Price, who accepted an offer from Washington State. Arslanian also graduated from Weber State. It was an epidemic by now. Weber State guys were being hired like migrant farm workers at harvest time.
Arslanian graduated from Weber with the Class of 1971, same as Smith. They were teammates, as well as best friends. In their senior year, with Arslanian at cornerback and Smith at linebacker, Weber posted a 7-2-1 record, still its third best in history, and each was so smitten by football, and by the thrill of victory, they decided that if they now had to get a real job, it might as well be as a football coach.
Such were the circumstances when they met last night in the first-ever clash between Weber State alumni head coaches.
Who'd have thought it back in '71? "We're still best friends," said Smith as he brought his team to Ogden. "Just not this week."
When Idaho practiced in Wildcat Stadium Friday afternoon, Arslanian greeted his old buddy by dressing up a dummy in purple (Weber's color) and situating the dummy in the trees on the east side of the field - where he/it looked, from afar, like a real live Weber State spy.
The Idaho players were the first to spot the intruder. They yelled at the dummy for a while, and when they got no response, Smith dispatched an assistant coach to ask the guy just what he thought he was doing.
"Dave got us," said Smith. "He got us good with that one."
Arslanian wasn't through. When practice ended, he had a policeman there to serve Smith with a summons for various violations he said they'd discovered were still on his record.
By now, Smith was into the spirit of this particular homecoming.
He told the officer a man named Polo Afuvai was supposed to take care of all those outstanding warrants. Afuvai played with Smith at Weber and is now the chief of police in North Ogden, and besides that, he once caught a pass from Smith when he did a stint as the Wildcats' quarterback, so he owed him.
Arslanian wasn't his only teammate.
At any rate, Smith was thus clued in that he was no longer a preferred man on campus. And when he and the Vandals showed up for Saturday's 7 p.m. kickoff, the crowd, much of it in purple, was definitely all Weber. These fans were no dummies.
Still, Smith had the good fortune to inherit a stronger team than Arslanian. Idaho came into the season riding a two-year Big Sky Conference championship string, and, along with Boise and Montana, was rated as one of three teams most likely to succeed this year.
Weber State, on the other hand, lost the bulk of last year's offense and was picked to finish seventh in the Big Sky this year.
For awhile, it didn't look like any of the above mattered. For awhile, it looked like Smith was showing a soft spot for his old school. For their first three acts to start the game, the Vandals: 1. threw an interception; 2. hiked the ball over the punter's head; and 3. fumbled.
But when Smith looked up and saw that after all of this, Weber had a mere five points - on one-of-two field goals and a safety - he ordered his All-America quarterback, John Friesz, to begin the execution.
In due time, Friesz did just that, and Idaho cruised to its 46-33 win. In the end, Smith got them back, he got them good. And the Wildcats sitting in the stands had to settle for a consolation. Of the two Weber State grads coaching in major college football Saturday night, at least one of them won.