Losing a game to Boise State was a fatal mistake, in the opinion of some University of Utah football fans. They've been calling the sports-talk radio shows, and they've been posting on the Internet forums. "Mac must go" is their theme.

It used to be that they didn't like play-calling or bland defense. But now some anonymous contributors are saying that while they like the U. coach, Ron McBride should be replaced. He's the guy who has 58 wins and four bowl appearances in a little more than eight years, the guy who's second in Utah career wins, and the guy who's had five straight winning seasons and seven straight that are .500 or better.To put this in perspective, you have to go back nearly 20 years to even find back-to-back .500 Ute teams prior to McBride and have to go back to 1972 and 1973 to find back-to-back winning seasons (Bill Meek, 6-5, 7-5) by a coach other than McBride.

But his teams also have an undeniable history of losing a game or two a year that they shouldn't.

Senior defensive tackle Mike Thomas was surprised and indignant that McBride's under fire. "Coach Mac's put all his time and effort into the program. He just lives and breathes Utah football, so they shouldn't say anything bad about that," says Thomas. "I take that personally."

McBride, however, says detractors can say and feel what they want, and it's good they do. "You want your fans to care about the football program, care if you win or lose," he said. "Everybody should have their opinion, because that's the democratic process, freedom of speech.

"It's my responsibility to get things right and go from there," he added. "So what people say or don't say, that's their prerogative. The only way I can prove my worth is to win games.

"Everybody likes to be a critic, and if you don't perform like you're supposed to perform, then everybody's going to jump on your butt. As a coach, I don't expect them to be happy when you lose, and I don't expect them to think I'm a good football coach, and I don't expect them to think everything is rosy.

"What you want is people who do care and take the good with the bad."

McBride certainly aspires higher: the NCAA Top 25. "That's what I expect," he says.

Ute sophomore defensive end Maake Kemoeatu, now starting in place of the injured John Frank, didn't quite know how to take news that his coach is being criticized. "It's a knock on the players, and Mac always says we're a team," says the first-year player who went from a non-qualifier academically to the honor roll and a 3.34 GPA.

Kemoeatu says such talk will motivate the Utes. "Definitely. We just have to win. I guess that's the bottom line. Winning those games will get them off the coaching staff."

Thomas was defensive. "I think that some of the fans really don't know what they're talking about. They're not down there on the field playing with us," Thomas said. "If they were down there in the trenches with us, and they saw what goes on and what all coach Mac's put into the program, they'd understand more. It's college football. Anybody can win at any given time.

"They can state their opinion," Thomas added, "but they can't just say what should happen.

"How many of them would go down there and have his spot. If they want to be fans, be fans. Don't degrade on somebody unless they're there with us, and they're doing the things we're doing."

Still, Thomas admits the Utes took Boise State too lightly despite McBride's many warnings.

"I think it's us," Thomas said. "The coaches know what we've got to do, but some of us dread Tuesday practices because it's so long and hot out there. We know now we've got to start earlier in the week and get better prepared.

"We kinda like overlooked a team," Thomas added. "It's something we've got to work on. Last year, it was Tulsa. We thought we were just going to go in there and blow them away."