Column: Bohl good hire for Wyoming, a program with its own indefinable struggle

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It wasn’t long ago when Poke fans dreaded Dave Christensen’s departure as a result of him being poached by a larger program. Then, when Wyoming trended down, they worried whether firing him was ideal because, “how can we do any better?”

The brief, weeklong absence of a football coach in Laramie shows just how fast things can change in college football.

Let’s get this straight before we delve into confusing, now and again lacking premise, analysis: This is a good hire for Wyoming.

Craig Bohl is 101-32 at North Dakota and three wins away from his third consecutive FCS championship. He’s 11-1 in playoffs and 7-3 against FBS teams. One of those FBS losses was to Wyoming in 2008.

This is a shift back to the type of football Wyoming fans want, and I’m not talking about winning.

Bohl is an attractive grab, chiefly from the standpoint of Wyoming’s influential fan base — it’s devout supporters and givers. Cowboy Joe, if you will.

Christensen wasn’t a well-liked guy across the state, not helped by his dropping F-bombs at a bunch of military members in last year’s loss to Air Force. That, plus a generally cold demeanor, isn’t something that graces a coach in the presence of any booster. Just look at Pelini this year.

Wyoming Athletic Director Tom Burman, who’s likely under some pressure himself, seems to have geared this selection toward pleasing that segment; a retry of FCS-birthed Joe Glenn, the man Wyoming fired before hiring Christensen in 2008. Glenn won a title with Montana prior to taking the job at Wyoming.

It’s interesting, and equally baffling, how each of Wyoming’s last two coaches represented different ends of a college football spectrum — each different in their attempts at solving one of the strange mid-major quandaries in the sport — and in the end, their results frustratingly parallel.

Wyoming was 27-35 in five seasons under Christensen, going 1-1 in bowl games, both in the New Mexico Bowl. With Glenn, Wyoming was 30-41 in six years with a 2004 Las Vegas Bowl win over UCLA.

It’s fun to talk about how Wyoming fares against the big schools, but it’s hard to tell what it actually does for us besides guarantee more big-time early-season matchups with teams like Nebraska.

The Cowboys are 3-1 in their last four meetings with SEC teams, falling to Florida in 2005. Glenn beat Tennessee, Ole Miss twice and lost to Texas A&M. Christensen lost to Texas three times and Nebraska twice. Glenn beat Virginia and lost to Virginia.

It’s fair to argue that each saw their fair share of a tough Mountain West. The BYU, TCU, Utah, Boise State dominance of recent years wrecked havoc near the end of Glenn’s tenure and at the beginning of Christensen’s. But that was the case for many Mountain West teams.

Note to Bohl: don’t lose five games in a row and then lose to CSU in the same year. Both Glenn and Christensen faltered that way in their final season.
Bohl’s Bison defeated Colorado State 22-7 last year, and Christensen’s snowball started rolling when the rival CSU Rams blew away Wyoming 52-22 earlier this season.

Glenn’s final years were wrought with quarterback problems — the Dax Crum year remains a bad joke for any Wyoming follower, and the Austin Carta-Samuels departure for Vandy is a personified casualty of Wyoming’s biggest battle — recruiting to Laramie. Christensen’s fate was one sealed by defensive deficiency.

The pattern of these anecdotes is frustratingly jagged in trying to find a solution to a problem where there may not be one. Like an overdone analogy of temperature in Laramie, it’s cold. Darn.

This fall’s report gauging the status of Wyoming athletics, ordered by recently-guillotined UW pres. Bob Sternberg, cited the program’s mediocrity, but without much of a hammer-dropping shock in the revelation.

On paper, it seems Bohl’s proven ability to recruit to Fargo would suggest flashy magic tricks for recruiting to Laramie. It’s been said that Wyoming wants to keep that Pacific Northwest pipeline, but that’s a line we’re always near the back of. Christensen elected to spread teams out, trying to erase size disparities with a dual-threat quarterback and a fast-paced offense. Bohl brings back the West Coast pro-style offense, saying Sunday he needs defensive tackles, corners and a quarterback to build a team around.

Regardless of if Wyoming elects to punt on first down and tries to score with its defense or runs the “Oop-Dee-Oop” of Varsity Blues fame, recruiting challenges are less personnel specific and more location centric.
Cowboy struggles are why we love them. I’ve fought my own personal battle with Wyoming fandom, learning football through the past two coaching eras. 

It’s easy to expect too much of a middle-of-the pack school playing in a non-BSC automatic qualifying conference.

As a kid, I remember how cool it was when that Austin Hall played linebacker at Wyoming, and his little brother Reece was a year ahead of me at SHS. I matter as a Poke fan, because I know somebody!

We’re all members of the Brett Smith fan club. He has helped us connect with the foreign, Christensen Cowboys. Brett Smith’s dad told the Casper Star-Tribune Monday that the senior quarterback has no plans to transfer. While he could opt to try the NFL, it’s more than comforting to any new coach and a jaded fan base when a guy like Smith returns to lead coach-player trust falls.

Small connections are what it takes for a state school to hold its embattled fans’ attention through a 6-5 season, and gives them the abliity to be excited about a New Mexico Bowl game against Temple.

Failure to lessen the so frequent deeply unsatisfying stings of a mid-major program was where Christensen unpopularity grew — specifically here in Sheridan. His unwillingness to give Wyoming players a chance became ironic when Sheridan High School grad and current South Dakota Jackrabbits running back Jordan Roberts was recruited by Glenn, after Roberts was passed over by UW.

I understand the need to compete at a Division 1 level, but a school needs in-state players — even just one or two on the defensive side of the ball — a drive that can turn around an abysmal defense. The Cowboys had one scholarship player from its home state on the roster this year, after Natrona freshman Ryan Anaya left the team, in Gillette senior Spencer Bruce.

Look at the success of Wyoming Cowgirls basketball. It’s a tough comparison, football to girls basketball, but it’s a one worth discussing. Cowgirls from the Cowboy State, here in Sheridan County, have made the team wildly competitive. Call it a one of a kind period of genetic greatness, but it seems Joe Legerski can retire happy as coach in Laramie at age 95 with the PR windfall he’s created for himself.

Former Cowboys Chris Prosinski (Buffalo) and John Wendling (Rock Springs) are state heroes.

Viewing the results of Wyoming’s last two coaches without being able to derive an overarching suggestion for Bohl is perhaps as Wyoming as it gets. Try the good things from both, but who knows if that means wins. The question always comes up from people outside Wyoming as to why we’re not an FCS team. Saying so is blasphemy to Wyoming diehards.

But sometimes it’s OK to come to terms with reality. Someone, probably with a Steamboat tattoo somewhere on his person, wrote on a Poke-fan online message board this weekend that Jim Tressel was rumored as the announcement Sunday. Yeah, and Saban’s not going to Texas.

We play a similar schedule to FCS schools. Start with the big fellas, and after that I’d substitute a Montana and Montana State conference schedule over UNLV and San Diego State. Another Fargo news source rationalized Bohl’s move due to the fact that Wyoming is shooting for the Big 12, which…who knows.

After Chris Peterson’s departure from Boise State, the conference allure dips again and the desire makes sense. For now, competing with the likes of the San Jose, Fresno and Utah States is something the Cowboys should be able to do.
Brushing away feelings of “what have you done for me lately,” Bohl still feels right.

In the short term, a new coach returns excitement to a program, the first three games of 2014 are as attractive as ever when the Cowboys host Montana and then play at Oregon and Michigan State, proceeding with a cautious optimism, one laced with the return of the Pokes’ hometown feel.

By |December 10th, 2013|

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Sheridan Press sports editor