Ault knows job isn’t done for Wolf Pack yet
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – Chris Ault has always been more Chris Candor than Cris Angel.
The old ball coach, after all, has never been afraid to toss a touch of truth into a Disney moment. The guy is definitely no angel, although, come to think of it, he probably could levitate over the Silver Legacy if he really put his mind to it.
“We’ve been good for a very, very long time,” the Nevada Wolf Pack football coach said after Friday’s program-boosting 34-31 overtime victory over Boise State at Mackay Stadium, “even though our community doesn’t appreciate it or realize it sometimes.”
You can bet the Wolf Pack marketing department let out a collective flinch and wince the moment those words came spilling out of Ault’s mouth.
One community. One Pack.
And, as always, one Ault.
He wasn’t finished.
“We’ve been very competitive with the limited resources we have at this university financially and in terms of support,” Ault said.
We were expecting warm and fuzzy Ault after Friday’s Game of the Century victory. We expected Ault to deliver the “I Want to Thank the Academy, My Fellow Actors and My Loving Wife” speech.
And, to be fair, we did get a little of that.
“Get your wide angle lenses because I’m about to smile,” Ault said as he walked into the post-game media interview room.
A nice moment. A warm and fuzzy Ault moment. OK, he never really did smile but you could tell he was genuinely moved by what he had just witnessed over the previous four hours.
“It was one of the greatest scenes I’ve ever been around,” he said of the Pack’s post-game locker room.
Ault, though, has always had an uncanny ability to become equal parts Debbie Downer, Ebenezer Scrooge and Mr. Potter at exactly the times when everyone is expecting Suzy Sunshine, Bob Cratchit and George Bailey.
It’s the reason why Ault doesn’t have a cute and cuddly nickname like Joe Pa or countless compilations of his funniest quotes on the Internet like Lou Holtz. And you’ll never ever see a YouTube moment from him crying into the cameras like Dick Vermeil.
Warm and fuzzy, well, that’s just not Ault. But, he’ll tell you, warm and fuzzy doesn’t win you a Western Athletic Conference championship. Warm and fuzzy doesn’t beat Boise State. Warm and fuzzy didn’t lift the Pack from being a mediocre Division II football program in the 1970s to No. 14 (according to the Associated Press) in the nation in Division I-A.
Chris Candor did that. And he certainly didn’t do it with magic tricks.
Ault should be praised for using Friday night as a platform to remind everyone ever so subtly of what this football program has had to overcome. It’s time, after all, Northern Nevada and even America fully realizes what schools like Nevada have to overcome just to remain competitive in this era of $100 million college sports budgets.
The national media treats the Boises and the Nevadas of the world like cute little teddy bears. As long as they are winning they are the feel-good story of the month. Nothing more. And the minute they lose, well, it’s Boise Who? Colin Kaeper-What?
It’s men like Ault, though, who live and breathe Nevada football. When the cameras are turned off and the lights in the stadium go dark, it’s men like Ault who still are working. Ault’s goal is not to simply become just the feel-good story of the week. Anybody can do that. Just ask Appalachian State a few years ago. Just ask Idaho during last bowl season.
Ault is the caretaker of Nevada football. So forgive him if he feels, at times, like the only one who truly wants this football program to succeed.
Ault knows more than anyone that the monumental task of making the Wolf Pack a legitimate national power year after year isn’t over simply by beating Boise on one magical night. To be honest, beating Boise on Friday really didn’t do anything for the Wolf Pack except raise expectations, sell a few tickets for the bowl game this year and send a few thousand middle-aged men in orange hunting vests home unhappy.
Boise still is ranked ahead of Nevada nationally. Nobody is waving a BCS bowl in front of the Pack’s noses. The Pack, in most people’s minds, simply did the BCS a favor by blowing Boise out of the water.
Nice upset, boys. Way to go. Hey, is Wolf Pack one or two words? See ya.
“The thing about Boise is it’s not a one-year deal,” Ault said. “That’s a dominate football team.”
Ault’s biggest fear is that this year is just that, a one-and-done John Calipari recruit special.
“We have to continue to grow,” Ault said.
That’s all Ault was talking about when he reminded everyone Friday night of the lack of support his football program has received in recent years. It was just his way of saying, “OK, you like beating Boise? Well, it wasn’t easy, let me tell you. Do you want to beat Boise every year? This is how we need to do it.”
Ault saying that the community doesn’t appreciate his football program or even realize that his football team has been very, very good for a long time is a cold, hard truth. Yes, 30,000-plus fans showed up on Friday night. But where were they the week before against New Mexico State when just 10,000-and-change showed up?
There were probably more people on the field (and in local drinking establishments along Virginia Street) after Friday’s game than were in the stands to see New Mexico State just six days earlier.
The 30,000 who showed up Friday were like parishioners who only show up to church on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. The trick is to get them to also show up on a Sunday in February or March, you know, the Wolf Pack equivalent to the Utah State and New Mexico State games.
Until that happens, Ault is going to continue to poke us and his university smack dab in the chest. And, to be honest again, we need to be poked now and then.
We need to show up for every game and not just the games we know will be the subject of water cooler conversation on Monday morning. And the Pack athletic department needs to make football priority No. 1, just like Boise did about a dozen years ago.
“This victory sets a tone for everyone in the community to understand that football can help all the other sports in this university,” said Ault, who does his athletic department a gigantic favor each year by accepting a salary of about half of what Ault victims Chris Petersen, Jeff Tedford, Bronco Mendenhall and Pat Hill will earn from their universities this year.
So, until 25,000-plus show up on a regular basis to see the Pack blow the doors off Idaho or San Jose State, until his football budget is more Boise-like than Bishop Manogue-like, Ault will never just give us warm and fuzzy.
That’s not his job. Ault’s job is to build a program that lasts. And you can’t do that with 20,000 empty seats in the stands.
“I came back in this thing (in 2004) to build it back up,” Ault said.
Every Wolf Pack fan should be grateful he did.