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Ault returns as Pack football coach

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

RENO – While everyone involved said nostalgia had nothing to do with the decision, the University of Nevada has in effect written its own script of Back to the Future when it hired Chris Ault as football coach on Wednesday.

It really came as no surprise when Ault was named as coach since the hiring came just three days after Chris Tormey was fired. Ault has served as Nevada’s athletic director since 1986 and is set to begin his third tenure as Wolf Pack coach.

Ault will step down as athletic director although he will still serve as athletic director in an interim basis until another athletic diretor is named. Ault’s stepping down as athletic director was a condition to receive approval from the Board of Regents for his hiring as football coach.

“It’s with regret that I announce that Chris Ault is stepping down as athletic director,” Nevada president John Lilley said. “I am very happy to make another announcement – he is the new football coach. This isn’t about the past. This is about the future.”

Lilley will recommend a $300,000 salary when Ault’s football contract is presented to the Regents in January. Ault will continue at his $188,000 salary until the new contract is approved. Ault said he plans to end his career as Nevada’s coach.

Ault’s career at Nevada began in 1965 when he went on to become a star quarterback before graduating in 1968. He coached the Wolf Pack from 1976-1992 and returned to coach Nevada again in 1994 and 1995.

He compiled a 163-63-1 record during his time at Nevada and the Wolf Pack won seven conference titles under his direction. Ault is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

“I have to admit that no one is more suprised about this than I,” Lilley said.

Lilley said he had a meeting with Ault at 5 p.m. Monday. He said he told Ault, “I have to ask you” if he would consider the coaching position. “To my utter astonishment, he said, ‘could be.'”

Ault said he was “deeply honored, priveleged and touched” to be given the chance to coach again.

“I’m not coming back because I have anything to prove,” Ault said. “I’m coming back because I feel I can make a difference.”

He also said he’s coming back because he loves the university. “I know there’s a lot of questions,” Ault said. “We will answer those questions on the field. I have a blueprint.”

Ault promised that his teams will play with emotion and will be disciplined. “We will be motivated.”

The recruiting season is now heating up and with that in mind, Ault has retained three assistant coaches from Tormey’s staff – Jim Mastro, who will continue to be recruiting coordinator, Cameron Norcross and Barry Sacks.

“I’ve got to hire a quality staff,” Ault said. “I will hire a staff with energy.” He also said his staff will have plenty of experience in recruiting.

When Ault was coach, Nevada had a wide open offense and he said that would return. “I will reestablish my offensive system,” he said. On defense, Ault said he would have 11 players that provide “60 minutes of hell.”

There are advantages now that Ault said he didn’t have when he last coached. “I don’t have to build anything,” he said.

He now has 85 scholarships as opposed to 68 when he last coached, Ault said. When he last coached, there was no practice facility, no weight room and the training facility was a 20 by 40 wide trailer. All of those facilities are now in place.

But despite all of those disadvantages, Nevada became the first team in NCAA history under Ault to win a conference title in 1992 in its first year after moving up one division. The Wolf Pack won the Big West title in Division I-A after moving up from Division I-AA.

Ault’s hiring is sure to renergize Nevada’s base of boosters, alumni and community supporters. Lilley, though, said that was a secondary factor when hiring Ault.

Lilley said the fact that Ault is a “top-notch level coach” will lead to more enthusiasm among Nevada’s supporters.

But Ault did refer to restoring the electricity that was at Mackay Stadium when he last coached. “We will recapture Mackay,” he said. “That has to come back.”

Tormey went 16-31 in his four years at Nevada and his teams showed gradual improvement each year.

“I think this, I sincerely mean this,” Ault said. “Coach Tormey and his staff have bettered this program. They provided the foundation. It’s better today than when Chris took over.”

But Ault stopped short of predicting that Nevada would compete for the Western Athletic Conference title next season.

“I’m optimistic that we’ve got a nucleus here to build on,” he said. He did add, though, “I don’t have a lot of patience.”

A national search for a new athletic director has been launched and Lilley said someone from Pennsylvania who’s interested has already called about the position. He also said the search would take at least several weeks.

Contact Charles Whisnand at cwhisnand@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1214.