Opinion: Nevada needs to look no further than Ault for athletic director
December 21, 2012
Chris Ault insists he does not want to be the University of Nevada’s next athletic director.
“No, no, no,” the Nevada head football coach said recently. “I had my time. I’ve done my deal.”
The old been there, done that line of thinking apparently didn’t apply to Ault coaching the Wolf Pack football team in 1994 and 2004 so why should it apply with the athletic director position in 2013?
“I’ve been there and I don’t want to go back,” Ault said.
Chris Ault, whether he likes it or not, needs to go back for the university he loves and for himself. Ault, the best football coach in the history of the University of Nevada is also the best athletic director in the history of the University of Nevada.
And it’s no secret which of those positions needs him the most right now.
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In 2004 football needed him the most. His work as athletic director, after all, seemed to be on cruise control. The school was firmly planted in the Western Athletic Conference, pretty much every building he could build on campus was already standing and the football product on the field, which had more felony arrests than all-conference players, was heading to its eighth consecutive year of mediocrity.
Football desperately needed Ault on the sideline in 2004. Football, even more desperately, needs Ault in the athletic director’s office in 2013.
Listen to Ault describe the qualities and background he would like to see in the new athletic director.
“You’ve got to get somebody who can raise money and then, secondly, a person who has a really sound, solid football background,” he said.
Who does that sound like?
“I feel very strongly (the new athletic director) has to have a football background at the major college level,” Ault said.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet your next Wolf Pack athletic director, whether he wants the job or not. His country — the silver and blue nation — needs him now more than ever.
Ault knew what was right for Wolf Pack football in 1976 when he first became head coach. He knew what was right for Pack football when he dragged the program kicking and screaming into Division I-A in 1992. He knew what was right when he took over the head coaching job for a second time in 1994 and a third time in 2004.
And he certainly knows what’s right for Wolf Pack football to infinity and beyond.
What’s right for the University of Nevada is always Chris Ault. Who else fits the job description better? Who else knows Nevada football and all of its challenges better than Ault? Who else can sell Nevada football better than Chris Ault?
Ault is correct when he says a Division I university requires an athletic director who knows what it’s like to be a part of a Division I football program. And when he talks about a “football background,” he doesn’t mean someone with a one-year subscription to Direct TV’s NFL Sunday Ticket. He’s talking about a very exclusive club with very specific membership requirements.
You can go to Wal-Mart, for example, and buy a hat that says Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines but unless you actually served in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, you better not wear that hat around someone who was. It’s the same with an athletic director as far as Ault is concerned.
“If you hire the right person who has an understanding and the background of what you have to have at this level, of where we’re at right now in this transition period in the Mountain West, you don’t have to explain things,” said Ault, who has done nothing but try to explain things the last eight years. “They (the new athletic director) will map it out. And, quite frankly, we have to have that here.”
Before it’s too late.
Those last four words did not come from Ault. Not yet, at least. But they should be the new motto of the University of Nevada Wolf Pack athletic program as it searches for its next leader. The hiring of the next athletic director, after all, is the most important hire in the history of the school’s athletic program. College sports right now is a merry-go-round that is spinning at 100 miles an hour. And to grab that brass ring you better be prepared and have a carefully crafted game plan.
“That role has changed dramatically with compliance issues and what’s happening now in the circuit of conferences,” Ault said. “It’s a major, major position and a major step.”
Football, he says, needs to go back to being top dog on campus, just like it was when he was athletic director. “The football issue has to be addressed,” he said. “It is the most dramatic and pressing issue in our athletic department.”
If you don’t believe that, well, then go run a YMCA or fantasy football league.
Football, in case you have been sunning yourself on a beach in Thailand the last dozen years, has eaten college sports alive. It’s not simply the tail that wags the dog. It’s the entire dog. Every other sport is simply the occasional doggie treat. And right now the Pack dog is doing a lot of lying around the house looking sleepy and bored, when he isn’t chewing holes and soiling the carpet, that is.
“We’re so far behind at this particular time in support, (in terms of) what you do for football and what it takes to be at this level, facility-wise, financially and all the things that go with being at this level,” Ault said. “That has to be addressed. The football situation at this university has to be addressed. Support-wise and where we’re at, I think you all know how far behind we are.”
We all know because that’s Ault has talked about the last eight years. It’s the first thing he talked about after the greatest football victory of this university’s life on the evening of Nov. 26, 2010. And we should thank him for it. It’s time someone listens.
Someone, after all, had to talk about it. The move to the Mountain West was great. But you don’t buy a Corvette unless you have money for the insurance. And right now, Ault warns, the Pack doesn’t have any football insurance.
The one problem with Ault being the athletic director, though, is that he can’t also be football coach. All that power to one person, even if that person is the best person for both jobs as Ault was from 1986-92 and again in 1994 and 1995, scares university and state officials these days. It, after all, makes everyone else who does just one job look bad.
But we’re here to tell you that losing Ault as football coach shouldn’t frighten anyone anymore. That transition is going to happen sooner rather than later anyway. Why not now?
Why not do it when Ault can hand a sensational quarterback such as Cody Fajardo as a junior and senior to the next coach? Why not do it when offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich and Fajardo — as well as athletic director Chris Ault — are around to teach the pistol to the new head coach?
“It signals to me we have to do a lot of talking in the off-season about what we have to do and how we’re going to do it?” Ault said after the 49-48 loss to Arizona in the New Mexico Bowl.
That statement would seem to hint at major off-season coaching changes.
Changes, it would seem, are mandatory on the defensive side of the ball. But the defensive staff did their best this year under trying circumstances. And, don’t forget, those circumstances were all put in place by Ault who took a coaching position away from the defense and moved it to the offense.
The move, so far, has failed miserably. Mike Bradeson did the honorable thing after last year. He fell on the sword by taking the defensive coordinator’s job so Ault could hire Rolovich as offensive coordinator. And now Bradeson should be the scapegoat? That’s not fair.
The coaching staff is simply a dysfunctional family right now. There are two guys (Ault and Rolovich) doing one job on offense and there really isn’t a true defensive coordinator.
So what should happen now? Ault should move to athletic director, let Rolovich do the job he was hired to do and the new head coach should double as the defensive coordinator.
Nobody gets fired. Nobody is the fall guy for a disaster of a season. And the entire athletic department, as well as the football program, gets to start a new and exciting era with everyone in the right job.
The Pack doesn’t need Ault for the offense anymore. Fajardo can handle that himself the next two years, the same way Colin Kaepernick handled it in 2009 and 2010. And you just know Rolovich is bursting at the seams with ideas on how he can take the pistol to the next level.
Make no mistake, relieving Ault of his head coaching duties has nothing to do with his ability to coach. This simply has everything to do with what’s best for the Wolf Pack football program. And what’s best is that Ault becomes the next athletic director.
Yes, whether he wants it or not.
And he should want it.
The 66-year-old Ault has just three years left on his current coaching contract which expires after the 2015 season. Whether he coaches two or three or even five or six more years, the minute he stops coaching is the minute his influence on the football program ends. There’s no guarantee that the new coach will even run the pistol offense.
But if Ault is athletic director he can build a foundation for the football program that will last for decades. He can put the financial support in place that will guarantee the future of Wolf Pack football well into the next generation, whether or not the offense is running the pistol, shot gun or bazooka.
Ault should consider his coaching career complete. There’s nothing left to prove. Nothing left to accomplish. He put Wolf Pack football on the national map. He revolutionized the sport with his pistol offense. There’s nothing left for him to do on the field except hug the new Hall of Fame inductees at halftime of the homecoming game.
Ault as head coach is now merely a fancy band-aid for Pack football. And it’s a band-aid that is not healing any of the wounds. It’s just covering them up. The only way Ault can heal the wounds- from here on out is by overhauling the entire athletic department, the same way he did 25 years ago.
As the athletic director, Ault can protect the new football coach in a way that even he wasn’t protected himself as coach. By going back to coaching in 2004, Ault gave the university a gift they didn’t take full advantage of. Eight years should have been enough for the university to build an everlasting foundation of support for the football program. The Pack, after all, has never been to as many bowl games or earned as many television dollars as it has in the last eight years thanks to Ault.
And Ault did it all as one of the best coaching bargains in the nation. It was his gift to the university he loved.
But, as far as football’s foundation of support is concerned, 2013 looks suspiciously similar to 2003. The football foundation of support, in fact, seems thinner and more fragile than ever now. It’s almost as if the last eight years have been wasted.
Wasting years, though, seems to be a Wolf Pack gift that keeps on giving.
Why is the university wasting an entire year with a lame duck athletic director? If the current athletic director didn’t want the job anymore why didn’t the current athletic director leave immediately? If you are a Wolf Pack supporter with millions of dollars to give would you give it to an athletic department in limbo?
Time, in this day and age of rapid movement and change in college sports, is money. A ton of money. Those who waste time get left behind. And the Pack is on its way to wasting an entire year.
A year for Ault at this stage in his coaching career is crucial. Will the new athletic director even have enough time to help the old football coach?
“Unfortunately the benefits aren’t going to be reaped for a while because the hiring is not going to happen until the spring,” Ault said.
W while? It should happen now. In Nevada, where nobody shows up to watch football unless Boise State, UNLV or a BCS school is in town, a while could be a very long time. It could be forever if the right athletic director isn’t hired. And if the wrong athletic director is hired, it could prove fatal for Wolf Pack football and Wolf Pack sports as a whole. Giving Ault the job is the safe thing to do and it’s the right thing to do.
But he doesn’t want the job. Been there, done that, he says. Well, when he left the athletic director’s job in 2004, that sort of thinking was understandable. The challenges were over. There was nothing left to do but hire and fire coaches. Ault needed a new challenge. And he found it in a familiar place. He had a football program that needed emergency surgery and he knew just the right doctor.
Well, everything is reversed now. It’s the coaching challenge that has grown stagnant. Ault seems to be just spinning his wheels now as football coach, as evidenced by the last two 7-6 seasons. The Pack lost three of its last four games in 2011 with the conference title and bowl game on the line. This year it was five of the last six. There’s a trend developing there.
Again, it’s not because Ault can’t coach anymore. It’s just that there’s only so much even a Hall of Fame coach can do now for the Wolf Pack football program with its limited financial resources and support. Seven or eight wins, with the occasional miracle year throw in for flavor, is the norm. By his own admission, after all, Ault cannot take the program to the next level without the right athletic director in place.
“We have to make a statement,” he said. “It’s a signature position. It’s got to be an aggressive person and there has to be a plan out there and right now there really isn’t one.”
An aggressive person with a plan? Who does that sound like?
Look in the dictionary under aggressive and there’s a photo of Ault growling. And go ahead, ask him about his plan. And while you’re at it, ask him to be the next athletic director, too.
Maybe that’s all he’s waiting for.