It was classic, as though it fell out of some Greek tragedy, that with so many great and happy expectations for the 2012 college football season in Utah, the only great one crashed to conclusion on a sad note.
Utah State had its best season in school history, it won 11 games, won a conference championship and a bowl game, and the head coach jumped ship for Madison a couple of weeks after proclaiming to the world that he wasn’t going anywhere.
2012 was in no way the best of times around here. BYU was afflicted with consistent cases of bad coaching and quarterback comedy, beating the teams it was expected to beat, most of them on its home field, and losing to good teams. In its bowl game in San Diego, the Cougar defense defeated the Aztecs to place a bow atop an 8-5 season. Many BYU fans are just glad the whole thing is over. And Utah? Don’t ask. The Utes regressed in their second season in the Pac-12, having totaled three wins against six losses.
So, where’s the good news, the grins and giggles? What’s left to stir optimism for the future in a state that has generally transferred its primary sports interest from basketball to football? And now that state has fallen into a depressed state, an altered state, a desperate state, a state of shock, a state of confusion that turns its bleary eyes toward whatever promise might be on the horizon?
Not quite sure how to answer that, other than to say, don’t get your hopes up. Darker days may be ahead. A group of eggheads once claimed, according to its studies, that optimists live longer than pessimists. It’s science, they all said. But that group didn’t have to watch what happened this past season, and then look forward to what’s up next. If they had, they’d all be short-timers.
Gary Andersen’s departure, along with his entire coaching staff, blots out much of the goody-goodness felt in Logan after the Aggies finally pieced together the kind of season that didn’t seem possible there. Who goes 11-2 at USU?
People want to defend Andersen’s move because they want someone to believe in. He’s a good man, a terrific coach, a coach who said the right things, who talked about and emphasized what was in the kids’ best interests, as though that really was a priority of his. But there were a few things that were bigger priorities … namely, more money and a higher profile and straight ambition.
Defenders and apologists say it’s the smart move, the money move, the human move. And all of that is true. But it does not address the damage left behind: The players to whom promises were made about the greatness that would be Utah State.
We all understand, though. It’s acceptable collateral damage. Young people who are lured into a place, who are sold phony goods about loyalty and unity and sacrifice for the good of the team, and the ever-present emphasis on the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back.
What a crock. That applies only to players, who have to sit out a year to leave, but never to coaches. Coaches can seek their rewards elsewhere, regardless of written contracts or spoken pledges to their kids. The next coach who rolls out that garbage about sacrificing self for the greater good should be laughed out of the locker room by players who know it’s all BS.
That’s how the best season in the state ended this year — with a lie: “Logan is where I need to be. The kids, the administration, we had too much momentum going for me to leave.”
Andersen learned well from Urban Meyer.
The supposed setup for the ranked Aggies for next season has now been put into a blender. When the head coach and almost all of his assistants bolt, leaving Wells and the players to clean up the mess, the future flutters in the wind. Maybe Wells can replicate the success.
BYU will have its coach back, a coach who has a fine record, but who suffered through … let’s just call it an off year. The best defense in school history, along with a talented couple of receivers and a gifted running back, were wasted on a coach’s devotion to a mediocre quarterback and other bad decisions that turned what might have been something extraordinary into something average, into a whiffed opportunity.
Next year, BYU, which loses most of that stellar defense, faces one of its better schedules, with tentative opponents such as Virginia, Texas, Utah, Utah State, Georgia Tech, Houston, Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
As for Utah, all of that celebrating a few years back about the Pac-12, all of those Pac-12 stickers that are on the windows of cars driving around town, all the money that will flow into the athletic department’s bank account in the years ahead, all the bragging rights about making the big time, have come at a steep price, a price called … losing.
The challenge for the Utes has quickly leaned toward them. Nobody’s laughing anymore at those prognostications by some experts that it will take a decade or two for Utah to climb to the top of the league. That climb will be, they said, arduous and painful. And Utah’s struggles over the first two seasons didn’t include Oregon or Stanford, both of which are on the schedule next year.
All told, 2012 was a sobering experience, a season that makes you wonder when the celebrating will resume and who will cause it. We could just say, don’t worry, it will come quickly, somebody will prompt it. But that would be a lie, a throwaway line, something a coach would say. And who needs that?
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.