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Utah State football: Matt Wells finds balance on and off field with the Aggies

First Published      Last Updated Aug 08 2015 07:07 pm

College football » His ability to be steady in a volatile profession gives the coach staying power.

Medium. That's how Utah State coach Matt Wells likes his steak.

It's how he likes anything, honestly.

Medium, by definition, is the middle. Not too high and not too low; not too narrow, not too wide.

In a football coach's world, medium is akin to the duck-and-cover position. It's a safe zone, where you don't let emotions run so high you get in trouble and you don't get so low that you aren't effective as you could be.

In Wells' eyes, it is a good place to be philosophically, on and off the field.

"It's all about balance," he said.

Wells, 41, is one of the youngest head coaches at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, bringing an energy and youthfulness that helps him connect with his players. Yet, he is wise enough to know his position is as precarious as any in this era of college football. Same with every other FBS coach.

Indeed, medium is good.

"That sign is on my wall," he said. "As a player, you want to be that way; if you score a touchdown, do the chest bumps or high-fives, then it's back to the next series and what you need to do. Off the field, you have to be that way with issues, whether it's a car wreck or how you deal with a young man making the right decisions or as a coach when you are leading from out front in times of struggles. You have to act medium."

But then, here is the catch with Wells. Oftentimes he doesn't act medium. To succeed as a coach, Wells is aware one has to take risks once in a while.

Why else would Wells be gutsy enough to start freshmen in key positions, or fiddle with his lineups, such as playing star linebacker Nick Vigil at running back?

If he didn't have that edge, Wells probably wouldn't have the reputation he has earned of being one of college football's rising coaching stars.

With a 19-9 overall record in two years, Wells was rewarded with a contract extension through the 2019 season. Recently, he was tabbed in a media poll as the best coach in the Mountain West, a recognition he greeted in characteristic fashion.

"I hope that is where I am at the end of the year," he said. "That's when it matters."

Wells can joke about such things, but there has to be some bit of comfort in the validation. Of course, Wells has always seemed destined to be in a coaching position.

Growing up in Sallisaw, Okla., Wells trailed along with his father, Jim, as he served as the announcer for a high school football team. He was known for diagramming plays to whittle away the time.

As an athlete himself, Wells drew the interest of a few schools, including Arkansas. The Razorbacks didn't offer him a scholarship, but he caught the attention of offensive coordinator Charlie Weatherbie — who recruited him to Utah State when he became the Aggies' head coach in 1992.

"He always had an unbelievable desire to be the best at what he does," said Weatherbie, now the executive director of the First Baptist Love Orlando Initiative. "You could see that in him with his desire on the field, and it was a work ethic that carried over from his father and mother."

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About Matt Wells

» He has posted a 19-9 overall record and 13-3 mark in the Mountain West in his first two years as Aggies coach. The 19 wins are a school record for a coach in his first two seasons.

» In the past three years, USU is one of four Football Bowl Subdivision schools to win at least 30 games and three bowl games, joining Clemson, Michigan State and Oregon.

» He was the MWC Coach of the Year in 2013, when the Aggies went 9-5 in his first year — including a 7-1 league run.

» He earned a bachelor’s degree in business marketing from Utah State in 1996. He and his wife, Jen, have two daughters, Jadyn and Ella, and a son, Wyatt.