College football: Big Sky rivals Weber State, Southern Utah on opposite paths
Ogden • Weber State and Southern Utah renew their Big Sky Conference football rivalry Saturday at Stewart Stadium.
Belonging to the same league, however, is the only similarity between the two programs.
The Wildcats are 1-8 this season and have lost 17 of their last 20 games. The Thunderbirds are 6-3 and can clinch their third winning season in four years with a victory.
Not long ago, the roles were reversed.
In 2008, Weber State went 10-4, earned a berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs and had become a perennial conference contender under veteran coach Ron McBride.
Meanwhile, Southern Utah was coming off an 0-11 season. First-year coach Ed Lamb's team snapped a 19-game losing streak but was still years away from being competitive and consistent.
So what happened?
At Weber State, athletic director Jerry Bovee cites "instability within the program" as the reason for the Wildcats' recent woes.
When McBride retired following the 2011 season, John L. Smith was hired. But he left after only four months on the job to become the interim head coach at Arkansas. Jody Sears replaced Smith and is finishing his second season.
Bovee believes the Wildcats are still trying to recover from the chaos of having three head coaches in six months.
"When you change the CEO of any company, things are going to come up that makes it more difficult," Bovee said. "You're retooling. The philosophy might change. You're looking at different players. Maybe there's a different style of play involved. Things are just different."
At Southern Utah, the situation has been exactly opposite.
Lamb is finishing his sixth season as the head coach. His record is 32-32, which is remarkable considering the state of the program he inherited.
"The lion's share of the credit lies with coach Lamb and his staff not only their coaching ability but in their recruiting," said SUU athletic director Ken Beazer. "They are relentless in their recruiting and very focused on getting the type of student-athlete who can be successful here."
According to Beazer, another factor has been the school's financial commitment to the program, which two years ago resulted in Big Sky Conference membership after decades of searching for a stable home.
"We've done something every year to improve the program," said Beazer, citing fully funded football scholarships, updated locker room facilities, a video scoreboard and a new artificial surface at Eccles Coliseum.
"â¦ At this level, you either play football or you don't. There's no masquerade [and] we got everyone to buy in the donors, the campus, the community. It's been a team effort, really, from all those parties."
Bovee sees the same factors as reasons for optimism at Weber.
"There haven't been any resource changes," he said. "We still have a strong fan base and we will play in a great conference. â¦ I still believe and am confident that Weber State can be very good in football. I know we are doing things the right way building a program the right way and I think it will bear fruit."
Southern Utah at Weber State
O At Stewart Stadium (Ogden)
Kickoff • Saturday, 1 p.m.
Radio • 1430 AM, 103.1 FM, 91.1 FM
Records • Southern Utah 6-3, 3-2; Weber State 1-8, 0-5
Series • Weber State leads 15-4
Last meeting • Weber State 24, SUU 22 (2012)