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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton walks to the sideline after his TD toss to give USU a 17-14 halftime lead over Utah, as head coach Matt Wells tries to get his celebrating players behind the sidelines, Thursday, August 29, 2013.
Monson: For Matt Wells, one trophy isn’t enough

Second-year Aggies coach Matt Wells not satisfied with Poinsettia Bowl win.

First Published Apr 10 2014 02:07 pm • Last Updated Apr 11 2014 09:42 am

Every early morning, as Matt Wells enters his office door, he sees just a few feet away from him a trophy that stirs more burn than any kind of satisfaction. By itself, the hardware is fine enough, built to symbolize victory with its broad brown base and second deck, separated by shiny silver metal, capped up top with the words: Poinsettia Bowl.

The problem? It sits by itself.

At a glance

Matt Wells file

From » Sallisaw, Okla.

Playing career » Quarterback, Utah State, 1994-96

Assistant coach » Navy, Tulsa, Louisville, New Mexico (twice), Utah State.

Head coach » Utah State, 2013 (9-5).

Personal » Married with three children.

Wells gets extension

Utah State awarded Matt Wells with a contract extension after the first-year head coach led the Aggies to a 7-1 Mountain West record and their third ever bowl win.

The revised contract keeps Wells at Utah State through the 2018 season and includes salary increases for all of his assistant coaches.

“Matt had a great first year leading our football program. His commitment to our student-athletes has been tremendous and they’ve responded with great results in the classroom and on the field,” Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes said.

Wells will make more than $800,000 annually, with incentives and guaranteed step increases in each year of his contract.

Wells led Utah State to the inaugural Mountain West Championship game. The Aggies also defeated No. 24 Northern Illinois 21-14 in the Poinsettia Bowl.

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"There should be two trophies there," he says. "There should be another — the Mountain West Conference trophy. We were just one series short. Just one series. That’s all."

Wells’ molten lament, caused by a 24-17 loss to Fresno State in the league title game in December and spoken as though it erupted for the first time a minute ago, is testament to a couple of things: 1) how far Utah State football has come from its woebegone days when expectation was wholly absent, when winning anything was cause for unfettered jubilation, and 2) motivation for the Aggies remains in full supply.

As Wells wraps up spring ball with a new Ag iteration in Logan — USU’s spring game is Saturday — he stays completely aware of what he and his team accomplished in 2013, his first go-round as Utah State’s head coach and the program’s first season in the Mountain West. Despite losing to injury five offensive starters, including quarterback Chuckie Keeton, in a fateful churn that might have killed a weaker outfit, Wells managed to rivet his team’s focus to the notion it could overcome.

All as the man who recruited most of those players was coaching in Madison.

"I believe football closely resembles life," Wells says. "It’s not perfect. It doesn’t always go according to plan. You face adversity. I just didn’t know we’d face that much adversity."

Still, the Aggies finished 9-5 overall, 7-2 in the MWC, and won that bowl game in San Diego.

Preparing now for his second season, Wells says he’s better suited to handle the vicissitudes that are bound to come: "I feel different. Hopefully, some of the potholes in the road, you know where they are, you know how to navigate them. Last year, I didn’t know where they were."

No one did.

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The lowest of all the lows couldn’t have been foreseen, and it slammed Wells — and everybody else around the team — in the back of the head.

"We all know what, when it was," he says.

What: Keeton, the most indispensable player in the state, blew out his knee. When: against BYU.

"My first thought when it happened was, ‘Come on, Chuckie, get up. Get up, kid.’ Then, when Kyle Van Noy started waving his arm, that’s when I knew it was serious," Wells says. "Looking at our team, looking at the student section, it felt like the air had been let out of the balloon. And it was personal. That’s your guy lying on the ground out there."

Next, the rookie head coach had to build his team back up.

"It took a couple of weeks," he says. "I had to get these kids to rally around each other. And they did rally."

After the Aggies lost Keeton, they got beat by BYU and Boise State, then ran off five straight wins, and six wins in seven games, the only loss coming at Fresno State in the aforementioned MWC Championship game. The bowl victory was nice, but Wells remains vexed by that feeling that he could have done more, could have won more, could have won one more.

Maybe that feeling was always there, programmed in long before he ever became the head coach at Utah State, before he ever played at Utah State, stemming from his days growing up in tiny and countrified Sallisaw, Okla., where two things occupied his time: school and sports. Make that sports and school.

"I went from one sport to the next," he says. "Never had an offseason. Football, basketball, baseball, and golf in the summer." Baseball was his favorite, but a trunk-load of competitiveness accompanied him from season to season, whatever the sport. He was best at football, playing quarterback and safety.

To this day, he favors recruiting multiple-sport athletes because of the athleticism that versatility requires and competitiveness it conjures: "It’s healthy," he says. "It feeds competition. I want to see kids with the ball in their hand on the mound in the ninth inning, or at the free-throw line at the end of a game."

Charlie Weatherbie, who was the quarterbacks coach at Arkansas at the time, recruited Wells out of high school, and when Weatherbie became the head coach at Utah State in 1992, that’s how and when Wells ended up in Logan, a place he’d otherwise never heard of.

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