Logan • The plays he watched his team practice this spring looked familiar, and painfully so.
The pitch and 1-yard run that sealed the win for Air Force last September at Maverick Stadium. The protection problems that changed the complexion last fall at Boise State. The stalled drives and the 5-yard scamper that let Colorado State rally from 14 down, leaving him and his staff filled with frustration on the journey home from Fort Collins.
"They're not fun," Utah State football coach Matt Wells said. "No, but you've got to relive it."
The past season was a bad one for Wells and the Aggies. They went 3-9 overall and 1-7 in conference play, missing out on a bowl game for the first time since Wells returned to campus as an assistant coach in 2010. Off the field, Wells saw one of his players severely injured in a car crash. Another one of his former players, linebacker Torrey Green, was arrested and charged with multiple counts of rape. And two more players were arrested and charged with burglary for allegedly stealing and pawning video game equipment this spring.
But now, armed with a letter of support from Athletics Director John Hartwell, a new offensive coordinator, and a belief that last year was an aberration for a program that had been on the rise, Wells said he feels confident in his position going into the fall.
"I can honestly tell you I don't feel any more pressure this year," the coach said recently, sitting in his office, overlooking Merlin Olsen Field.
There were some sleepless nights for Wells, even after the Aggies' 28-10 loss to BYU in their season finale last November.
Then came a series of meetings with Hartwell and a plan of action to get back on track.
"The sting of this season will be a driving force for all of us associated with our football program to make the changes and sacrifices necessary to regain the winning edge," the AD wrote in a letter to season ticket holders.
Wells points to three key changes that he believes will accomplish that.
First, there was a change to how his staff recruited. A season ago, Wells saw six assistant coaches leave the program, taking with them the precious bonds they had formed with key recruits. This time around, Utah State coaches "team recruited," with multiple coaches keeping tabs on each prospect.
"We had a really good recruiting class," Wells said. "A really good recruiting class. I'm very excited about it. Guys are going to be able to come in and help us right now."
Second, Wells hired offensive coordinator David Yost to be his new play caller. The former Oregon Ducks quarterback coach arrived on campus in January with a plan to play an uptempo and simplified offense that Wells believes will help senior quarterback Kent Myers and his offense tremendously.
Lastly, Wells has altered his approach to practices.
"It's a lot more competitive, there are a lot more competitive situations," he said. "We're trying to put the game on the line, use a lot of the scenarios that had come up during last season."
Wells has three years on his contract after signing an extension worth about $900,000 a year through the 2019 season.
And if last year's struggles on the field — and high-profile incidents off it — have added heat to Wells' chair, the coach said he isn't feeling it.
"I remember the summer before my second year as offensive coordinator here. All I was worried about in June or July was scoring enough points to beat Utah in Game 2 because I was worried about my job," Wells said. "That's pressure."
Nor does Wells think the off-field problems that have sprung up over the past year are major causes for concern. The coach has said he had no knowledge of police investigations into Green's activity until they had been reported in the Tribune last fall.
"We've had very few issues," Well said. "I don't ever like it when a kid gets in trouble and they make the choices to do that. We will discipline … The logo will always win. The team and Utah State and how we do things is most important to me."
So with about a month to go before fall camp begins, and two months until the Aggies take the field in Madison, Wis., for their season opener against the Badgers, Wells is confident things will be getting on the right path in Logan.
"I think there's a good mindset combined with a bad taste in your mouth and motivation for next year to get back to where we need to be and where we've been," he said. "… Every day, when I walk into this complex, the Mountain West championship trophy is not on the first floor. The passion to bring that trophy here is at a high level. I want that trophy for us."