by Anne Palmer Peterson

From the gleeful faces of the 11,400 fans who accompanied Utah to the Las Vegas Bowl, one could hardly imagine that a scant three weeks before, naysayers were downright sour on Coach Ron McBride's so-called recipe for success. You know: the special blend of salesmanship that has peppered his reputation as one of the top recruiters in the school's history? At least, that's how he was depicted in the Continuum Fall 1999 cover story.

After the Utes' embarrassing losses to Boise State, Wyoming, and Colorado State, unrest among the faithful led critics to wonder out loud whether the head football coach's job at Utah was in jeopardy. A morose McBride called that time the two worst weeks of his 40-year coaching career. "People want you to win every game. Hey, I do, too. But I can't worry about what people say," he lamented.

Chortling that the coach's soufflé had finally fallen, while clucking their tongues at the empty seats in Rice-Eccles Stadium at every home game except the opener against Utah State, the only other thing some fans wanted to see served up was McBride's head on a platter. Then came the three-game winning streak culminating in a 20-17 victory in Provo. "He saved his job with that win," says booster Annjanine "A.J." Livsey BS'82 JD'85. A 12-year attendee of Wednesday-night women's football appreciation classes, she frets that the coach may be a victim of his own success. "It has only been since McBride got here that people began expecting us to win," she says. "It's not like we're Notre Dame."

Correct. Only the 1964 (9-2) and 1994 (10-2) teams have won nine or more games. For connoisseurs, 1999 was a very good year.

Whether McBride saved his job with his fourth consecutive win over Brigham Young University at Cougar Stadium seemed far less consequential once Utah captured the Las Vegas Bowl bid coveted by all three Mountain West conference co-champions.

Still, the sweet taste of overall success is mingled with the bitter aftertaste of last year's mistakes. They included an unsavory 15 penalties for 151 yards racked up in the one-point victory at Vegas. "In my opinion, we should have been 11-1 rather than 9-3," observes Jim Macfarlane BA'54, the former Crimson Club president and stadium fund-raising co-chair, who remains a huge supporter of McBride. But even he has his worries. "The word is out that McBride is loyal to a fault. That might be his own Gethsemane, in a way. There are a lot of alumni who would like to see some changes in the coaching staff and for Utah to beef up the discipline," Macfarlane confides. "To win a bowl game does a lot for recruiting, but not to put dollars into the coffers. There's no game 'til next year, and we've got to do something to get that stadium filled. Ron has to be the key man in doing it," he says.

Like Basketball Coach Rick Majerus, McBride is becoming accustomed to fans' insistence on nationally ranked opponents. "It's hard to pull the family together to go see the likes of Northeast Louisiana," notes Crimson Club Board Chair Don Foot BS'75 MEA'82.

But with Arizona, Washington State, BYU, Air Force, Colorado State, and UNLV all meeting at the U next year, football fans won't have to worry about wasting their Saturdays on cream-puff competitors. "It's going to be our best home schedule ever. I expect it to go crazy, and I did even before the bowl game," says Ticket Office Manager David Copier BS'78. After a sweet and sour year, McBride may be looking forward to seeing many more friendly faces.


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Copyright 2000 by The University of Utah Alumni Association