Wyoming’s Bohl has turned slogan into winning reality
laramie» hose who stay will be champions.”
It’s a catchy phrase first coined by the late legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, who issued the challenge to his team after nearly half of a squad of 140 players quit following a grueling camp instituted by the new Wolverines coach in 1969.
Since then, coaches of all sports have used the famous saying as motivation for their programs, none more so than third-year Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl.
He plastered it on the doors of the Fargodome when he took over a struggling North Dakota State football program and proceeded to lead the Bison to three consecutive Football Championship Subdivision titles before heading to the high plains to resurrect Wyoming football.
One of the first things Bohl did upon arriving in Laramie was have the slogan installed on the locker room doors inside the Rochelle Athletic Complex. Yeah, it looked good. Yeah, it sounded good. But for those Cowboys in the program during the time of the coaching change — seeing Dave Christensen, the guy who brought them to Laramie, booted out those same doors — there probably wasn’t a lot of philosophizing going on at that point.
“I don’t think I truly understood what he meant,” Wyoming senior wide receiver Tanner Gentry said. “I was a sophomore and was going to go with whatever he said.”
And during the next two years, the slogan probably didn’t mean much to the team, either.
Wyoming went 4-8 in Bohl’s first season and slipped to 2-10 last fall. It was a season some called one of the worst in program history. The Pokes weren’t even competitive in most games.
Being a champion was probably the last thing on the minds of the Cowboys players.
“You’re not really worried about a slogan at that point,” Wyoming senior center Chase Roullier said. “It was a hard time in all of our lives. But I don’t know that we lost faith in that.” Think about that for a second. Here you are an underclassman on a Football Bowl Subdivision team and you just went 2-10. And you didn’t lose faith.
Just for that alone, Bohl should be named Mountain West coach of the year.
Still, nobody thought the Cowboys were championship material at the start of the season. Nobody. Bohl this week remembered vividly the Mountain West media day last summer in Las Vegas.
“We were picked to finish last, and it was a unanimous last,” he said, with particular emphasis on the word unanimous.
But somewhere along the way, between that July day and now, things around the program started to change. Wyoming’s players physically looked bigger and stronger and faster.
Then came the triple-overtime win against Northern Illinois in the season opener. That was different from last season.
Then came a five-game winning streak in conference play, one that included a blowout win over Border War rival Colorado State, a late cliffhanger against Air Force and a win for the ages against then-No. 13 Boise State.
That’s when Roullier said — at least for him — the slogan started to come into sharp focus.
“You start looking at everything differently,” he said.
And it’s more than amazing that this group of seniors — from the Tanner Gentrys, Lucas Wachas, Jake Maulhardts and Shaun Wicks to the Brendan Turellis and Justin Martins — will get a chance to be MW champions Saturday at War Memorial Stadium against San Diego State.
You think Schembechler might be looking down on the Cowboys right now with a smile on his face?
Yeah, I do too.