Every season brings about changes for college football teams. And this year is certainly no exception for the Nevada Wolf Pack.
The Wolf Pack, coming off its second consecutive disappointing 7-6 season, experienced expected changes with the loss of valuable seniors such as Chris Barker, Duke Williams, Khalid Wooten, Zach Sudfeld, Albert Rosette and Jeff Nady.
But the Pack was also caught by surprise by the loss of standout running back Stefphon Jefferson, who left after his junior season for the NFL, and head coach Chris Ault who, it seems now, left for no apparent reason.
It has been one of the strangest off-seasons in Wolf Pack history just from the perspective of the coaching staff alone.
One coach (Nick Rolovich) left for another program for a few weeks and came back, one coach (Jeff Genyk) stayed for two months and left, one coach (Ken Wilson) moved to another role that he never intended to fill and then ultimately left, one coach (James Spady) interviewed for at least one other job elsewhere and then stayed and the one coach (Mike Bradeson) who was on the hot seat most all of last season somehow survived the housecleaning and is still on the staff.
If this much change can go on when there aren’t even any games to play, well, what’s going to happen when the bullets start flying in the fall?
Stay tuned. Spring football practices begin March 27.
One this is certain, new head coach Brian Polian has a lot of holes — and big shoes — to fill in 2013.
The biggest holes Polian must fill this fall are . . .
5. The linebackers
Yes, at times, it seemed like linebacker Albert Rosette was the only one on the field wearing silver and blue that was making plays. Rosette, finally given a chance to play on a regular basis at his natural position, had a great season in 2013 with 135 tackles (four for a loss). It was the most tackles any Pack player has had in a season since DeShone Myles had 138 in 1994. Rosette’s grit, leadership, character and intensity — you know, all the things you can’t coach into a young man — will be missed. But Rosette isn’t the only linebacker to leave after 2013. In fact, it is the biggest exodus of linebackers the Pack has experienced in recent years, especially when you throw linebacker coach Ken Wilson (now at Washington State) into the mix. The Pack’s top four linebackers — Rosette, Jeremiah Green (pictured), Dray Bell and Deandre Boughton — all are gone. Boughton had 75 tackles (three for a loss), knocked down four passes and forced two fumbles. That’s not bad production for a guy who missed all of the 2012 season. Bell had 67 tackles as the fourth linebacker. Yes, a third of those (22) came in one game but if that was the only game he played all year he would have ended up 13th on the team in tackles for the season. Green, who made one of the top defensive plays of the year (see photo) when he sacked Cal quarterback Zach Maynard late in the fourth quarter of the season opener, was fifth on the team with 68 tackles, 6.5 of which were for a loss. If you do the math, that is 345 tackles that have to come from a bunch of inexperienced linebackers in 2013.
4. Duke Williams, Khalid Wooten
You can argue that any loss of any player that was a part of the Nevada Wolf Pack secondary in 2012 is a good thing. The Pack, after all, gave up 27 touchdowns and 147 first downs through the air and 231 passing yards a game. And, it seemed, all of those touchdowns, first downs and yards came in the final five minutes of games, usually with the Pack ahead by seven points or less. But imagine what would have happened if two of the best defensive backs in Pack history weren’t back there? Strong safety Duke Williams (pictured), who has NFL scouts drooling right now, and cornerback Khalid Wooten will be missed. Don’t forget they were a big part of the 2010 Dream Team. Williams, who probably should have played outside linebacker at Nevada, was second on the team with 106 tackles and he also knocked away nine passes, forced three fumbles and recovered two. Wooten batted away 17 passes, picked off a pair and had 53 tackles. Nobody is even hinting that they made all of the plays all of the time. No defensive back in this era of pinball, point-a-minute college football, makes all of the plays all of the time. But take Williams and Wooten out of the secondary in 2012, and Pack games would have resembled a 100-yard dash to the end zone. You simply can’t replace all of their experience with some fancy 40 times. There will be growing pains in the Pack secondary in 2013.
3. Chris Barker, Jeff Nady
Chris Barker started the very first game of his freshman season at Notre Dame in 2009 and played like a senior right from the start. Jeff Nady stepped in for an injured teammate as a sophomore in 2012 and never looked back. If you are going to chisel a Mount Rushmore of the best Wolf Pack offensive linemen of the pistol era, well, Barker and Nady have to be included. It didn’t matter who was running the ball for the Pack, be it Vai Taua, Stefphon Jefferson, Lampford Mark, Mike Ball or even Nick Hale, all of them had great success running behind Nos. 78 and 75. They made quarterbacks (Colin Kaepernick, Tyler Lantrip and Cody Fajardo) look good. They made offensive line coaches (Cameron Norcross and Darren Hiller) look good. They started side by side for two and a half years. Everything the Pack did on offense was based on them. Barker started 53 games in his career. Nady started 36 games. Those are nice numbers even for NFL offensive linemen, whose eligibility doesn’t simply run out with the flip of the calendar. And now they are gone.
2. Stefphon Jefferson
How do you replace the guy who turned in the best season of any running back in school history? Well, you toss somebody in there and keep your fingers crossed. Yes, Stefphon Jefferson fumbled a bit too much. And, yes, the fumbles always seemed to come at exactly the worst time. But when he held onto the ball, magic seemed to happen. Jefferson finished second in the nation in rushing in 2012 with 1,883 yards. Jefferson was the Pack offense in 2012. He touched the ball 397 times on 385 running attempts and 22 pass receptions and gained a total of 2,053 yards and scored 25 touchdowns. That’s 158 yards and nearly two touchdowns a game. It’s really no wonder he left for the NFL. Jefferson had one of the greatest days any running back in the history of the game ever enjoyed when he scored seven touchdowns against Hawaii. Jefferson, who had to bide his time for two seasons at Nevada, finally gained Chris Ault’s confidence in 2012 as a true Nevada back. And he hit the ground running in the season opener against California and never stopped.
1. Chris Ault
Replacing Chris Ault is never easy. The Pack tried it twice before, in 1993 with Jeff Horton and again in 1996 with Jeff Tisdel and, well, it didn’t work for long. Ault coached the Wolf Pack for 28 seasons and won 233 games. That’s an average of 8.3 victories a season. He coached at the Division I-A level for 12 years and took the Pack to 10 bowl games. He came within a victory of winning a I-AA national championship in 1990. There would be giant flea markets at Mackay Stadium right now if it wasn’t for Chris Ault. He finished first or second in 16 of the 25 seasons he was in a conference. One coach in football history has taken his team to a bowl game in the program’s first season in I-A and his name is Chris Ault. Ault’s greatest achievement is that he adapted to three different eras of college football and excelled in all three. He had one of the greatest running attacks in college football in the 1970s and 1990s, one of the greatest passing attacks in the 1990s and he then revolutionized the sport with the pistol offense in the 2000s. Chris Ault, right now, is arguably the most copied coach in the history of the sport. No coach will ever love Wolf Pack football the way Chris Ault loved Wolf Pack football. Future Pack coaches will undoubtedly have seasons as great as some Chris Ault seasons. You know what they say, after all, about a broken clock. But no coach will ever have a career as great as Chris Ault’s career.