Ault's willingness to adapt key for Wolf Pack


Bobby Hauck remembers growing up in Big Timber, Mont., and first hearing from his dad about Chris Ault and the UNR football team that was entering the Big Sky Conference.

"I watched that evolution," said Hauck, UNLV's third-year coach. "They've had great continuity up there. He's had a hand in the development of that place since the mid-'70s."

Ault not only made the Wolf Pack powers in the Big Sky Conference but also oversaw their successful transition to major college football in the Big West, Western Athletic and Mountain West conferences.

The 65-year-old coach, who guides UNR (5-1, 2-0 MWC) into Saturday's noon game against UNLV (1-5, 1-0) at Sam Boyd Stadium, has succeeded because of his willingness to adapt.

Ault, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, ran the run-oriented wing-T the first decade or so of his Wolf Pack coaching career.

But he saw college football evolving into a passing game. UNR posted eye-opening passing numbers, with quarterback Eric Beavers in 1984 beginning a 17-year streak of 2,000-yard seasons.

Then in 2005, wanting to establish more of a running game to complement the passing element, Ault invented the pistol offense in which the quarterback stands between the center and running back to take a shotgun snap.

The changes are notable, but he said more goes into a strong program than altering strategies.

"Your foundation has to be solid," Ault said. "I think what you do with that foundation is much like building a house. You add rooms to it and make it a little bit bigger as you go on. But the foundation, I think, of how you believe and what you believe is always consistent.

"In terms of schematics with football, you have to be willing to change, and we're constantly changing in this system."

No fact better underscores Ault's willingness to change and adapt than this: He is the only coach to oversee the nation's best passing offense and top rushing offense.

The Wolf Pack led the country in passing in 1995 with 4,579 yards, and they were No. 1 in rushing in 2009 with 4,484.

Hauck sees the Wolf Pack's strong running game in recent seasons as a "return to their roots" that better fits Ault's coaching philosophy.

"You've got to be able to run the ball to be a consistent winner somewhere along the line," Ault said. "Even the throwing teams find a way to get the run in there. We are going to run first and throw second. We'll continue to do that. We'd like to be balanced."

Ault's impact is measured in other ways, too.

Wins Above Replacement has become a key statistic in baseball, and Ault's WAR number would rival the best in college football.

His first stint at his alma mater - Ault played quarterback at UNR - was from 1976 to 1992, and he led the Wolf Pack to the Division I-AA playoffs seven times. Then when the school made the leap to Division I-A and the Big West in 1992, Ault coached UNR to the conference title and berth in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Wolf Pack finished 7-5.

In Jeff Horton's one season the following year, the Wolf Pack went 7-4 but finished third in the Big West.

Ault returned to coach the 1994 and 1995 seasons, going a combined 18-5 with a shared league championship the first year and outright title the second one.

Again he stepped away, handing the reins to Jeff Tisdel and then Chris Tormey the following eight seasons. They combined for five losing records.

Ault returned one more time, in 2004, and went on to share two WAC titles and appear in bowls the past seven seasons.

Just as telling is his record - 14-7 - against UNLV. UNR's other coaches were a combined 8-8.

Even with all his success, Ault - who has a 231-104-1 career record - was mostly a regional name until inventing the pistol offense. Now some form of that offense is used throughout the country.

So now, in his 28th season, Ault is more famous and respected than ever.

"Certainly," New Mexico coach Bob Davie said, "Chris Ault has impacted everyone in college football."

■ NOTE - Cox Cable 96 will televise Saturday's game.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

 

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