The first time Ron McBride left the University of Utah, so the story goes, was because LaVell Edwards wanted him gone.
In the winter of 1983, Edwards, who is of course the head football coach at Brigham Young, wholeheartedly endorsed McBride for an opening as the offensive line coach at the University of Wisconsin. Since Dave McClain, the head coach at Wisconsin, was a good friend of Edwards', it was no idle endorsement - and McBride got the job.Edwards meant it when he told McClain that McBride was a good coach; he also meant it when he told him that McBride was an expert recruiter.
"I think LaVell kind of killed two birds with one stone," says Sean McNabb, who coached with McBride. "He helped out his friend at Wisconsin, and he got rid of a thorn in his side."
But today, the University of Utah recruited McBride back to campus, naming him as Jim Fassel's replacement as head coach. What goes around comes around. After a successful two years at Wisconsin, another two years with the Ute staff in 1985 and 1986 - when, perhaps not coincidentally, they recruited Scott Mitchell - and the last three seasons as the No. 2 man on the staff at Arizona, McBride, 50, becomes a head football coach for the first time in a career that has been a lot of things, none of them dull.
His first mentor was Wayne Howard, the Utes' most successful coach of the past three decades who retired in 1981. McBride applied for the job when Howard stepped down but that was when the mood on the hill was for a gentler, less flamboyant regime. When Howard's energetic staff was seen as "undisciplined" rather than brimming with "unbridled enthusiasm."
But after Chuck Stobart and Jim Fassel, the mood is now right at the neurotic top for Wayne Howard's righthand man, whose best career move, ironically, seems to have been by leaving Fassel's staff in the nick of time.
McBride not only brings with him a reputation as a recruiter, but also as a motivator. This is a coach who will try just about anything to bring out the utmost in his players. In the past, he has been known to:
THROW HEXES: He did this in 1985, for instance, just prior to Utah's game with BYU in Provo. He conducted a kind of ritual with his players, with special voodoo emphasis on Jason Buck, the Cougars' Outland Trophy winner. BYU won, but only by 38-28 - and Buck had a bad game.
BURN GAME FILMS: He did this after a particularly miserable loss during the Howard era. All of the Ute players were as anxious to review the film on Monday as have an appendectomy. McBride showed up and lit a match to the film - amid uproarious applause.
WEAR THE SAME CLOTHES: Coaches are all superstitious, but few are as superstitious as McBride, who, during a Ute seven-game winning streak in 1981, wore the exact same suit of clothes from beginning to end. When the Utes lost in the final game of the season, to BYU, there was good news and bad news. The bad news was they lost, the good news was McBride was going to wash his socks.
INSPIRE UNDERDOGS: Like, for instance, at Wisconsin, when, to get the Badgers up for a game at Ohio State, he told them that just because Wisconsin had NEVER EVER won in Columbus, Ohio, was no reason they shouldn't RIGHT THAT TERRIBLE WRONG ONCE AND FOR ALL. When Wisconsin won, the team gave the game ball to Coach McBride.
AND OCCASIONALLY GO BERSERK: The most publicized outburst came early in the '81 season, when the Utes lost 52-10 at Arizona State. As McBride addressed the team in the postgame locker room he started getting hotter, and hotter, and hotter, and soon chairs were flying and chalkboards were breaking in half and NOBODY was moving. McBride was doing a Bobby Knight. He had to apologize later, and pay for the damage, and it didn't at all help him when he applied for Howard's job at the end of the season - but the Utes did embark on their seven-game winning streak the very next week, when they beat Portland State 46-0.
That was the game McBride - never a candidate for the cover of GQ - decided to wear the coat and tie - in the belief that wearing Sunday School type clothes would help him cease and desist from acting like an ax murderer after lop-sided losses. How was he to know he'd have to wear the tie for two months? But if it comes with the whatever-it-takes-to-win territory, well, you do it.
"He'll get the kids to play," says McNabb. "That's his strongest asset. He gets more out of kids than anybody I know."
That's what the Utes are banking on now that they've gone back to the future. Their thinking is simple: If LaVell Edwards wanted Ron McBride out of town, they want him back.