Wyoming’s Paul Roach may still be wet behind the ears as a head coach, but at 60, he’s an oldster in a youngster’s game.
If nothing else, he figures, that gives him the right to be more of a father figure to his players--a grandfather figure, even--and the prerogative, he says, “to give ‘em a little more hell.”
Whatever he’s doing, it’s working.
Roach, after a long career as an assistant in college programs and the National Football League, has been the Wyoming athletic director since 1985.
But last year, after Coach Dennis Erickson left for Washington State, becoming the third football coach to leave the school since 1980, Roach ended a 16-year absence from college coaching and took the job himself.
The folks at Wyoming wanted someone who was going to stay around for a change and Roach thought the players needed a little more continuity. So, at age 59, Roach became a head football coach for the first time.
It was a decision, Roach says, that came “a little bit more from the heart than from the brain.
“I didn’t have any idea in the world I was going to do it,” he said. “I went to the board of trustees to present a name of a candidate for coach and they asked me if I would do it.
“The burning desire most assistants have to be a head coach passed me by 10 or 12 years ago,” he said.
What the heck, they needed him.
And Roach’s impressions now, after his first season-and-a-half on the job?
“It’s fun when you win,” he said.
That is precisely what Wyoming has done since Roach took over. Last year, the Cowboys went 10-3 and won the Western Athletic Conference championship. This year, entering today’s homecoming game against Cal State Fullerton, Wyoming is undefeated and has broken into the top 20 for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The Cowboys, led by quarterback Randy Welniak, who has thrown for 1,158 yards and 7 touchdowns in 4 games, are ranked 18th in both the Associated Press and the United Press International polls.
Today’s game will reunite Roach with a quarterback who played at North Dakota during Roach’s five seasons (1957-61) as an assistant there.
That would be Gene Murphy, now the Fullerton head coach.
“He did an excellent job for us,” Roach remembers. “He was a student of the game, an excellent competitor and a pretty versatile quarterback. He could scramble, run the option and he was a good thrower and a good signal caller.”
Murphy, 49, is looking forward to seeing another “Norp"--the word he uses for a person from North Dakota, where Murphy played and then coached for 17 years, including 2 as head coach.
But he has another concern.
“Now that I think about how bad I was as a quarterback . . . maybe he’s trying to get even with me,” Murphy said.
Roach says he doesn’t know how long he will coach. “Maybe two or three years,” he said, depending on his health and how the team and the athletic department fare while he holds both jobs.
But the ease of coaching these Cowboys has delighted him.
“I’m probably not the same coach I would have been 15 or 20 years ago,” he said. ". . . I’m not affected by worrying about the position or my ego and the importance of the position. I can just be myself.”
The Titans will earn a guarantee of about $75,000 for today’s game. . . . With an offense that has scored more than one touchdown in a game only once this season, the Titans are looking for improvement any way they can get it. “We’re trying to simplify our offense to allow our kids who are having trouble to have some success,” said Jim Chaney, an offensive coach. One other reason the offense will be simple against Wyoming: Three of the top four tailbacks did not make the trip because of injuries. Fullback Tim Byrnes is expected to start and split time with Palente Henry, the only healthy tailback. “It’ll be fun,” Byrnes said. “I know where all the plays are supposed to go already. I have to--I’m usually blocking for the tailback.” . . . Several new plays were installed this week because of the situation at tailback. One that might be particularly effective: Wide receiver John Gibbs lines up in the backfield and sprints out for a quick pass over the middle . . . . . . The Cowboy offense is averaging 518 yards a game, more than twice Fullerton’s average (243). . . . Injury report (key players who did not make the trip): starting outside linebacker Harold Jones (ankle), defensive lineman Alex Stewart (knee), offensive guard Kevin Bernell (knee), tailbacks Michael Moore (knee), Michael Pringle (ankle) and Earl Williams (shoulder). . . . Linebacker Bill Bryant, who is closing in on the school record for tackles, has been bothered by an ankle injury but made the trip.