Chris Ault said all the right things Friday afternoon as he announced he was stepping away from the Nevada Wolf Pack football program.
“I think the timing is just right,” Ault said. “There’s no secrets. There’s no hidden agenda.”
Ault put on an incredible performance in keeping the emotions and frustrations he normally wears on his sleeve safely tucked away in his dark blue sport coat pocket. He left the university he loves so dearly and has dedicated his life to in as classy a way as possible.
But it was all the things that he didn’t say in his farewell address that made the most impact.
“Change is inevitable,” Ault said. “So, with great humility, mixed emotions, I’ve decided it’s time for me to step down and move on.”
It was like listening to a Mitt Romney concession speech. The words sounded great, even the emotions seemed to come from his silver and blue heart. But you had to listen very closely and with a finely-tuned, Ault-trained ear to hear anything of importance or substance.
And, that, you can be sure, wasn’t by accident. From the moment a 5-foot-nothing, 100-and-nothing-pound, brash, young, confident quarterback came out of San Bernardino, Calif., and landed on north Virginia Street in the summer of 1965, everything Ault has said and done had a purpose.
His final official act as a university employee was no different.
“I don’t write speeches,” he said. “But I did put down some notes.”
You bet he did. It was the one way, after all, he could remember to not say anything that would turn his polite little retirement ceremony into a forgettable YouTube moment. And you know he certainly had the material to go viral if he wanted to.
He chose not to. And it was the right choice. Ault’s farewell on Friday was all so proper ad polite and it’s because Ault set the tone. There was no anger. There was no frustration. There was no laundry list of unfulfilled promises by the athletic department that caused him to retire.
Athletic director Cary Groth even said she didn’t know if she’d ever worked with a finer man than Chris Ault. You’d think you’d know something like that but, hey, the thought was nice. President Marc Johnson said it was a bittersweet moment. Bitter, we understand. But sweet? What’s so sweet about losing the greatest head coach and the greatest athletic director the university has ever known or will ever know when he still has so much more to give and at one of the most important juncture’s in the school’s athletic history?
Ault went out with a ton of pride, with his head held up high and with grace.
“I think this is simply in all our best interests,” Ault said.
The words coming out of Ault’s mouth on Friday simply did not seem to come from the Ault we knew the past four decades. Yes, it looked like Ault up there behind the podium at Legacy Hall. The Wolf Pack mandated blue sport coat and blue and white-striped shirt seemed to come straight out of Ault’s closet. But that couldn’t have been the real Chris Ault up there, fighting back tears and thanking all those who made his wonderful life possible.
That had to be some carefully created computer generated imagery of the Hall of Fame coach designed to bow out gracefully.
He was too serene. He was a bit too calm and collected for such an emotional moment. If you think it was easy for Ault to step away from the head football coach’s lofty position at the University of Nevada, without the athletic director’s chair to fall comfortably into, well, you don’t know Chris Ault.
That 20 minutes or so up at the podium on Friday had to be the toughest 20 minutes of his life. He was, after all, quitting a job — a job he loved with all his silver and blue heart — before it was finished. And that goes against everything Chris Ault is about.
Calm and collected? That wasn’t by accident. But that’s what we got because it was CGI Chris Ault. The real Chris Ault would have used the occasion to set the record straight about all that is wrong with Wolf Pack football with the hope of bettering the program before the inmates take over the asylum.
Ault, though, just gave us tired coaching retirement announcement clichés. He spared us the old. “I just want to spend more time with my family” because, well, nobody would have believed it from a 66-year-old grandfather anyway.
The timing was right, he said. The timing actually couldn’t have been more wrong.
You don’t leave a program without a head coach right in the middle of recruiting season. You don’t leave a program that is on the verge of chaos, with one assistant coach already gone and two with one foot out the door. You don’t leave a program whose athletic director is in the middle of a one-year farewell tour. You don’t leave a program that, well, might not even exist today if you didn’t come up from San Bernardino back when the Beatles were blaring out of everybody’s transistor radio.
“I think it’s a great time,” said Ault, sounding very much like the used car salesman trying to peddle that 12-years-old Toyota with 250,000 miles that has been sitting on his lot for six months. “You’re going to have a new athletic director coming in. This community can be excited. A new vision is coming into football. I think the community and the university can look forward to some new and exciting thoughts and things.”
A great time? In all of Ault’s 28 seasons as head coach, right now just might be the most absolute worst time of all for him to announce his retirement.
“I know it’s ass-backwards and I apologize to president (Marc) Johnson for the inconvenience of the timing of this thing,” Ault said, “because the new A.D. should be here.”
Even better yet, the old A.D. should have been gone.
Everything you need to know about how the University of Nevada manages its most important athletic positions — A.D. and head football coach — can be summed up right now with its handling of the retirements of Ault and Groth. Groth, for some reason, gets a one-year farewell ride. Ault, after he cleans out his desk, wraps up the Fremont Cannon and takes it home where it truly belongs, and makes a few more phone calls on the company dime, is leaving immediately.
Talk about ass-backwards.
Groth should have been shown the door immediately if, for no other reason, than because no multi-million dollar company should ever be lorded over by a lame duck leader. A new athletic director should already be on campus or at least loading all his leather sofas and high definition televisions into the moving van by now because, well, something like what happened on Friday might actually happen.
So don’t blame Ault because the new athletic director isn’t around now to find a new football coach. This is Johnson’s fault. It is absolutely ridiculous that an outgoing athletic director gets to have a say in hiring the most important position in the athletic department for the next athletic director.
If anyone should have given a one-year notice of resignation, it is Ault. That would have solved all the serious concerns right now brought forth by his untimely announcement on Friday.
A one-year Ault farewell tour would have guaranteed that the new athletic director got to hire his or her own football coach. Ault sticking around another year would have insured that recruiting this year wouldn’t have been affected. It would have given all of Ault’s loyal assistants the proper notice to find a new job instead of the current situation where they are all scrambling around like cockroaches in the night looking for crumbs of food.
A one-year Ault farewell party also would have given Ault — who had three more years on his current contract — the proper time to make sure that he is making the right decision.
You know how he is with retirement. “The word retirement is not in my vocabulary,” he said.
Yeah, no kidding. Then why are you retiring?
If Ault would have stuck around for one more year the university could have found the time to pick the right football coach instead of rushing (in the next few weeks so he can actually participate in recruiting, we presume) to pick the only coach in America willing to take a Division I job for less than $500,000 a year. If Ault waited another year the new coach could be hired before next year’s bowl game and actually shape his first recruiting class himself.
The only situation where Ault’s sudden, out of the blue retirement announcement would have made sense is if he was going to take the athletic directors’ job. That is the position, after all, he should be going to. That’s where he can do the most good for the university. That way he could hire the next coach and make sure football was taken care of.
But, for some reason he refuses to share with anyone, he says he doesn’t want the job. So now the university has an athletic department without a leader and a football team without a head football coach. Whose best interest is this?
This way — Ault cutting himself off from the university cold turkey — makes no sense. Not after a 47-year relationship. This wasn’t Jeff Horton leaving in the middle of the night after one season as head coach.
This is Chris Ault leaving, the man the Wolf Pack football media guide aptly describes in the following sentence: “Simply put, Chris Ault is University of Nevada football.” Well, he was until about 1:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon. And now we don’t have any clue what or who, exactly, is University of Nevada football.
That’s in nobody’s best interest.
When asked when he made the decision to retire, Ault hesitated for a second or two, looked down at the notes he put on paper and then gave a rambling, disjointed reply that basically seemed to answer every question except the one he was supposedly trying to answer. He even started his answer with a joke, the best sign of all that he was trying to avoid the subject.
“When I was walking across that field to shake that guy’s hand after the Arizona game,” he said with a smile, seemingly hoping the question would simply float away.
“No, I’m teasing,” he said.
Ault then proceeded to say that he didn’t even think about retiring until he got back home from the New Mexico Bowl and had some time to think. He talked it over with his wife Kathy and then told president Johnson who, in turn, told Ault to think about it for a week.
“There was really not many people to discuss it with because I think it’s more of an internal thing,” Ault said.
The whole process, if you believe Ault’s explanation, took roughly 12 days, from the day after the New Mexico Bowl to Thursday, the day the Wolf Pack media services department announced that Ault wanted to talk about the future of Wolf Pack football.
Do you really believe Ault would make a decision to sever his relationship with the university that became his entire life and give up the only job he ever loved in just 12 days? That’s 12 days, don’t forget, that came immediately after one of the most frustrating losses of his career and 12 days that included Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when, we assume, family obligations took him away from pondering such serious matters as retirement.
That is very difficult to believe. Ault is smarter than that. He owes himself more than 12 days to make such a serious decision. He owes the university more than that. And he knows that more than anyone. A mere dozen days — 288 hours, to be exact — to think about altering your life forever? He’d spend more time figuring out a way to get three wide receivers wide open on one play in the pistol offense.
The 12 days, it seemed, was just his polite mourning period, in much the same way a greedy son or daughter will wait a respectable amount of time before putting their deceased mother or father’s vintage auto up for sale.
Don’t believe the 12-day theory.
There were hints that Ault was seriously thinking about retirement as far back as a year ago when he drastically re-shaped his coaching staff, bringing in offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich just so that he could teach someone the finer points of the pistol offense.
And then there were subtle hints all season long that only someone who has watched the ol’ ball coach react to thousands of different situations over the last three decades would notice. The biggest hint was that he never truly got mad in public this year. He never went crazy where we all could witness it. He never blew up. He was never the passion-filled, suffer-no-fools Chris Ault that some of us grew to love over the years. He never came to a post-game press conference — always his favorite way to get his message across — and rip his team up one side and down the other, like he did at one point or another in each one of his previous 27 seasons. Yes, even in 2010.
It’s not like he didn’t have an opportunity or a reason to simply explode after games. Heck, he could have done it seven or eight times this year. And, to be honest, that was one of the things this team needed.
This season we witnessed a kinder, gentler and calmer Chris Ault. It was like he was on his own, private farewell tour all season long. It was as if he didn’t tell anyone he was retiring after the year because, well, he didn’t want any gifts or be forced to hug everyone he saw.
“You told me that in the middle of the season,” Ault remembered on Friday, referring to my concerns in the middle of this season that he was being the politically correct, anti-Ault this year. “I didn’t notice it before you mentioned it.”
I don’t believe that either. Remember, this is not a guy who does anything by accident. No matter what he said Friday, he always has an agenda, always has a purpose with every action and every word as well as every non-action and every unspoken word.
The closest Ault came to spilling the true reason why he stepped down as head coach is when he said, “Wolf Pack football has gone about as far as it can go under these circumstances.”
But then he spent the rest of the press conference taking the bite out of that statement, telling everyone how solid the foundation is for Pack football, how the new coach should be thrilled to receive so much talent still on the roster and how “Wolf Pack football has firmly established a blueprint for success, one that can be sustained.”
So, why are you leaving again?
“I’m excited for the next guy that comes in,” Ault said. “The cupboards aren’t empty.”
Ault wasn’t even excited about the guys — Horton, Jeff Tisdel and Chris Tormey — he himself brought in to coach Wolf Pack football. He’s now going to be excited for the guy Johnson and Groth bring in?
It was also suggested on Friday by the media that Ault is leaving the Wolf Pack because the university’s football budget pales in comparison to that of other Mountain West schools. That’s sort of like saying Bear Bryant retired from Alabama because his hound’s tooth hat made him sweat in the heat of the deep south.
“If that (a sub-par budget) was the question, I would have been gone seven or eight years ago,” Ault said.
What he really meant was 27 or 28 years ago. The Wolf Pack has never had an overflowing football budget. And it never will.
“There’s no secret where we are with our resources,” Ault said. “But it’s been that way my entire career here. This doesn’t come from a position of ‘I don’t have this, I don’t have that.’ It’s none of that because we’ve never really been resource-wise what we need to be. We find a way and we’ll continue to find a way.”
Ault didn’t just discover in the last 12 days that he doesn’t have Oregon’s budget. Heck, he doesn’t even have UNLV’s budget. And he never will.
He also didn’t leave because of the frustration of this past season that saw a 6-1 start turn into a gut-wrenching 7-6 finish. “That was certainly a driving force to keep moving forward,” Ault said.
No matter what happened on Friday, Chris Ault is not a quitter. Chris Ault would never quit the Wolf Pack football program coming off a 7-6 season that ended with five losses in six games. Chris Ault finishes the job.
But this is one job, though, that seemed to quit him. It simply, finally, wore him out. He spent his entire career at Nevada screaming and yelling about what needs to be done for football to thrive in northern Nevada. And, make no mistake, nobody has ever listened to him. But when he was a young coach it didn’t matter that nobody listened because he had enough confidence in his own abilities as an offensive genius to go out and win games on Saturday afternoons with 11 guys he picked off the playground.
But on Friday it just seemed he had finally grown tired of all the screaming and yelling.
More than anything else, what Friday’s announcement seemingly came down to was that Ault had about a dozen reasons to leave Wolf Pack football right now and just one to stay.
The reasons to leave immediately start with taking orders from a new athletic director, a daunting schedule next year that includes games against Oregon, UCLA and Florida State, a watered down Mountain West that now looks like the Big West of the 1990s, a defensive coaching staff that he knows, down deep, needed to be gutted and a community that continues to treat Wolf Pack football like a trip to the dentist.
The reason to stay — to build the Pack into a perennial Top 25 program — began to feel impossible to achieve. Every year Ault looked more and more like an American Idol contestant hoping to become the country’s next great singing sensation.
“Knowing where we’re at, knowing where we’ve got to go and knowing the changes that are coming, that’s going to take some time,” Ault said, in one of his most important and honest statements on Friday. “And I don’t have time.”
When he was a young, confident, brash head coach at the age of 29, still with some San Bernardino dust in his boots, he had time. He had forever. Now that he is 66, well, forever is just around the corner.
“I’ve never put myself in front of this university,” he said. “But this time I did.”
Good for you, Mr. University of Nevada football. Good for you.