For Craig Bohl, opportunity to build a program led to longevity
LARAMIE -- Craig Bohl shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said "thanks for the reminder."
His tenure at Wyoming, which is entering its eighth year when the Cowboys take the field Sept. 4 against Montana State, is just one season shy of the nine years Lloyd Eaton spent in Laramie between 1962-70.
That's the longest a head coach has ever stayed at UW.
Bohl said some days it feels like time has flown by. Then, there's 2020, a year he openly admits was the toughest of his career. Then there was the start -- a brutal beginning. Wyoming won just four games during his first season on the sideline in 2014. He added just two more the following season, which included a six and four-game losing streak.
"It reminds me that when Tom Burman and I first met we talked about this being a long-range plan," Bohl said of meeting with UW's Athletic Director before deciding to leave his post at North Dakota State. "You don't see that very often. We have a lot of unfinished business."
During his Wyoming career, Bohl has taken the Cowboys to three bowl games, winning two of them. In 2016, Josh Allen helped lead the program to a division title and a berth in the Mountain West championship game. He has produced NFL talent. Lots of it. UW currently has 14 players in the league, 10 of which were brought to Laramie by Bohl.
That's some of the good news.
Wyoming hasn't been a legit contender for a conference title since that run in '16. Bohl is 1-6 against Boise State, the powerhouse of the league and the team the Cowboys are staring up at in the preseason media voting that was announced Wednesday at Mountain West Media Days in Las Vegas. Bohl won three consecutive national championships at NDSU before bolting to Laramie. That record run also featured an overall record of 104-32.
At Wyoming, Bohl is 38-44.
Still, he feels like his program is starting to blossom.
What gives him that confidence? For one, 95% of the roster is coming back in 2021. Secondly, it wasn't until year nine in Fargo that Bohl finally claimed his first FCS national title.
"It's our goal to return Cowboy football back to national prominence," he said. "When I was a kid in high school, the Cowboys were in the Fiesta Bowl. My point is, why can't we do that again? I know that's a lofty goal, but we've put things in place to keep working toward that goal."
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Despite the fact that a head football coach hasn't been poached from Laramie since Dana Dimel back in 1998, Wyoming fans have always been gun shy when it comes to the steppingstone that the program was once infamous for.
Bowden Wyatt left after six seasons for Arkansas.
Phil Dickens last just four years before moving on to Indiana.
Bob Devaney coached in Laramie for five seasons. Nebraska came calling.
Then there was Fred Akers, Pat Dye and Dennis Erickson. Combined, they lasted a grand total of four seasons. The lure of Texas, Auburn and Washington State, respectfully, was too good to pass up.
Joe Tiller went to Purdue after spending six seasons inside War Memorial Stadium.
Dimel lasted just three.
Bohl knows all about his school's coaching history. He's studied it. He's talked to those who have thrived in it.
Don Morton, a former mentor to Bohl at NDSU, Tulsa and later Wisconsin, was once sought after by UW. He remembers asking Morton why he was thinking about heading to Laramie.
The answer was simple -- It's a launching pad, a place to take off before landing a big gig at a major program.
"My thoughts are, Wyoming began to attract guys that saw this as an avenue to go someplace else as opposed to saw it as an opportunity to really build a program," Bohl said. "So then you had all these guys coming and going. Then I think we had a fan base or administration that thought 'why are we going to invest in this guy? He's just going to leave anyhow.'
"But I look at it this way, if you're going to be a really, really good coach, your honesty comes through. You look a guy in the eye, you tell him that this is what we need to do and I'm going to be here and we're going to do this. It's hard to be a used car salesman and do that. After a while people figure that b------ out. I think we had coaches that played that game."
Bohl spent 11 seasons at NDSU. He said Wednesday that he had opportunities to leave. That wasn't in the cards. He wanted to build a program and the administration believed in him. The only reason he made the jump, he said, is because he accomplished all he could in Fargo.
A new chapter intrigued him, but he wanted assurance it wasn't a short-term deal.
Last October, Wyoming showed additional faith in Bohl, extending his contract through the 2024 season. He will be 65 years old when it expires.
"I appreciate Tom having the latitude -- and I'm sure he got a lot of emails ... it was not good (in the beginning) -- but we stayed the course."
Bohl shared a story about the day he took the Wyoming job. It's short, sweet and one you can easily picture in your mind. It might also add a little affirmation for those who are still jilted by fleeing coaches of the past.
"I was sitting and having a drink with my old man and he said, 'you're going to be another Devaney,'" Bohl recalled. "I said, 'no, I'm not. Because I'm not going to leave."