Chris Ault insists that he is not afraid of life after football.
“No, not at all,” the winningest head coach in Nevada Wolf Pack football history said this week after an afternoon practice. “I’m not Bear Bryant. I’ll do something. I’ll keep active.
“You know, after you go as long as I have working 16-hour days, when that time comes, I’ll be ready for it. I’m not worried about that at all. I’m really not.”
When will that day come? There are, after all, not-so-quiet whispers around northern Nevada this summer that Ault will call it quits as head coach after this season.
“There shouldn’t be,” said Ault, who will open his 26th season as Nevada’s head coach when the Wolf Pack takes on Eastern Washington at Mackay stadium on Sept. 2. “I have two more years left on my contract (it expires after the 2011 season) and then we’ll negotiate and talk.”
He is saying all of the right things to keep his football program focused on the coming season. The last thing he wants is for his players to be wondering about the future of the program.
“That’s not even something I’m thinking about,” he said, referring to his retirement.
Ault, who will turn 64-years-old this season, though, has been very vague about his future as Pack head coach this summer. At the Western Athletic Conference two-day media event earlier this month, all he would say on the subject is that he “has no timetable” for retirement, that “it’s about this season for me” and he’s “not Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden” and won’t coach into his 80s.
He also, however, wouldn’t guarantee this week that he’ll be coaching the Pack after this season.
“I’ll coach as long as my motivation is there,” said Ault, who, by the way, shares the same birthday (Nov. 8) as Bowden. “That could be three weeks, three months or three years. I don’t know.”
Forget about coaching into his 80s. Ault said this week that he won’t coach when he’s 70 (in 2016). That likely means that if he does indeed sign a contract extension sometime in the next 18 months or so, it will likely be his last Wolf Pack coaching contract.
“I have no intention on coaching until I’m 70,” Ault said.
Ault is the sixth winningest active coach in college football with a career record of 206-96-1. Only Paterno at Penn State has coached more years at his current school than Ault’s 26 years at Nevada. The Pack has been to five consecutive bowl games under Ault and is annually considered one of the top three powers of the Western Athletic Conference with Boise State and Fresno State.
“My fire is still there,” Ault said. “I’m probably more enthusiastic than most assistant coaches. I’m still juiced.”
Ault, who will earn $435,000 this season before incentives (according to various media reports), is currently just the fifth highest paid coach in the Western Athletic Conference behind Boise State’s Chris Petersen, Fresno State’s Pat Hill, Hawaii’s Greg McMackin and Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes.
“I’m not out at practice sitting in a golf cart,” Ault said. “I’m still out there in the middle of it, coaching the quarterbacks. I feel as intense now as I did 10 years ago.”
What is Ault’s motivation for staying on the Pack sidelines as head coach?
“It’s about the program,” he said. “I know what we need. And we still have a ways to go. We’re not where we need to be.”
It’s not really about success on the football field. Ault has had plenty of success on the field. Yes, the Pack hasn’t won as much as Ault would like in recent years with just one WAC title and one bowl victory since joining the conference in 2000. But the program is clearly back to being a consistent winner (38-26 over the last five seasons).
“We’ve been steady,” Ault said. “And we’ve been exciting to watch. We haven’t always won but when you come to watch us play, we’re exciting.”
Ault’s motivation for remaining as head coach right now is about more than winning. It goes much deeper than that.
“It’s about building community support,” he said. “Right now we don’t have it where we need it to be. We need to get the community involved in this football program. Right now the community is not involved as much as we need it to be.”
Ault then looked around the Nevada campus, he looked towards Legacy Hall and he looked at Mackay Stadium whose capacity is triple now compared to what it was when he was a player in the mid 1960s.
“We built all this when the community was involved before,” said Ault, who was Nevada’s athletic director from 1986-2004. “That’s what we need to happen again.”
In other words, he’s not going to set a retirement timetable and leave the Pack football program at a time when it truly needs him the most, financially and on the football side of things.
“I have a mission,” Ault said. “And I have a vision of where we need to be. We have to find a way to get there.”
Ault then looked a bit further north to Boise State and a Broncos football program that is ranked fifth in the country in the latest preseason polls and has dreams of winning a national championship this season.
“Boise wasn’t a very good football program in the late 1990s,” Ault said. “They were pretty bad. But their community bought into what they were doing and stuck with them and supported them. And they haven’t looked back. That’s what we need.”
There is a little frustration in Ault’s voice when he talks about Boise.
“We brought them into the Big West,” said Ault, who said he would like to build an indoor practice facility on campus. “We brought them into the WAC.. And now look at what they’ve done. Boise is a great example of what we can do. No question. That’s what we can accomplish. That’s my vision.”