In 1989, the year Ron McBride took over as Utah's football coach, the Utes had endured losing seasons, bowl droughts, lopsided losses to BYU and an apathetic fan base that cared more about college basketball than anything the football team put on the field.
A culture of losing had gripped the program and it led to a revolving door of coaches - six to be exact through a 30 year period. That changed in the winter months of 1989. McBride, a former assistant at Utah, was announced as the new head coach and, seemingly overnight, changed the mindset within the football program.
Two years after taking over, he would guide Utah to their first bowl game 28 years. A year later, they won for the first time in Provo in 22 years. A year after that, the program reached its highest level to that point, a 10-2 season and a top-ten finish. McBride had taken a program that seemed cursed and doomed to mediocrity and turned it into one of the most consistent and impressive of the non-BCS level.
Much of this came through his remarkable ability to recruit. McBride was never known for his coaching prowess. He rarely out-schemed the opposition and his teams were prone to inexcusable losses, but he had a great eye for talent, especially up front and in the back field. During McBride's tenure in Salt Lake, the Utes were known for their strong offensive lines and potent running backs.
McBride was also a great motivator, especially against BYU. From 1993 to his final season with the Utes, he only lost four times to the Cougars - 1996, 1998 (a missed field goal as time expired that would've won it), 2000 (LaVell Edwards' final game) and 2001 (Luke Staley's exceptional run late in the game to top off a stunning comeback for the Cougars). He changed the rivalry more than any coach in Utah football history.
Things opened up dramatically for the Utes when they leveled the playing field against the Cougars. Prior to McBride's arrival, BYU owned this town and state. Utah was that cute story that sometimes, though rarely, pulled off an upset or challenged the mighty Cougars.
Not anymore, though. Now, it's Utah who's posting dominant victories over BYU ('04, '08, '11) and having more national success ('04, '08 BCS bowls). That all started with McBride. His vision was to build the Utah program into something special and though he could never get the Utes over the hump, he built the foundation that allowed Urban Meyer to walk in and go 22-2 and Kyle Whittingham, who McBride hired in '94, to guide Utah football into the Pac-12.
None of that would've happened had it not been for Ron McBride.
Every Ute fan owes McBride a debt of gratitude and now that he's retiring from coaching, I wish him a happy and relaxing retirement. He's earned it.