KUTV has a pretty remarkable piece on Ron McBride's legacy and the important role he played in building Utah football. I don't think you can call yourself a fan without fully understanding, and embracing, McBride's legacy at Utah. For me, someone who became a fan during his career as coach, I can't tell you what the program looked like prior to his arrival. I do know it wasn't good. The program was, at best, mediocre and, at worst, one of the worst in the country. McBride changed that. He took a perennial underachiever and turned it into something competitive.
Sure, the full level of McBride's potential was never reached and the downs we witnessed during his career here are hard to shake or even ignore. But overall, his part in building the football program, laying the foundation for Urban Meyer & Kyle Whittingham, is unmistakable.
Without McBride, there is no Urban Meyer and Fiesta Bowl and Kyle Whittingham and Sugar Bowl and certainly no Pac-12. He's the common link between it all.
Ron McBride hired and then promoted Kyle Whittingham to defensive coordinator.
Whittingham built some of the best defenses in the country as an assistant coach.
McBride recruited the players that allowed Urban Meyer to go 22-2.
Whittingham, a byproduct of the McBride era, was picked to succeed Meyer.
It all ties back to that hire back in 1989 and without it, without his influence, it's hard to believe we're better off for it. McBride is the George Washington of modern Utah football.
But does he deserve a statue?
If tomorrow, the University announced they were building a statue to honor a Utah football coach, who would you pick?
I guess this goes hand in hand with this post made by UnHoly Ram.
If there was one statue, just one, who would you honor?
It's a tough choice. McBride did a lot for Utah and made a great imprint on the program's success the past 20 or so years. But he also was, more times than not, a fairly mediocre coach. In fact, he averaged a shade over six wins a season. Nothing spectacular. He did, however, level the playing field with BYU, won two conference championships (even if they were shared), produced the first ten-win season in program history and coached six bowl games. Only Kyle Whittingham, who's coached in seven bowl games, has done so more times.
It's a sketchy, and often divisive debate. Is McBride the greatest coach in Utah history? Probably not. He really wasn't known for his game-day coaching. He was a great recruiter and fantastic motivator, but on the field, when the game was actually developing in front of his eyes, he was prone to mistakes. This was perfectly illustrated by the end of the 2001 Air Force game.
But when you look beyond coaching, it becomes more muddled. Is McBride the most influential coach in Utah football history? That's a different debate entirely and not nearly as clear. He presided over its resurgence, built the team that leaped onto the national scene and proved to the community we could actually compete with BYU.
Does that erase the fact his best season happened early into his career and, over the final eight seasons, he failed to replicate it? Maybe.
I believe McBride is a Utah Man - a proud one at that - but I believe he's not deserving of such an honor. That's not to diminish what he did, of course, and I don't want to sound like that's what I'm doing. But it's important to point out that much of what we credit to McBride happened after he left the program. It was a result of his leadership, no doubt, but it was not McBride who got Utah to the Fiesta Bowl. It was not McBride who got Utah to the Sugar Bowl. It was not McBride who got Utah into the Pac-12. He laid the foundation for all that to happen, of course, but it took someone building on that for the program to exceed what it had built during McBride's 13 seasons here.
Had McBride been replaced with anyone but Urban Meyer, I'm not sure 22-2 happens. I'm not sure Alex Smith makes it to New York as a Heisman candidate and I doubt he's the #1 overall draft pick after leading Utah to an undefeated, BCS busting season.
McBride did a lot and he deserves credit for resurrecting our football program. But it still took the other right people, the Urban Meyers and Kyle Whittinghams, to take this program to the next level. McBride was the alley to what would eventually become their oop.
Because of that, not only can't I put him at the top of Utah's greatest coach list, I also can't see building a statue of him outside the stadium. I know it sounds harsh, and this really is all a moot point anyway because statues aren't in the plans, but the point of this post really is to spark a debate that could happen if the University decided to place a statue outside Rice-Eccles Stadium (it is summer after all...what the hell are we going to talk about?).
Ideally, they would announce that more than one person would be immortalized. Yet that would render this debate pointless since McBride would certainly have a case. But what if only one person could be chosen? Who would you choose?
Ike Armstrong, who owns the most wins in program history? Urban Meyer, even though he was only here for two years? Kyle Whittingham?
I believe in embracing your history and tradition and I think, unfortunately, that's something Utah football hasn't done much of over the years. Most people are unfamiliar with our history and believe, up until 2004, we did nothing and were nothing. They forget that Ike Armstrong dominated the region for twenty-years and that 'Cactus Jack' Curtice brought to Salt Lake a new, innovated offense that led to quarterback Lee Grosscup finishing tenth in the Heisman voting.
That's why I would love to see a statue of Armstrong outside the gates of Rice-Eccles. He's long gone now, but we should honor the winningest (and I must say, I hate that word) coach in program history. Lots of schools do it. Our main rival (no, not Colorado, though, they did it too) honored their top coach by naming their stadium after him.
We're not going to name Rice-Eccles after Armstrong. But a statue? I think it's perfectly reasonable. It would bridge the history with the present and invite the possibility of a hall of coaches. Then, certainly, McBride should and would be included.
What do you think?