Given that Weber State University went from the ninth football coach in school history to the tenth without so much as a single snap in an official game, Jody Sears faces one of the most intriguing coaching challenges in the country.
The Wildcats’ interim coach since John L. Smith departed unexpectedly after spring practices to become the coach at Arkansas, Sears didn’t come into the role on the traditional career trajectory, but his journey to the head coaching job at Weber State is as interesting as the road in front of him.
Sears, 44, a Pullman, Wash., native who played wide receiver at his hometown school of Washington State and was the co-defensive coordinator there the past three seasons, never seems to be far from the initials W-S-U.
Growing up, Sears’ father ran the quarterhorse breeding program in the animal science department at Washington State. His mother forbade her young cowboys from riding bucking horses, so Sears’ first love was roping steers; he dreamed of competing at the National Finals Rodeo.
Sears also had a love of football, which he followed by walking on at Washington State, where he became a two-year letter winner, playing for Jim Walden, Dennis Erickson and Mike Price, who had been the coach at Weber State from 1981 to 1988.
No matter what challenges the coaching business may present Sears, he can take comfort in knowing that anything’s better than laying asphalt on an August afternoon in Arizona.
That’s what Sears was doing after graduating from Washington State in 1991.
Driving down the road with the asphalt crew in a dump truck with no air conditioning on a stifling Arizona afternoon, “I was riding in the middle and we went past this little high school out in the country, Queen Creek High School. The guy sitting next to me said, ‘Coach so-and-so at that high school just resigned — they need a football coach,” Sears said. “I’ve got my asphalt clothes on, and I said, ‘What did you just say?’
“Right then, something told me, ‘Jode, you need to get in your car and you need to drive directly to that high school.’ ”
He did. Without a teaching certificate, Sears couldn’t be the head coach, but he was quickly hired as the offensive coordinator for the football team, the head JV basketball coach and the head track coach.
A year later, he knew he had found his profession, so he sent his resume to all of his former coaches and teammates — including Smith, who had been an assistant to Erickson at Washington State and was the head coach at Idaho at the time.
He got an answer back from Iowa State, where he became a graduate assistant in 1994 under Walden, who had coached him at Washington State.
Walden was fired that year after an 0-10-1 season, but Sears managed to stick around for two more years as a G.A. under new coach Dan McCarney.
On McCarney’s staff, Sears found a mentor in Larry Coyer, whose long career in the NFL and college football now spans stints as a defensive coordinator for the Steelers, Broncos and Colts.
After learning from Coyer, Sears was ready to put his new knowledge to the test. He did so as the defensive coordinator at NAIA school St. Ambrose in Davenport, Iowa.
From there, Sears went on to coach cornerbacks and the defensive line at a unique place to coach college football, Army, from 2000 to ’02. He then got his first taste of the Big Sky Conference as the defensive coordinator at Eastern Washington from 2003 to ’07 under former Wazzu teammate Paul Wulff.
Sears followed Wulff again to Washington State, a homecoming for him, but Wulff was let go last November, so Sears again got in contact with Smith.
Sears brought his wife, Molly, and their five children to Ogden to become the defensive coordinator at Weber State, never expecting to step into the head coaching role just a few months later.
His days are the same as before, he joked Thursday, just another 15 things on the to-do list and another 15 phone calls to make per day.
Sears says his biggest challenges at Weber State for the upcoming season are “not to reinvent the wheel, and teach our kids how to lead.”
To reinvent the wheel would be to overcomplicate things and ignore the blueprint Smith and his staff had laid out for the summer, fall camp and upcoming season, Sears said.
“The foundation of the thing, the blueprint, the infrastructure, has got to stay the same. That’s what I mean by ‘don’t reinvent the wheel’ — keep the plan moving forward, surround these kids with good people, surround these kids with other kids that have a shared vision, that want to win a championship.
“To me, that’s where the leadership comes in.”
As he prepared to make more recruiting rounds at in-state high schools Thursday, Sears said he can’t worry about his long-term goal of having the “interim head coach” label become something more permanent.
“If I’m focused on being the head coach (in the future), if that’s all I’m focused on, it won’t happen,” he said.
“To me, that’s an outcome-based thought process. I’ve got to think about the process — I’ve got to be at a high school in 45 minutes. That, to me, is where my focus is. I’ve got to focus on my day-to-day operations and focus on the process. The outcome will take care of itself. You’ve got to win the day.”