A fire burns inside Weber State football coach Jody Sears. Not just any old fire, either: a bonfire.
And yet, for the life of me, after watching Sears' Wildcats fall to Cal Poly 45-23 last Friday night at Stewart Stadium, I can't figure out why that bonfire hasn't translated into more wins.
Look, I understand why the Wildcats are 0-6 this season. I know when they put their poker chips on the table last spring the cruel fates of college football dealt them a mismatched hand of useless cards. They're on their third coach in the space of 10 months and I don't care what level you're playing at, that's an uphill climb.
WSU alumni and fans, I feel your pain. I know it can't be easy to watch what's going on this season, especially knowing how hard many of your worked just to keep the program alive.
On Friday, the 'Cats scored their first first-quarter points of the season and built a nice first-half lead against the No. 20-ranked Mustangs. There was an air of excitement on the sidelines and indeed throughout all of Stewart Stadium. Playing with mounting confidence, it was easy to see the 'Cats have talent and character.
Of course it was also astonishing to see how quickly things can unravel for a team walking the thin line between good and bad; between unity and disarray. Thanks to some poor decisions made by the Wildcats and some excellent playmaking from the Mustangs, Cal Poly scored 24 unanswered points between the third and fourth quarters.
The loss dropped the 'Cats to 0-6 ... oh-and-six.
Afterward, I listened to Sears talk to reporters and noted the passion in his voice. I heard him speak of accountability and the need for consistency. He said he wouldn't browbeat his players into better performances, that doing so doesn't build good players, or programs for that matter.
It doesn't build better young men, either.
He's right, of course. The 'Cats need consistency and a strong foundation if they're going to move forward. Unfortunately, those things aren't easily found around a team going through uncertainty and upheaval.
In a stairwell outside Stewart Stadium's third-floor conference room, I chatted with Sears and saw firsthand the look of determination in his eyes. His team had just been beaten by three touchdowns and he was hurting. Perhaps the last thing he wanted to do was speak with a nosy reporter about his future with the program.
And yet, credit to him, he owned every bit of it and backed away from nothing.
There were moments he was so intense -- so passionate -- he actually gritted his teeth as he spoke of wanting to build a program the right way, with honor and character.
Officially, Sears isn't WSU's head coach. He's the "interim" head coach, meaning nothing is promised beyond this season. He came to Ogden in January, believing he was going to be John L. Smith's defensive coordinator. In April, he was asked to replace Smith, who left for the job at Arkansas. He also remains the 'Cats' defensive coordinator.
When they first hired him as head coach, Weber State administrators should have given Sears a one-year extension. That would have added stability to a program going through a tough stretch. It also would have improved recruiting and helped solidify the coaching staff.
But Sears wasn't given that much latitude and now, with his team winless, it would be foolish to take the interim tag away. With a presidential search already under way, Weber State is better off taking a step back and waiting until December or January to find its permanent head football coach.
At this point, school officials, alumni and fans should continue to support Sears in every way possible. Athletic director Jerry Bovee should continue to closely evaluate him, but should consider more than Sears' win-loss record when doing so.
When the season ends, open the job up and make a careful search. Hopefully, that search will include Jody Sears because in spite of this woeful 2012 season, he's a darn good football coach and he's got a bonfire burning inside him.