RENO, Nev. -- Ask Chris Ault how long he intends to coach football and he blurts out a well-rehearsed, stock answer before you even finish the question.
"I'm not going to be Joe Paterno," the Nevada Wolf Pack coach says.
Another two decades of Chris Ault football would have been a heck of a ride, probably even more fun than the last 20 years.
"I don't know how long I'll coach," said Ault, who turned 64 in November (Penn State's Paterno turned 84 last week). "I really haven't even thought about it. What, are you trying to get rid of me?"
Ault knows better than anyone that no goofy sportswriter, not to mention an athletic director or university president, can get rid of him now. Not now. Not anytime soon. Not while the greatest season in over a century of Wolf Pack football is still warm and fresh in the oven.
"This football team has put a smile on a lot of faces in this community," Ault said.
And there's good reason.
A 12-1 season and a berth in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Jan. 9 against Boston College.
A No. 13 national ranking.
A landmark victory over the mighty California Golden Bears.
An upset victory over Boise State in arguably the greatest game in college football this year.
A Western Athletic Conference championship.
"I'm proud of how this football team has brought this community together," Ault said.
Ault doesn't know it. But he is already Joe Paterno. All he's missing are the black-rimmed glasses and snappy Joe Pa nickname. How does Papa Pack sound? We'll work on it.
Paterno and Ault are the only two active Division I coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame. Paterno is the only coach who has been at his current university longer than Ault has been at Nevada. Both suffered through some mediocre seasons, absorbed a ton of criticism over the years and returned their programs to glory.
"I'm not going to coach when I'm 70," Ault said.
Right now, though, is not the time for Ault to even think about retirement. Pack football is just getting exciting, right? This is also not the time for Pack fans to even dream of Wolf Pack football after Ault. What happens to the Pistol if he leaves? Pack football without Ault is a frightening thought. The university tried it a couple times before. It didn't work out so well.
That's why the recent announcement that the university has recommended a two-year contract extension for Ault (to the Nevada Board of Regents) was a little strange.
Penn State gave Paterno a three-year extension two years ago. And Paterno was 82 years old at the time. Ault himself got a three-year extension right before the 2007 season. A 64-year-old Ault, coming off his greatest season, should have gotten at least a 5-year extension. Two years is shorter than most extended warranties you can get on a new Toyota.
"That's what they always do," Ault said. "That way I have three years to go on the contract."
"I didn't even think about it," Ault said. "Right now all I'm worried about is finishing this season the right way (by beating Boston College)."
Not a bad thing to be worrying about for a man at the top of his game.
It was just five short years ago that he developed the Pistol, the most revolutionary offense college football has seen since Darrel "Mouse" Davis perfected the run-and-shoot 30 years ago.
"It is the savior of this football program," said Ault of the Pistol.
Well, that is not entirely true. Ault is the savior of this football program. And he saved it twice, the first time in 1976 and the second time in 2004.
When he took over the program in 1976, Nevada football was a run-of-the-mill Division II independent struggling for survival. It was stuck in a 30-year stretch of mediocrity. It was irrelevant, inconsequential and invisible in college football.
Ault brought it to life.
He did the same thing starting in 2004 when the Pack was mired in another streak of mediocrity. Now the Pack is the No. 13 team in the nation. Did you ever think you'd live to see the day when you could say that? You can thank Ault.
Ault, now, is known as the father of the Pistol offense. That is great and all and it's about time he's gotten some national attention. But Ault is much more than just a guy who created an offense.
Actually, if you ask him if he believes his legacy in college football will be the Pistol, he gets a little offended.
"I don't know about legacy," he said. "But I've been a guy who has changed with the times. I've had the best run offense in the nation (2009) and the best pass offense (1995)."
Nobody else in the history of college football can say that. Not even Joe Pa.
Ault, make no mistake, is definitely proud of the Pistol, proud of what it's done for Nevada football. But just remember that the Pistol is Ault. Ault is not just the Pistol.
So don't limit Ault's legacy by wrapping it in a nice, tidy little Pistol package. That's OK for the talking heads at ESPN who think Wolf Pack football started with Colin Kaepernick. But it's not OK for anyone who remembers Mackay Stadium before it had an upper deck behind the Wolf Pack bench.
Ault has won in Division II, Division I-AA and Division I-A. He's taken a little school with a little budget and turned it into one of the greatest programs in the nation.
He not only has changed with the times, he has changed the times. He went from a Wing-T coach, who used a huge offensive line and a talented running back to pound people into submission, to using a spread offense that overwhelmed opponents through the air. And now, with the Pistol, he does both at the same time.
"The Pistol is just the culmination of all the offenses I've had," Ault said.
This is a guy you give a measly two-year extension like you are doing him a favor? Really? This is a guy you should be giving a lifetime contract, or at least an extension that seems like a lifetime.
And why stop there?
How about Chris Ault Field at Mackay Stadium? When Cleveland got an All-America Football Conference team in 1946 they named the team after its coach, Paul Brown. How does the Nevada Aults sound? Come to think of it, a solid blue helmet with no logo might look pretty sharp.
The first line in Ault's bio in the Nevada media guide states, "Simply put, Chris Ault is University of Nevada football."
Ault, though, is actually more than just University of Nevada football. He is the state of Nevada. Ault is as much a part of this state's landscape as wide open spaces, lonely highways, bright neon lights, snowcapped mountains, showgirls and sleepy little desert towns.
That's why the days of Ault having to earn a contract extension should be over.
Actually, if Ault was 10 years younger, coming off a 12-1 year, No. 13 ranking, an upset of Boise State and armed with his Pistol offense, he could go anywhere he wanted to go. And, if that was the case, you can bet the Pack wouldn't wave a scrawny two-year extension in front of his face.
"I wouldn't coach anywhere else," he says quietly. "This is it."
And then he smiles.
"You never know," he said.