LARAMIE, Wyo. — Wyoming first-year football coach Dave Christensen made his way to the center of Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo., late Saturday afternoon to shake hands with Colorado coach Dan Hawkins.
The postgame handshake win or lose is all part of the sportsmanship displayed every weekend on football fields across the country, whether it be on the high school, college or pro level.
It’s a moment of euphoria for the winning coach and a time of bitter consolation for the losing coach.
Even though Hawkins was on an emotional high after his Buffaloes had come away with a 24-0 victory over Christensen’s struggling Cowboys, he took time to offer words of encouragement.
Hawkins put one hand behind Christensen’s head and talked into his ear for a full minute. What was said was between men in a tough profession.
It was the same scene that took place a week earlier in Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium when Texas coach Mack Brown had Christensen’s ear following the Longhorns’ 41-10 win over the Cowboys.
Both Brown and Hawkins — Hawkins even more so — know what it’s like to rebuild programs. Even in their euphoria, they understand the plight of their fellow coach on the opposite side of the field. It’s not easy to lose, and it takes time to get things turned around.
“I understand it’s all part of the process, but the biggest issue this program has is that I’m not a very patient person,” Christensen said Monday. “It’s not easy for me to lose football games, especially back-to-back. That hasn’t happened a lot in my career.”
“It’s not something I deal with very well.
I don’t sleep at night.I constantly wake up in bed trying to figure out ways to help these kids to be successful. That’s what drives me in the profession. Losing is not acceptable by my standards.”
“So yeah, it may be part of the process, but it still doesn’t make it any easier for me as a head football coach,” he added.
Although Christensen understands the process after going through similar rebuilding processes as an assistant coach at both Toledo (1992-2000) and Missouri (2001-08), it hasn’t made it any easier for him.
“In my last game at Toledo, we beat Bowling Green 51-17, and our first game at Missouri was against that same Bowling Green team, at Missouri, and they beat us 20-13,” Christensen recalled. “It was two programs with new head coaches. We were in such bad shape (at Missouri), we couldn’t even beat them, and we had killed them at Toledo the year before.”
“I often thought that maybe 17 to 19 players from that team at Toledo would have started for us that first year at Missouri. So we did have some struggles there, but we also had some great years the last four or five. When you have great years like that, you kind of forget about the struggling years.”
“We also had struggling years at Toledo, too, as we were building that program. But I think it’s my makeup. I can’t sit there and say, ‘Well, this is a rebuilding year.’ It’s like I told our kids, I’m not interested in two or three years. I’m going to try and win every single game I coach every single year.”
Even though Christensen is cordial after a loss with opposing coaches and players and shows patience for the most part in taking questions from the media, he is dying inside.
“Even as a coordinator, I hated to lose,” Christensen said.
“I’m very, very passionate about what I do.I’m very driven. I never felt good after a loss ever in my career as a player or a coach.
“My kids, my family, growing up in our house, the way I think, the way I operate you play the game, and you do things in life to win and be successful.”
Things have not come easy for Christensen and the Cowboys the past two weeks against Big 12 Conference foes. They played well for the most part against No. 2 Texas before fading in the second half. Last Saturday against Colorado, they did not play well against a team not even remotely close to Texas.
This Saturday, a vastly improved UNLV team will visit War Memorial Stadium for the Cowboys’ Mountain West Conference opener.
So where do the Cowboys go from here?
“That’s my job as the head coach. We’ve got the team, or the hand you are dealt, or whatever, and it is our job to give these guys an opportunity to be successful and win,” Christensen said. “I’m not going to make any excuses. We are going to have to come up with ways to score points, stop people, create turnovers and get a W on the board.
“We owe that to this senior class and every kid that’s in this program to teach them how to become winners. That’s all part of changing the culture.”