When Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh and Wyoming counterpart Dave Christensen meet on the field today, they will share at least one intriguing trait.
Sure, the Cowboys are the FBS big boy and Cal Poly is in the lower subdivision. The chasm between the two can many times be as wide as the elevation in 7,200-foot Laramie, Wyo.
And Christensen himself is the hotter commodity. The defending Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year initially rose to fame as the offensive coordinator at Missouri, where he was the runner-up as national assistant of the year in 2007.
Walsh was once an FBS offensive coordinator, filling that role at Army from 2007-08, but that’s just another intriguing common thread between the two.
Each arriving at his current post in 2009, they’re both in the early stages of their fourth seasons with their respective teams.
They’ve populated their rosters with their own players. And they’ve had several offseasons to hammer home any schematic changes.
Though the fifth-year seniors recruited by the previous regimes might still be around for this season, for all intents and purposes, the personalities of these squads are entirely of their current head coaches.
Christensen brought the spread offense that was so successful in his time at Missouri, leading the Cowboys to their best success in more than a decade.
Last season, Wyoming made back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1990. The Cowboys have owned rival Colorado State the past three years and swept the Rams and rival Air Force in the same season for the first time since 1996.
For Christensen, expectations for a fourth-year coach are simple.
“I just know from what we’re trying to get done here,” he said. “We want to show marked improvement each and every year. It takes time to build a program. We’ve made that improvement, and we expect to have a better team each year, and we expect this to be our best football team. We’ve had a couple of tough games, but we really have to bounce back.”
Wyoming hung with Texas for a quarter in the opener, leading 9-7 going into the second, before eventually falling 37-17. The Cowboys lost a 34-31 heartbreaker to visiting Toledo last week after starting quarterback Brett Smith was knocked unconscious and taken from the field on a stretcher after an illegal tackle in the fourth quarter.
With Smith likely out for today’s game, Wyoming needs to get on the right track with a victory over Cal Poly if the Cowboys are to live up to Christensen’s expectation of yearly improvement.
For Walsh, expectations for the Mustangs are a bit murkier in his fourth season.
Though Walsh has had the same amount of time to remake his program as Christensen has, this season’s move into the Big Sky Conference has created a new starting point for Cal Poly.
As the former 12-year head coach at Portland State — 10 of which were in the Big Sky — Walsh actually has more experience in the league than all but one of the current head coaches in the now 13-team conference.
Going forward, he’ll be judged on how the Mustangs perform in their new home. An adjustment period to joining one of the strongest FCS conferences in the country is expected.
“I know I’m more comfortable,” Walsh said, “and we’re entering a new league, which I’m very comfortable with, but I don’t know how comfortable the players are with it.
“There’s a lot of things that are happening because of who we are in our fourth year that maybe change a fourth-year coach as far as philosophically where we’re at.”