The word “resilient” was used a lot around the University of Wyoming football offices on Monday.
And it had nothing to do with Saturday’s blowout loss or the fact that the team is 1-6 on the season.
The Cowboys program was stunned when athletics director Tom Burman announced that coach Dave Christensen is suspended for one week and has been fined $50,000 for his actions after UW’s 28-27 home loss to Air Force on Oct. 20.
The suspension took effect immediately. Burman said Christensen will be paid under the suspension, but that one week's salary is significantly less than the fine levied by Burman.
According to Christensen’s contract, what he did could have resulted in worse punishment, including termination. His new five-year, $1.2 million contract, which was signed on Jan. 11, 2012, states Burman, with the concurrence from Buchanan, may terminate an employee’s appointment upon written notice for a wide range of reasons, the first of which is: “Conduct unbecoming of a member of the University athletic staff or which bring discredit to the University and causes serious harm to the University as reasonably determined by the University.”
“The reputation of our university and our athletic program is of the utmost importance,” Burman said. “Over the past week I have reviewed the contract situation with our university legal department and have spoken numerous times with President (Tom) Buchanan.”
Christensen will not be allowed contact with coaches or players during the week or be given access to UW’s football offices. The suspension will end Sunday morning.
Associate head coach Pete Kaligis was named to serve as head coach this week in preparation for Saturday’s home game against No. 21 Boise State.
Christensen was not available for comment. Besides Burman, only Kaligis, senior center Nick Carlson and senior safety Luke Ruff were made available to the media.
UW announced that no other players will be available for the rest of the week.
Christensen was reprimanded last Monday by the Mountain West for his altercation with Air Force coach Troy Calhoun.
The incident stemmed from Christensen’s perceived lack of ethics on Calhoun’s part regarding an injury to Air Force quarterback Connor Dietz midway through the fourth quarter.
Dietz had his helmet knocked off on a run near the UW goal line. As he was coming off the field (a player is required to miss one play when his helmet is dislodged), Dietz went to the turf about 10 yards from the Air Force sideline.
Time out was called by the officials as Air Force trainers attended to Dietz. After a couple minutes, backup Kale Pearson came in for the next play and scored the eventual winner on a bootleg run.
Late Thursday night, a YouTube video surfaced showing Christensen using a profanity-laced tirade at Calhoun as the two walked toward the north end zone. The altercation was near fans, who could easily hear Christensen repeatedly swear at Calhoun.
As of Monday, over 100,000 views of the video had occurred.
“It was seen by many people around the state and the country,” Burman said. “It did have an influence.”
He said Monday that he had wanted to make a thorough evaluation of the incident before taking any action. Burman said he saw the video for the first time on Monday.
“I didn’t want to make a hasty decision, and there was no new evidence presented to me (last) Monday night to today,” he said. “I needed time to reflect upon it. It was probably a suspend-able offense the day it happened.”
When asked if he has been contacted by donors or others outside the program, Burman added:
“Absolutely. From people I knew well to people who were important to the program to people who weren’t important to the program. We heard from lots of them.
“I wouldn’t say that’s what pushed me over the top. In my mind I didn’t want to make a hasty decision. It didn’t matter what game we did it; we just needed to do it.”
Burman said he informed Christensen Monday morning of his decision.
“He was devastated, crushed but took it in a fashion that if you know coach Christensen you would expect,” Burman said.
Kaligis, who is in his fourth year at UW and who was promoted to assistant head coach this season, said the game plan remains as if Christensen were still involved.
“Coach Christensen has a great program is place,” he said. “It runs really smoothly. The players on this team are resilient, very resilient and continue to work.
“I know they’re going to go out there (at practice) tomorrow and be just fine. From a staff standpoint of view, nothing changes. It’s still a day-to-day business.”
Center Carlson, who said he hadn’t seen the video, added that he trusts the decision made by the administration.
“It’s nothing that I can really control,” he said. “I can control snapping the ball and blocking people and getting this team in the right mindset.
“I think the university did what they thought was right. There are a lot of people that care about the Steamboat and the University of Wyoming and the image that we portray.
“We’re instilling our trust in the leaders of this university and the decision they made is what we have to roll with.”
The Cowboys are 19-26 under Christensen and have been to two bowls in the last three seasons.
But with a team expected to compete for a MW title this season, the Cowboys have fallen to 1-6 after Saturday’s 42-14 loss to Fresno State.
Burman said he still feels confident in Christensen’s ability to build and guide the program.
As for the fine, Burman said, “There’s no logic to the $50,000. I’m not sure where that money will go. It will not go to football.”
He added that there would be no further discipline from the MW.
“(Christensen) feels terrible,” Burman said. “He let his family down. He let his team down. He let his coaching staff down. He let the university down.
“If that means he’s humbled, I guess the answer is yes.”