CHEYENNE – That didn’t take long.
Less than 24 hours after the season ended, the University of Wyoming fired football coach Dave Christensen on Sunday after five seasons.
UW lost its regular-season finale 35-7 at Utah State on Saturday. The Cowboys finished 5-7 overall, 3-5 in the Mountain West and fourth place in the six-team Mountain Division, losing five of their last six games.
Christensen was 27-35 in five seasons, and 16-23 in the MW. Christensen’s teams never beat a MW opponent that finished ahead of them in the conference standings.
“We have come to a point where our football program has not achieved at the level of success that we expect, and we know from past experience that we can be successful,” UW athletics director Tom Burman said in a news release from the school.
“It is with that in mind that we move forward in search of a new leader for Cowboys football.”
Efforts by WyoSports to contact Christensen on Sunday were unsuccessful. Burman will address the media with a conference call at 2 p.m. today.
Christensen signed a five-year contract worth $1.2 million annually after the 2011 season, in which he guided UW to its second New Mexico Bowl appearance in his first three seasons. However, UW was 9-15 over the next two seasons.
UW will pay Christensen his base salary of $190,008 for the remaining three years of his contract for a total of $570,024. The buyout will be paid with non-state dollars.
Arguably one of Christensen’s biggest achievements was bringing in quarterback Brett Smith.
In three seasons, Smith is UW’s career record holder in touchdowns responsible for (97), touchdown passes (76) and passing attempts without an interception (183). He also holds the single-game record with 640 yards of total offense, and is second in school history in career total offense (10,359 yards) and passing yards (8,834).
“I’m very thankful for the time I had with Coach,” Smith said. “He gave me an opportunity, and I’m very appreciative of that. I wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”
When asked if he will return for his senior season in 2014, Smith declined comment.
True freshman receiver Tanner Gentry said he was told about the firing from a text from receivers coach Derek Sage. Gentry said he had not talked to Christensen, Burman or any of his other teammates as of early Sunday night.
Gentry, third on the team with 39 catches this season, also said he does not know who is in charge of the program until a new coach is hired.
“I’m not sure as of now,” Gentry said when asked about his future at UW.
The two bowl appearances in five years is the most for UW since the mid-1990s. UW also beat its biggest rival – Colorado State – in each of Christensen’s first four seasons, the Cowboys’ longest winning streak in the series since 1967-73.
Ironically, it was a 52-22 home loss to Colorado State on Oct. 19 that started the downward spiral of this season. UW won just one game after that loss, and needed overtime to beat Hawaii 59-56 on Nov. 23. Hawaii finished the season 1-11.
UW’s defense was among the worst in the nation each of the past two years, and allowed a school-record 440 points this season. Christensen went through three defensive coordinators in five years.
Depth was an issue, and injuries didn’t help as UW played most of the season with 15 to 16 athletes in the regular defensive rotation.
But after five years, the depth should have been better.
Christensen, the offensive coordinator at Toledo and Missouri before hiring on at UW, called the plays this season. UW averaged 31.2 points and 472.8 yards a game, but against the three best teams in the MW – No. 24 Fresno State, Boise State and Utah State – it scored a total of 24 points and allowed 131.
“I don’t know if we are that far away with 18 starters coming back,” Christensen said after the Utah State game. “We have to continue to recruit. We have to get more depth and more skilled players. The speed of (Utah State’s) skilled players and the speed of our skilled players showed up (in this game).
“We have to continue to build depth and get more competition on both the offensive and defensive lines.”
Christensen will also be remembered for his profanity-laced tirade toward Air Force coach Troy Calhoun after last season’s 28-27 UW loss in Laramie. Footage of the tirade went viral, and Christensen was fined $50,000 and suspended for a game by UW for his actions.
Burman said a national search for the next coach will begin immediately.
Christensen was the first football coach Burman hired since he got the job as UW’s athletics director in October 2006. However, Burman fired football coach Joe Glenn after his sixth season in 2008, and men’s basketball coaches Steve McClain and Heath Schroyer (Burman hired Schroyer, but not McClain). All had multiple years left on their contracts – like Christensen.
“Wyoming football has been successful at many periods in our history,” Burman said. “When you combine that great tradition with the investment we’ve made in developing outstanding football facilities that are among the best not only in our conference but in the West, we believe that we can achieve great success again.”