The fact that they had choices in this business is rare and precious, and of course I was honored that Jay would think highly enough of our program to come after some of our guys. So I think the mutual respect is there. —Southern Utah football coach Ed Lamb
Coaching can be very much a vagabond existence, often requiring those who are brave (or foolish) enough to choose it to move from one job to the next with little opportunity to put down roots in any one place for any length of time.
And, at times, it can be a vicious, downright dog-eat-dog profession wherein friends and former teammates can become bitter enemies, with loyalties and a person's character being challenged virtually every day.
Fans can destroy a coach's psyche and self-confidence with hate mail, through the use of social — or perhaps it should be called "anti"-social — media, as well as sports radio talk shows, chat boards and incessant back-biting behavior.
After all, when it comes to coaching, you're generally only as good as your last win, or as bad as your last loss. And everyone in the stands, it seems, thinks he knows how to coach your team better than you do at times — even if he never actually played the game in his life.
What's more, coaching can turn what are normally sane, calm men into raving maniacs on the sidelines during an intense game. When an athlete makes a bonehead play or blows an assignment, deeply religious coaches can be heard spewing a string of profanities that would embarrass an Army drill sergeant. And the coaching profession can bring the toughest guys in the world to tears, even uncontrollable sobbing at times, in both victory and defeat.
That's why it's refreshing to know that there are classy coaches out there like Southern Utah University's Ed Lamb.
Entering his seventh season as the Thunderbirds' head football coach, Lamb guided the T-Birds' program to its first appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision national playoffs last year.
An eight-win season and coveted postseason berth had everybody feeling pretty happy about themselves in Cedar City.
But when first-year Weber State head coach Jay Hill came calling after last season, offering jobs on his new coaching staff to a trio of Southern Utah assistants, they decided to jump SUU's ship and move a few hours north to coach for the Thunderbirds' in-state and Big Sky Conference rival in Ogden.
Steve Clark and Justin Ena, who had each spent the past six seasons on SUU's staff, made the move to Weber State, as did Fesi Sitake, who had spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Southern Utah since wrapping up his playing career for the Thunderbirds.
Clark had served as the T-Birds' offensive coordinator for all six years there, and they established several new school records for offensive production along the way. Ena had been SUU's defensive coordinator for the last four years, helping turn the T-Birds into one of the top defensive squads in the Big Sky. Sitake coached the team's wide receivers and was their passing game coordinator.
Losing quality guys like that is never easy for a head coach, but that's the coaching profession — although some folks might feel like that was a slap in the face to Southern Utah's program for Weber State to poach a couple of the T-Birds' top coaches, especially since the two schools now play in the same conference.
But Lamb doesn't see it that way at all.
"There can't be a rivalry without a mutual respect, mutual admiration," he said at the Big Sky's annual summer football kickoff in Park City a few days ago. "And for Jay to come and offer some of our coaches an opportunity to have an increased role and make a little bit more money, although I was distraught about losing some good coaches, I was pleased for their opportunity.
"The fact that they had choices in this business is rare and precious, and of course I was honored that Jay would think highly enough of our program to come after some of our guys. So I think the mutual respect is there.
"There have just been so few times in my career where I've had options and choices," Lamb said. "I was incredibly happy for those guys — disappointed to lose them, they were great coaches — but just like when we graduate players and any time we lose a coach, it's the same thing. It's my job to make sure we get a better guy, and so I went about attempting to do that. And as the season or seasons play out, we'll find out if that was true."
Coach Lamb replaced Clark with a well-known name — former BYU head coach Gary Crowton, who's had several impressive stops as an offensive coordinator — while Demario Warren will become the Thunderbirds' defensive coordinator and Justin Walterscheid takes over the responsibility of coaching the wide receivers as assistant offensive coordinator.
This all sets up an even more interesting matchup when the Wildcats renew their in-state rivalry by traveling south to face the T-Birds on Sept. 27. SUU won last year's game in Ogden, 27-21, and the Wildcats edged the Thunderbirds 24-22 two years ago in Cedar City. In all, the two schools have split their last eight meetings.
"The games have been back and forth competitively, wins and losses, and I expect it will continue that way," Lamb said. "Throw out the overall records on rivalry weekend, and I anticipate that'll be our toughest game this year."
Well, realistically, it won't be their toughest — not with Nevada, Fresno State, Eastern Washington and Montana on their schedule. But with all those former T-Bird coaches now wearing Wildcat purple on the opposing sideline, it may very well be their most intriguing one.