Bohl won’t soon forget those early struggles in Laramie
LAS VEGAS, Nev., -- Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl should've bought stock in one adult beverage when he first arrived in Laramie in 2014.
"I just would never want to go through our change that we went through at Wyoming," he said during the annual Mountain West Media Days in Las Vegas. "I drank a lot of Pendleton whiskey, let's put it that way."
It's easy to see why.
The program's transition from five years of Dave Christensen's spread attack to Bohl's pro-style offense wasn't a smooth one. The results proved that. Wyoming went 4-8 in Bohl's first season. It got worse in 2015 as the Cowboys struggled through a two-win campaign that featured back-to-back home losses to FCS North Dakota and an Eastern Michigan squad that had gone 27 years without a non-conference road win.
Those contests weren't exactly competitive either. Imagine you were a head coach coming off of three consecutive national championships at North Dakota State.
"Our first couple of years weren't real pretty," Bohl said. "... If you're going to change drastically -- we went through a 180-degree change -- that just takes retooling the guys that you recruit, how you play, all that stuff."
Bohl was asked if his longevity, entering his eighth seasons on the sideline at UW, gives his team an advantage? Has that been enough time to build an identity? Does that personality match that of the state of Wyoming?
The short answer is obvious.
But it took a lot of years to get there.
"That's one thing that's important about consistency," Bohl said. "And certainly, sometimes change can be good ... What you're demanding players to do -- It was hard. Nothing helps more than older players mentoring younger players. It starts to go like that.
"There's no shortcut to doing that."
Despite the lack of success on the field in those first two years, the program did have some guys who fit Bohl's mold: Chase Appleby, Tanner Gentry, D.J. May, Mark Nzeocha, Lucas Wacha, Chase Roullier and Shaun Wick, just to name a few.
Bohl singled out one player who embodied exactly who he is looking for in a player and person -- Eddie Yarbrough.
"You know what, he was a great leader," Bohl said of the defensive end who played in those first two seasons. "Hell, we were 0-9, I think -- I forget -- and he was still coming to practice every day. He said, 'I don't know when it's going to turn around, but it's going to turn around.'
"I'll always be indebted to those guys."
Yarbrough never won more than five games in a season during his UW career. Still, he's the program's all-time leader in tackles for loss with 39. Yarborough also has 256 tackles and 21.5 sacks to his credit. He is currently a member of the San Francisco 49ers after spending 2020 in Minnesota.
In typical Bohl fashion, he didn't sugarcoat what he thought about those early rosters.
"We had more damn guys interested in (NFL) pro day than game day," he said. "We were soft and they were not committed. (Yarbrough) was a special guy."
Year three is when Bohl's program finally began to ascend. A young gunslinger under center, Josh Allen, helped accelerate that progress, throwing for 3,203 yards and 28 touchdowns. Some of Bohl's first recruits Logan Wilson, Brian Hill, Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps, among others, quickly became leaders on both sides of the ball.
Wyoming went 8-6 in 2016. That included the first ever victory over Boise State and a berth in the Mountain West Championship game.
Since, the Cowboys have played in two more bowl games, winning both handily. After a 6-18 start to his coaching stint in Laramie, Bohl has reeled off a 32-26 record since, including a 21-17 mark in conference play.
He has also started a healthy pipeline from Laramie to the NFL.
There are currently 15 former Pokes in the pros. Bohl recruited nine of them, including Allen who was selected with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills.
Wyoming was picked picked by the league's media to finish second in the Mountain Division this fall behind perennial front-runner Boise State. The Cowboys return 95% of their roster from a season ago. That's the second best percentage in college football. That is also a roster with Bohl's finger prints all over it.
In Bohl's own words, "It's time to kick the door down" in 2021.
"We were close to winning a couple years ago. Now, we had a couple of exceptional players, but to take that next step is really challenging to do. There's got to be a plan in place.
"... I believe in the plan. Then you got to get a little bit lucky, too. The ball's got to bounce right and you got to stay pretty healthy."
LOOK: Pokes' unis through the years