Firing Christensen was probably the right move for the University of Wyoming football program, but it might not have been the right move for its most important player, and could have some unforeseen effects.
It was unlikely Christensen was about to turn Wyoming around in a sixth season at the program’s helm, but it’s also unlikely quarterback Brett Smith will be able to continue the success he’s had the past two seasons without Christensen in 2014.
This means little to the Cowboys long term, but it could mean the world to a mid-major conference quarterback who was overlooked in high school and likely needs eye-popping numbers to attract more NFL attention. And in turn, it could stall the arrival of the Cowboys’ next standout signal caller.
Smith has put up exceptional numbers the past two seasons, and just two games ago Smith set the college football world on fire with eight total touchdowns (seven passing, one rushing) and 640 yards of total offense against Hawai’i.
That game, a 59-56 Wyoming win, was the perfect microcosm of the 2013 Cowboys. A great offensive performance coupled with a defensive performance so bad that Wyoming almost handed the Rainbow Warriors their first win of the season. Unlike that game, however, Wyoming’s 2013 season was a loss.
Maybe Wyoming wins that game, and others, more comfortably with a different coach. But that also would likely mean Smith gets nowhere near his record-breaking day.
Christensen has proven, if nothing else, he’s a smart offensive mind and something of a quarterback whisperer. Before coming to Laramie, Christensen was the offensive coordinator of the Missouri Tigers, a position he held for 12 years.
In his last two seasons at Mizzou, Christensen coached quarterback Chase Daniel to gaudy numbers and a fourth-place finish in the 2007 Heisman Trophy voting.
Daniel went undrafted in the 2009 NFL draft, mostly due to concerns over his size (just topping 6 feet) and whether his numbers were inflated due to Christensen’s spread offense. But Daniel found his way into the NFL and is now a second-string quarterback in Kansas City and has a Super Bowl ring he earned backing up Drew Brees.
Smith might not have to answer questions about his height (6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3, depending where you look) but his offensive scheme and the competition he’s faced will be used as knocks against him. Smith will need a third consecutive stellar season to get NFL scouts to look past his flaws.
However, the senior season Smith is looking for may elude him under whomever is chosen to replace Christensen. Maybe Wyoming will go with a defensive-minded, run-first coach.
Maybe Smith will be asked to run nothing but the option, limiting his ability to showcase his arm. Not likely, but possible. Christensen used Smith in ways that suited Smith’s abilities, and doing anything less next season will severely hurt Smith’s chances to make a name for himself at the next level.
Whether or not Smith gets drafted or makes it in the NFL might seem like small potatoes in the grand scheme of Wyoming football, but it could have ripple effect farther reaching than you’d think.
The quarterback is the most critical position on the football field. This is true both during games and when recruiting high school talent. A great quarterback is more likely to lead to success, and success will generate more interest in your school. This is obvious.
But what about when that great quarterback is gone? Hopefully the next one is already there because he saw the success of the first guy.
Campbell County High School’s Austin Fort is committed to Wyoming, and maybe he will be ready to take over following Smith’s senior season. Maybe not.
Who else has their eyes set on joining the Cowboys? None other than Brett Smith’s younger brother Cade Smith, who was offered a scholarship following his freshman season at West Salem High School in Salem, Ore. If you’re Cade, how committed are you to the school who no longer employs the coach who recruited you, and who potentially cost your older brother some serious draft stock by firing that coach?
Of course, I know nothing about Cade Smith’s abilities. He may be less than half the quarterback big brother Brett is, and the scholarship may have been a generous offer from a school that wanted to thank a family.
But the point still stands. Firing Dave Christensen was the sensible long-term move. But Cowboy fans might see some negative effects in the short- and medium-term.