Coach Ault Retires

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Updated: 12/28/2012 6:50 pm
RENO, Nevada (AP) — Nevada coach Chris Ault is retiring after 28 seasons leading the Wolf Pack and changing the way teams play offense.

Ault is the winningest coach in school history with a record of 233-109-1. He raised the program from Division II to I-AA and eventually helped it become a winner I-A.

The 66-year-old Ault won 10 conference championships and took the Wolf Pack to postseason play 16 times, including 10 bowl games in 12 FBS seasons.

Maybe his most famous contribution came late in his career, when he invented the Pistol offense in 2005, a scheme now employed by hundreds of teams at every level of football.

The Pistol formation has the quarterback in a short shot-gun formation with a running back lined up directly behind him.

Chris Ault Retirement News Conference
Chris Ault Retirement News Conference

RENO, Nev. – Hall of Fame football coach Chris Ault, a pillar of the University of Nevada since his hiring in 1976, announced Friday during a press conference at Legacy Hall that he is stepping down from the program that he has been associated with as a player, coach and administrator for more than 40 years.

The winningest coach in school history with a career record of 233-109-1 in 28 seasons, Ault guided Nevada from Division II to I-AA glory in the Big Sky Conference 1980s and early 90s, into I-A and the Big West Conference in 1992 and on to the WAC and now the Mountain West Conference. Along the way, he won 10 conference championships and took the Wolf Pack to postseason play 16 times, including 10 bowl games in 12 FBS seasons. He leaves a lasting legacy of accolades and contributions to the game, perhaps none of which greater than his creation of the Pistol offense in 2005, a scheme now employed by hundreds of teams at every level of football.

“Wolf Pack football has firmly established a blueprint for success that can be sustained,” Ault said.

Ault, who played quarterback at Nevada from 1965-67 and earned two degrees from the University. He was hired by his alma mater in 1976 at the age of 29, the youngest college coach in the country at the time. He would later be inducted into four different Halls of Fame, including the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002 at the age of 55. This year, Ault passed Bear Bryant to set the mark for most wins by a coach at his alma mater.

“I extend my utmost appreciation to Chris Ault for his 41 years of association with Wolf Pack Athletics and the University of Nevada, Reno,” University president Marc Johnson said. “He has achieved great progress and has taken the program through four conference changes and numerous bowl-game appearances. Through his Hall of Fame induction and his innovative advancements to the game of football, Coach Ault has brought national recognition to our University and our region. Chris Ault is an impressive leader and his contributions to Wolf Pack football, Nevada Athletics, our University and our region are immeasurable.”

Johnson said that he will work with Nevada athletics director Cary Groth and will act quickly to identify Nevada’s next head coach through a national search.

“Chris Ault truly has been Nevada Football for more than 40 years,” Groth said. “He has left an indelible footprint on not only the football program, but the University as well. His legacy is one of success, honor and tradition. There is a reason that he is in the Hall of Fame and was one of the youngest coaches ever inducted. I know I speak for the entire community in congratulating – and sincerely thanking – Coach for his honorable service to college football and our University.”

Chris Ault
Chris Ault

Simply put, Chris Ault is University of Nevada football.

As the coach enters his 28th season guiding the Wolf Pack program, one that he grew from the Division II level to a current streak of six-straight FBS bowl appearances and a No. 11 ranking in 2010, this year also marks Ault's 41th year at the university. His experience at Nevada began as a student-athlete when he starred at quarterback in the 1960s and continued with his unparalleled success as a coach and athletics director.

Now in his ninth season of his third stint at the helm of his alma mater, Ault has turned the corner in restoring championship-caliber football to the University of Nevada. And this year, Ault begins a new chapter in his storied career as he guides the Wolf Pack into the Mountain West Conference, the fourth league in which he has coached Nevada.

Armed with the excitement and momentum of seven straight bowl appearances, excitement surrounds Ault and the Wolf Pack as it prepares for a run at the Mountain West Conference championship and another bowl bid in 2012.

The 2012 season comes with a new energy beyond the new conference and the high hopes as Ault restructured his coaching staff in the offseason to take the program to new heights. For the first time in nearly two decades, Ault will step away from his role as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach as the hiring of passing-game guru Nick Rolovich to fill those positions could seemingly take the devastatingly effective Pistol Offense to a new level. The hire, along with other coaching moves, will allow Ault to take more than four decades of college football knowledge and lend a hand in all phases of the game, including more time spent with the defensive side of the ball.

The Hall of Fame coach - Ault is a member of four different Halls of Fame, including the College Football Hall of Fame - is coming off another winning campaign in 2011 as the coach navigated a brutally tough schedule to a second place finish in the WAC and a program-record seventh-straight bowl bid.

That came on the heels of what was arguably the greatest season in the history of the Wolf Pack program. The 2010 Wolf Pack went 13-1 overall, won the Western Athletic Conference championship, beat Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and was ranked No. 11 in the final Top 25 polls. The season included momentous home victories over then-No. 25 Cal and the come-from-behind victory over then-No. 4 Boise State in overtime. For the seventh time in his career, Ault was tabbed by his peers as the conference's Coach of the Year.

Ault will leave many legacies at the University of Nevada and his impact on the game has been immense, perhaps no more noticeably so than he creation and development of the Pistol offense. The offense has become one of top attacks in the nation, especially on the ground as Nevada led the nation in rushing in 2009 (by nearly 50 yards per game). The Wolf Pack became the first school in the history of college football to have three players rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. The 2010 season saw the Wolf Pack offense shatter a number of school, conference and NCAA records. Perhaps the most notable: Ault's duo of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua became the greatest rushing tandem in the history of college football in terms of both most points and most yards gained.

This from a coach who made his mark in the 1990s with a dazzling and record-breaking aerial attack. To put it in perspective, consider this: In NCAA recorded history (the NCAA record book dates back to 1937), Chris Ault is the only coach ever to have his team lead the nation in passing offense (1995) and rushing offense (2009).

In 2009, Ault also hit a major milestone in his career as career victory No. 200 was achieved (37-14 at home at Mackay Stadium over Louisiana Tech). He was the 54th coach in NCAA history (all divisions) to win 200 games in a career and just the 30th coach to win 200 games at one school. Ault notched his 200th victory in the 11th-fewest amount of games (294), behind, Joe Paterno, Tom Osborne, Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel, Pop Warner, LaVell Edwards, Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant and Vince Dooley and tied with Amos Alonzo Stagg.

In terms of major college coaches, only 10 coaches have coached at one school for longer than Ault's 25 years at Nevada. And when you whittle that list down to active coaches, only Joe Paterno has been coaching at Penn State for longer than Ault has been roaming the sidelines for Nevada.

Ault enters his 28th season third amongst active FBS coaches in victories with an all-time ledger of 226-103-1. The only active coaches with more wins than Ault are Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer and Mack Brown of Texas. And no other active coach has served longer than Ault. He has won 10 conference titles in his career - including two in the WAC - and taken the Wolf Pack to 15 postseason appearances, including nine bowl appearances.

When he was asked to return to the sidelines for the 2004 season, Ault made a bold promise - that winning at Mackay Stadium was paramount and once that was established, the Wolf Pack could move toward winning championships and bowl games. And the coach, one of just two active coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame, has delivered.

In 2005, Ault directed Nevada to a 9-3 overall record, the team's best in nine years. The Wolf Pack tied for first in the WAC with a 7-1 league mark, securing Ault's eighth conference crown as a head coach with a thrilling, nationally televised victory over then 16th-ranked Fresno State. The team then capped off its outstanding season with a 49-48 overtime victory over Central Florida in the 2005 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

For his efforts, Ault was named the WAC Coach of the Year by his peers, his sixth conference coach-of-the-year accolade. He also coached 10 all-conference honorees, the second-most by any WAC member in 2005, including Offensive Player of the Year B.J. Mitchell.

In 2006, Ault directed Nevada to an 8-5 overall record, the program's second straight winning season. He guided the team to a 5-3 record in the WAC and the school's second straight bowl appearance, a narrow 21-20 loss to the University of Miami in the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho. Seven of his players received All-WAC postseason honors.

The 2007 season was capped by a program-record third straight bowl appearance. The year produced the Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year Colin Kaepernick and Ault's Pistol offense again led the conference in rushing.

And the offseason brought another cherished honor to the Ault trophy case. In the spring of 2008, the San Bernardino County Chapter of the National Football Federation named the annual quarterback of the year award as the "Chris Ault Quarterback Player of the Year Award."

The 2008 season furthered Ault's reputation as one of the great offensive minds in college football as another season's worth of evolution of the Pistol offense gave the Pack the WAC Player of the Year in Kaepernick and the rushing champion (Vai Taua) for the third time in four seasons.

The winningest coach in school history, Ault has the distinction of being the first coach in the nation to lead a team to a bowl berth in its first year as an NCAA I-A (now FBS) program. In 1992, Ault guided the Wolf Pack to the Big West Conference championship and a berth in the inaugural Las Vegas Bowl.

Ault was first hired at Nevada in 1976 to resurrect Wolf Pack football. In 17 years in his first tour of duty, he guided the program from a non-conference NCAA II affiliation into the Big Sky Conference and from I-AA domination to I-A distinction in the Big West Conference, including a bowl berth in Nevada's first year at college football's highest level. He would go on to win Big West titles in each of his three years as head coach at the I-A level: in 1992, 1994 and 1995. In 1991, he engineered the greatest comeback in NCAA history (35 points vs. Weber State) and has directed 34 second half come-from-behind wins.

After a one-year hiatus from football in 1993 and serving only as athletics director after holding both posts for seven years, he returned to the sidelines for the 1994 and 1995 seasons, promptly winning back-to-back Big West Conference titles and a second appearance in a bowl game with the 1995 Las Vegas Bowl. In 1996, he stepped aside to devote all of his time to his duties as athletics director.

Ault's tremendous success on the field was recognized in the summer of 2002 when he was inducted into the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind. At age 55 when he was enshrined, Ault was one of the youngest coaches to ever be elected to the Hall of Fame and the only Nevada coach so honored.

His contributions to the game and innovations are as impressive as his coaching accomplishments. The current overtime format in college football was introduced by Ault by way of the Big Sky Conference in 1980 - though the original rule gave each team the ball at the 15-yard line instead of the current 25-yard line. The middle screen - also known as a wide receiver screen or jailbreak screen - was developed at Nevada and debuted in 1981.

The latest, and perhaps greatest, contribution to the game was his creation of the Pistol offense, which is now being employed by countless teams at all levels of football across the nation.

Ault's association with the University of Nevada dates to 1965 when the San Bernardino, Calif., native came here as a quarterback. Four decades later, he has left his mark in the record book as a quarterback, championship coach and respected administrator.

In 1998, he was named Nevada's Football Coach of the Century as part of the 100 Years of Wolf Pack Football celebration. The next year, he was voted the Northern Nevada Coach of the Century by the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Among his many coaching honors, Ault was included in Sports Illustrated's list of the 50 greatest sports figures of the 20th century from the state of Nevada in 1999 and has been elected into four halls of fame. In 1991, he was inducted into UNLV's for his role as an assistant coach on the school's 1974 undefeated team; in 1993, the University of Nevada's for his accomplishments as head coach; in 1997, Pacific High School's for his success as a prep standout in San Bernardino; and in 2002, the creme-de-la-creme, the College Football Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a head coach.

Ault's fierce competitiveness led the university administration to name him athletics director in addition to his head coaching duties in the summer of 1986. He held just the athletics director title from 1996 through March of 2004.

Unparalleled success as an administrator followed him at his alma mater, and a glance around at the impressive athletics facilities and office complex demonstrate his foresight and fundraising ability. Beginning with Nevada's across-the-board jump from Division I-AA to Division I-A in 1992 and continuing through the University's proactive pursuit of on-field excellence, Ault has cultivated a deep-seeded community pride in the Nevada program.

Two of his final endeavors as athletics director have left a lasting imprint on Wolf Pack sports. He was the driving force behind the funding of tuition and fee waivers for both state universities to help meet the rising cost of education and spearheaded the fundraising efforts for the construction of what is now called the E.L. Cord Athletics and Academics Performance Complex, which consists of four primary anchors: The Primm Strength and Conditioning Center; the Cashell Football Center, the Hart Health and Sports Medicine Center and the Petersen Athletic Academic Center.

Ault received his bachelor's degree in education from the University of Nevada in 1969 and earned his master's in administration in 1973. He is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Fraternity.

He has been married to his wife, Kathy, for 43 years. They have three children, all of whom attended Nevada - Lisa, Chris Jr., and Amy - as well as 10 grandchildren. Ault was born Nov. 8, 1946 in San Bernardino, Calif.
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