Ault to students for UNLV game: 'You are our home field advantage'
The Nevada Wolf Pack football team has prowled the same far sideline of Mackay Stadium throughout all of Chris Ault's 23-year tenure as head football coach.
And there is a reason why.
"I always say we're an extension of the student body," Ault told an audience of representatives of several student groups during a talk Tuesday night at Legacy Hall. He was explaining why he has always felt it was important to have the University's students near his team. "And we want to be as close to you as we can."
Ault was asked by the campus administrators to address the student groups regarding a hot topic heading into Saturday's 1:05 p.m. game at Mackay Stadium with intrastate rival UNLV: Fan behavior and sportsmanship.
"This should be a fun environment for everybody and you should have fun," said Ault, a 1968 graduate of the University. "I just think there's a responsibility that when people come to our place, that we should show class."
Ault said that without the support of all Wolf Pack fans, but in particular the student body, Saturday's game wouldn't be the same. He said the students are part of the Wolf Pack's "home field advantage."
"As we built Mackay Stadium, section by section, we built it to be a home field advantage," he said, adding that when he was first hired as football coach in December 1975, Mackay had a seating capacity of about 6,000. Rival UNLV's Silver Bowl seated 16,000, he said. "As we kept growing the stadium, we made a conscious decision. Instead of going back, we went up, so that the crowd could remain close to the field ... so that the crowd, the noise, it becomes electric.
"That's what I'm hoping – with your help – is going to happen Saturday."
Ault said he is concerned about fan behavior.
"In the last seven or eight years, the (UNLV) game has changed," he said. "You started to see it become a real social event ... sometimes a real negative social event, with fights in the stands, guys yelling at the other guy. I've started to wonder, "Was it about us, or was it about them?'"
He said that he hopes the fans on Saturday realize that the game should be about "us" rather than "them," and that Pack fans root loud, root hard, but shouldn't show poor sportsmanship toward the visiting Rebels.
"The game should be about the game," Ault said. "The more we can get the young people involved in that way of thinking, the more you build the positive tradition of the game."
Ault said the tradition of the rivalry has the perfect emblem in the Fremont Cannon – the largest and most expensive rivalry trophy in college football, which will go to the winner of Saturday's contest.
"Our players have a great respect for this cannon, because it's more than that," he said, noting that it is a replica of the mountain howitzer that explorer John C. Fremont had brought with his party when exploring Nevada, California and Oregon in the mid-1840s. "It represents the state of Nevada and perhaps just as importantly, it represents the University of Nevada."
Chris Barry, a former Wolf Pack defensive lineman who is now a campus minister for the faith-based student club Champions for Christ, said Ault's talk was effective.
"If people can practice self-control and make good decisions, then it's going to be a great time for everyone," Barry said.
Barry, who smiled when asked if the UNLV game was "life or death" to him when played for the Wolf Pack, said the game still carries great importance.
"Now, maybe it's even more meaningful because you grow to appreciate the history of the game and you have a broader perspective," said Barry, who played for the Wolf Pack from 2001-2004.
Like many in attendance on Saturday, Barry will do his best to root the Pack to victory.
"There's always an unctioning within my spirit when this game rolls around, to go get after it," he said. "I'll be cheering and supporting them every step of the way."