LARAMIE -- He was tough as boot leather.

He never spit the bit.

He always rode for the brand.

Craig Bohl told his football team Wednesday at 10 a.m. that after the upcoming Arizona Bowl, he will no longer be their head coach. The longest-tenured bench boss in Wyoming history is hanging up his spurs after 10 seasons on the high plains.

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A current player painted a somber scene inside the High Altitude Performance Center when that announcement was made. That quickly gave way to cheers when the room was told defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel would be taking the reins after the final whistle in Tucson.

Bohl, wearing a brown suit with a gold tie, stood behind the podium inside that very same room just two hours later. Surrounded by fellow UW coaches and support staff, along with family and friends, the 65-year-old began to explain why this was the right time to step down.

"I began to look at our players during the course of the year, I looked at the fans, I looked at where our program was at, I looked at the culture. Many times, coaches stay around too long. They wear out their welcome," he said. "For whatever reason, their decision model is not one of great clarity. So, I felt like now was the time and that we were in a really good place.

"I also feel like to have a younger voice to step into that locker room and to move forward was going to be important."

Bohl became visibly emotional when he spoke about his players -- past and present. He thanked all the assistants who have served under him in Laramie and during his 11 seasons at North Dakota State. He recalled the day he first met Wyoming Athletics Director Tom Burman back in the winter of 2013 in a "clandestine location." The two talked about the future and the product they wanted to put on the field every Saturday in the fall.

"Tom looked at me and had a No. 1 request that he wanted to play 'cowboy tough' football," Bohl said. "Tom, I think we've delivered that."

Questions, those were plentiful.

What do you think your legacy will be at Wyoming?

How long have you known about this decision?

Did you confide in colleagues, mentors?

Any regrets?

There were some answers, but not from Bohl's lips. He didn't want to stand behind the microphone much longer. The gravity of the moment left the grizzled veteran constantly wiping tears from under his steely eyes.

To him, this was Sawvel's moment. He never liked the spotlight anyway.

Bohl said he has one final rodeo left in him. That will come against Toledo in the desert in 24 days. What's next? National reports say he will soon become the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. The impassioned message about the future of college football during his retirement speech would indicate that is likely.

 

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But what else?

"My wife and I talk at the end of each year and we've got new adventures that are out there," he said. "You know, I think an opportunity to still be involved somehow with college football. I don't know what those parameters are, but, you know, we have horses. I like to play golf.

"Like I said, I may have a Manhattan and smoke a cigar tonight."

What about that legacy?

On its face, Bohl is 60-60 during his decade-long tenure in Laramie. He made just one Mountain West Championship appearance. At this place, beating Colorado State is near the top of the priority list. Bohl did that seven times. He has also taken this program to six bowl games.

Bohl rode into town from Fargo with three diamond-encrusted national championship rings on his fingers. That brought expectations, realistic or not.

He never was able to get the Cowpokes into the ultimate winner's circle. That, like it or not, is how most coaches are judged. That doesn't change in this instance, either. The dangling carrot remains, but that doesn't tell the tale in its entirety.

Bohl graduated his players. He dished out scholarships to nearly 50 walk-on's. He sent players to the NFL. He took a chance on in-state guys.

Both Sawvel and Burman said we all likely wouldn't be sitting inside this state-of-the-art building if it wasn't for Bohl. The lower west stands inside War Memorial Stadium this week turned to a dust cloud of memories thanks to bulldozers and excavators. You can partially thank him for that, too.

I'll remember the raw fervor most. Though old school in nature, Bohl wasn't afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve, voice cracking, tears forming when passionately defending his players. He is fiercely loyal, a lost art in this new world of college athletics.

He also put his money where his heart was, donating $100,000 to fund spring sports scholarships in 2020 during the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

I'll also forever have fond memories of the old dog who learned some new tricks.

At first, admittedly, the transfer portal and NIL were unthinkable to Bohl. His 2021 roster became decimated after numerous starters transferred out. On their way out the door, nearly all mentioned their lack of a relationship with their head coach.

Bohl looked in the mirror that offseason. He changed.

Burman, who grew up in this town, compared him to sideline legends like Paul Roach and Joe Tiller. A teary eyed Sawvel, crediting Bohl with laying the foundation for this program, said he doesn't know of another coach that had a bigger impact on his life.

"I told him yesterday, it's like a 4x4 relay," he added. "He ran the first three laps of it and he's handing me a baton with a couple hundred meters to go. Everything is in place for us to take steps, have great success and continue to build on what's here. Now, we've got to do that and that's the challenge I have."

Burman said he had a feeling this day was coming.

On the calendar on his desk, the word "Oh S*it" is scribbled on the date Nov. 26. The day after Wyoming routed Nevada 42-6 in the season finale in Reno, Bohl requested a meeting with the AD.

"They're all over the place," Burman said, referring to his emotions this week. "I'm really excited for Jay and I'm excited for the football program, but I am going to miss coach Bohl immensely ... There's a combination of all kinds of feelings. I mean, great friend, great mentor in that I went to him for personal advice, professional advice, just picking his brain on things. So, he'll be missed by a lot of people."

I'll remember those heated postgame exchanges and the apologies that always followed. Bohl respected me and my career. He is genuine. The feeling is forever mutual. I'll miss his sayings, his jokes. The back-and-forth banter was always entertaining. No matter how hard we pried, and we did, practice was forever off limits.

Now, it's time to sack those bats.

It's time to puff those pillows.

You earned it.

Good ride, Cowboy. Good ride.

Wyoming Cowboys Football: 2023 Season in Photos

Our 7220sports.com photographer DJ Johnson is on the sideline at every Wyoming football game. Rain, shine -- and everything in between -- you're likely to find him scouring stadiums around the country looking for "the shot." Take a look at some of DJ's highlights during the 2023 campaign.

Gallery Credit: DJ Johnson photos

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