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Published: 9/30/2010

Wyoming's Christiansen returns 'home'

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Dave Christensen says he never imagined himself as a head coach standing on the sidelines at the Glass Bowl, but he'll be doing just that this weekend – albeit for a different team than the one that normally plays there.

Christensen was the offensive coordinator at the University of Toledo for nine seasons from 1992-2000 under former coach Gary Pinkel. Under Christensen, the Rocket offense set or broke 75 school records, and UT was 10th nationally in rushing in 1999 with 239.2 yards per game.

So when Pinkel left for Missouri after the 2000 season, Christensen seemed like a distinct possibility to be the one to succeed Pinkel. But Christensen instead followed Pinkel and became the Tigers' offensive coordinator for eight seasons, which then led to him being offered the Wyoming job before the 2009 season.

Christensen returns to Toledo Friday with the Cowboys in preparation for Saturday night's matchup with the Rockets.

“It was a great experience,” Christensen said of his time in Toledo. “My youngest daughter was born there, so I have a lot of great memories. I still have a lot of very good friends out in that area.”

Christensen didn't elaborate on why becoming the head coach at Toledo never entered his realm of thinking, but in the end, UT hired Tom Amstutz to succeed Pinkel.

“I was always looking at upward mobility in the profession,” Christensen said. “But it never really dawned on me about being the head coach there [at Toledo]. When [Pinkel] took the job at Missouri, I was excited about coaching in the Big 12, and after we had some success there, then it became my goal to be a head coach.”

Christensen has made the most of his opportunity at Wyoming.

The Cowboys finished 7-6 and defeated Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl in Christensen's first season.

This year, it's been a little rougher ride for Christensen and the Cowboys, who are off to a 1-3 start with losses to Boise State, Texas, and Air Force. Their lone win came in a narrow defeat of Southern Utah, 28-20, in their season-opener.

“They've played some very, very big games,” UT coach Tim Beckman said. “We know exactly what type of team coach Christensen will bring in here. They were in a bowl last year in his first year as a head football coach, and that just speaks to what he's done with that program.”

Sophomore quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels was named the Mountain West Conference freshman of the year last season, but has been slow to build on that success this year.

Carta-Samuels has completed 60 of 88 passes (68.2 percent) for 701 yards and four touchdowns this season. He's also thrown four interceptions and been sacked 10 times.

Adding to Carta-Samuels' troubles is a ground game that is averaging just 61.8 yards per game, which ranks 118th in the Football Bowl Subdivision. All told, the Cowboys are producing just 246.8 yards of offense, ranking 119th in the FBS.

Christensen said he's concerned himself more this week with how to improve upon those depressing statistics than his return trip to Toledo.

“I don't mess around with that,” Christensen said. “These three losses in a row don't sit too well with myself or our football team, and our focus is on going out and playing our best game offensively, defensively and the kicking game.”

Wyoming has had recent success when competing east of the Mississippi River, going 3-0 in the last three years at Florida Atlantic (2009), Tennessee (2008) and Ohio (2007).

“They're a solid team,” UT linebacker Archie Donald said. “We'll need to be ready and not take them lightly.”

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.



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