Cowboys credit new coaches for instilling faith

Updated: August 24, 2003, 6:37 PM ET

LARAMIE, Wyo. -- You knew Wyoming was better than Central Michigan, but you had a sinking feeling.

When the Cowboys were tied 30-30 after three quarters against Colorado State, you knew the Rams would find a way to win.

When UW scored in overtime at UNLV, you knew Scott Parker would miss the extra point.

When the Cowboys held late leads against Utah (18-14 after three quarters) and Brigham Young (31-28 late in the fourth), you were worried they wouldn't be able to finish the job.

You weren't alone. That sinking feeling, the doubt, the worry. UW's players experienced it, too.

"In the past," says senior wide receiver Ryan McGuffey, "I think we were going into games just maybe hoping to win or just playing not to lose."

Those days, the players say, are over. The Cowboys know they might not win every game, but it won't be for a lack of faith.

Bolstered by the arrival of head coach Joe Glenn and his highly positive bunch of assistants -- a group that boasts a combined 25 national championship rings -- UW's players have a new attitude and a renewed belief in themselves as they prepare to embark on the 2003 season.

"It's unbelievable. The atmosphere is just upbeat. We want to win, we're gonna win," says senior punter Luke Donovan. "And, more importantly, the coaching staff that is here is teaching us how to win. Not showing us, teaching us.

"That's the most important thing that we need to learn," he says. "You either know how to win or you don't. With the coaching staff we have, they know how to win and that's what they're installing in us."

Certainly, the Cowboys were in dire need of an attitude adjustment.

In Vic Koenning's three seasons as head coach, UW lost 29 of 34 games, including a program-record 12 straight. The losing skid only ended because of a too-close-for-comfort, 34-30 victory over Division IAA lightweight The Citadel on Oct. 5 at War Memorial Stadium.

Koenning was fired in November, prior to the 2002 finale at New Mexico.

The toll took its effect on the players, who eventually -- and unknowingly -- began to believe they were going to lose. Winning suddenly became unexpected. Losing was the norm.

"They have a winning attitude. That's what we've been missing," says sophomore wide receiver Jovon Bouknight, referring to Glenn's coaching staff. "We couldn't finish off a couple games last year because everybody's so used to losing."

In 2002, the Cowboys lost their first six Mountain West Conference games by a combined 22 points before falling 49-20 to the Lobos.

Winning, meanwhile, is second nature to Glenn. In three seasons at IAA powerhouse Montana, Glenn compiled a 39-6 record and twice led the Grizzlies to the national championship game. In 2001, Montana defeated Furman to claim the IAA title.

Prior to his stint with the Griz, Glenn posted a 98-35 record in 11 seasons at then-Division II Northern Colorado. The Bears qualified for the playoffs seven times, including back-to-back championship victories in 1996 and '97.

But Glenn hasn't done it alone -- and he'll be the first to tell you that. He routinely praises his assistant coaches, all of whom have significant ties to the head coach.

At UW's annual Fall Sports Media Day earlier this month, Glenn spent a good 20 minutes introducing his staff -- one by one -- to fans, boosters and media gathered inside the Rochelle Athletics Center.

"If I get any credit at all, it should be for surrounding myself with good people," Glenn is fond of saying.

Assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Mike Breske has been alongside Glenn for the past 16 years. Running backs coach Harvey Patton, who played for Glenn at UNC, is in his ninth year on Glenn's staff.

Five assistants -- Bill Cockhill (offensive coordinator), Chris Knutsen (special teams), Lance Robinson (defensive line), Ron Wisniewski (wide receivers) and Chad Germer (offensive line) -- followed Glenn from Missoula to Laramie.

Tight ends coach Bryan Applewhite also played for Glenn at UNC, and linebackers coach Marty English was a mainstay on Glenn's staff with the Bears, although he elected not to go to Montana.

That continuity was missing during Koenning's tenure. Of his original 10 assistants, only four remained last year, meaning players were constantly under the direction of a new coach.

"They did the best they could to win, but you had a turnstile of coaches coming in and out," Glenn says. "That is terrible on the kids and terrible on the program and impossible."

In all, 17 assistants passed through Laramie during Koenning's three seasons, and the coaching staff didn't remain intact for any one season.

Worse, says senior free safety Jacque Finn, is Koenning's assistants were not of the highest quality.

"Vic's staff, they meant a lot to this program and I have nothing but respect for Vic Koenning," Finn says. "The difference, in my opinion, being as polite as I can, is Vic brought in people from a losing program where coach Glenn has brought in coaches from a winning program."

Breske senses that the coaches' winning attitudes have already made a difference.

"I think (the team's attitude is) 180 degrees from where we were in January to where we're at now," he says.

"It's an attitude. It's a tradition," Breske continues. "I know when we were at the University of Montana, the kids expected to win. The fourth quarter was ours. We've gotta get in that situation here and we've gotta find a way to win. Somebody's gotta make a play, whether it's on defense, offense or special teams. Then it's contagious. Then it just happens."

The Cowboys hope their improved attitude leads to better results. With a mere five wins over the past three seasons -- a stunning 34-26 triumph over Air Force last Oct. 26 is the team's lone conference victory since 1999 -- UW's players know their fans are starved for success.

So are they.

"Every time we step on that field, we've gotta go out there expecting to win and knowing that we are gonna win," says McGuffey.

Says Bouknight, "Everything about the coaches has helped us. Now we have to go out and show what we can do."

Glenn, for one, is certain his first UW team can do anything it wants. Beat Colorado State. Beat Brigham Young. Earn a bowl bid. Win a bowl game.

Glenn truly believes all of that is possible.

For the first time in years, so do the Cowboys themselves.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index