Pokes insider documents a day in the life of football coach Jay Sawvel

    *This article below was written by beat writer Ryan Thorburn. For more of Ryan’s work, click here!

    Clock management isn’t a skill football coaches only have to master on game day.

    Jay Sawvel, who was introduced as the 33rd head coach in the 131-year history of Wyoming football on Dec. 6, can feel the season opener on Aug. 31 creeping up.


    “I’m single,” Sawvel, a divorced father of two, says after rattling off a list of commitments on his schedule between now and fall camp. “I can spend a lot of time on stuff.”

    A lot of stuff has happened since Craig Bohl, the longest tenured head coach in program history, announced his decision to retire, which was the same day athletics director Tom Burman revealed the succession plan.

    Sawvel and the remaining staff (seven of the 10 full-time assistants were retained) signed the 2024 recruiting class on Dec. 20.

    In his final game as UW’s defensive coordinator, Sawvel helped send Bohl off into the sunset with a dramatic 16-15 victory over Toledo in the Arizona Bowl on Dec. 30.


    Sawvel hired former Michigan State offensive coordinator Jay Johnson to the same position with the Pokes on Jan. 9 and made the promotion of Aaron Bohl to defensive coordinator official on Jan. 11. Jason Petrino was hired as safeties coach on Jan. 12 and Jeff Phelps was hired as defensive tackles coach on Feb. 13.

    The Cowboys – who return 14 starters and 18 of the 22 players from the Arizona Bowl two-deep – started spring practice on March 26 and concluded the five-week, 15-practice schedule last Friday.

    So, what is a day in the life of a first-time head coach like?


    “When you’re not actively doing something like practice or watching film, you’re either planning a meeting, just getting out of a meeting or about to go to a meeting,” Sawvel says.

    I spent last Tuesday shadowing Sawvel from sunup to sundown to get a taste of the lifestyle.

    Here’s an account of the day:


    6:17 a.m. – After an incredibly disciplined, sensible breakfast – beet juice, eggs, pineapples, toast – Sawvel makes the short commute from his condo to his regal office inside the High Altitude Performance Center.

    6:30 a.m. – Sawvel heads to the Cowboys’ weight room to get some stretching in. Music the Cowgirls soccer players are lifting to in the adjacent weight room is echoing through the cavernous facility.

    7 a.m. – Sawvel typically sits in on one of the position meetings every morning. Today he checks in on the safeties, the group he coached the previous four seasons. Petrino reviews film from a recent practice in which the defense worked on Air Force’s vaunted triple-option. Veteran players like returning starters Wrook Brown (nickel), Wyett Ekeler (free safety) and Isaac White (strong safety) are quick to answer Petrino’s questions about dive, quarterback and pitch responsibilities. Sawvel believes the players will have good retention from these spring classes when it’s time to game plan for the Falcons the week of the critical Mountain West opener on Sept. 28 at War Memorial Stadium.

    “A lot of it is understanding the path and responsibility,” Petrino tells his pupils, most of whom are wearing flip-flops, hoodies and sweatpants. “You have to be disciplined with alignments and assignments. Don’t run just to run.”

    7:42 a.m. – Sawvel meets individually with defensive end Ethan Day, who previously missed a punt protection meeting due to a class conflict. The two go over film together with more live special teams work scheduled for practice later in the day.

    7:48 a.m. – Sawvel goes back to his office where Wes King is waiting. The sophomore offensive lineman, who is projected to start at left guard, requests a weekend off from workouts so he can attend his sister’s graduation. The request is granted.

    “You’re doing a good job,” Sawvel says of King’s performance this spring.

    7:57 a.m. – The 8 a.m. staff meeting starts three minutes early with a pressing issue: The weather for the scheduled spring game on Saturday in Cheyenne is looking dicey. Burman and the administration are considering pulling the plug on the event, if Sawvel concurs with the assessment.

    “Now it’s saying frozen mix,” director of football operations Nick Fulton says of the bleak forecast. “That doesn’t sound good.”

    8:07 a.m. – Sawvel makes the decision to move the spring game up to 3:30 p.m. Thursday at War Memorial Stadium and to conclude the spring with practice No. 15 on Friday. 

    “It will be a little bit of a mess,” Sawvel says of scrambling the date and location of the third and final open practice of the spring.

    8:08 a.m. – The conversation shifts to the other items on the agenda to discuss as a staff, including an update on where the roster stands with the 85-scholarship limit, an update on possibly adding a transfer punter, an update on key recruiting prospects being targeted and an update on new uniform combinations for the fall.

    8:37 a.m. – Wide receivers coach Mike Grant passes by Sawvel’s office after appearing to have spilled a beverage or water on his hoodie. “Are those tears from the Lakers game?” Sawvel jokes on the way down to the weight room to inform director of sports performance Eric Donoval about the new spring game plan so the workout schedule can be altered.

    8:48 – Sawvel heads to the training room to check in with head football athletic trainer David Kerns about the health of the team. He also interacts with the players receiving treatment, including new father Jordan Bertagnole, who is on schedule to be healthy and ready for fall camp.

    8:56 a.m. – Nick Seeman, the assistant athletic director for communications, arrives at Sawvel’s office to put him on the phone for a radio interview with Jerrad Anderson of County 10 Radio in Riverton.

    “It’s been a good start,” Sawvel says of the transition to head coach over the last four months. “It’s a different job than being a position coach or coordinator because of all the different layers to it. But it’s nothing that is catching me off guard.”

    9:16 a.m. – After the interview, Sawvel points out to Seeman that this year’s Mountain West football media day, scheduled for early July in Las Vegas, falls right in the heart of the vacation calendar for coaches.

    “It’s OK. I don’t play golf and I’m not going on vacation. I work and workout,” Sawvel says. “I love my job; I love living in Laramie; I love my players.”

    9:21 a.m. – Sawvel heads back into the staff meeting room to breakdown future opponent film. His daughter Mackenzie, a member of UW’s cross country and track team, stops by. They make plans to get a tire on her car with a screw embedded in it fixed.

    “Every once in a while, I’ll do something life-wise like that,” Sawvel says. He took his youngest daughter, Miranda, to a U2 concert at the Sphere in Las Vegas earlier this year and has plans to take Mackenzie on a weekend trip to New York City.

    9:25 a.m. – Sawvel tells Mackenzie about moving the spring game up to Thursday in Laramie.

    “I’m not going to that,” she says. “I have class.”

    Jay Sawvel Watches film inside the staff room

    I don’t play golf and I’m not going on vacation. I work and workout. I love my job; I love living in Laramie; I love my players.”

    Wyoming head coach Jay Sawvel

    9:34 a.m. – Sawvel begins watching clips of Idaho, a top-tier FCS program scheduled for the home opener in the refurbished War. He begins tagging some of the Vandals’ punt block and punt protection tendencies. His desk is littered with a series of old-school notebooks filled with scribbles about offense, defense, special teams and recruiting.

    “I just like to get stuff done,” Sawvel says of the quick cram session on UW’s Sept. 7 opponent.

    10:02 a.m. – Assistant coaches Benny Boyd, Shannon Moore and Petrino join Sawvel for a special teams meeting. They discuss the details of the Tuesday afternoon periods dedicated to punt protection vs. punt block and kickoff coverage vs. kickoff return drills.

    “We’re going to let ‘er rip,” Sawvel says while snacking on a small bag of M&Ms.

    10:23 a.m. – Sawvel asks Boyd, the cornerbacks coach, how he thinks Caleb Merritt will handle his transition to defense. The sophomore wide receiver agreed to play cornerback to help the team out with sophomores Keany Parks and Ian Bell unavailable due to injuries.

    “I don’t think he’ll have a problem tackling anybody,” Boyd said. Note: Merritt, who enjoys playing with physicality, looked like a natural at cornerback during practice later that day and in the spring game.

    10:41 a.m. – Sawvel stops by the academic support office to talk to Delaney Mullins, the director of academic services, and Addi Henry, the academic coordinator for football. He tells them that during his post-practice address to the team he will instruct any players even flirting with eligibility requirements that they must check in with Mullins and Henry to make sure they are in good standing academically before leaving campus at the end of the semester.

    10:56 a.m. – Sawvel sneaks back into the staff meeting room to watch film of Arizona State, the Pokes’ opponent in the season opener in Tempe, Ariz.

    11:06 a.m. – Gordie Haug pops in to talk to Sawvel about the recruiting budget and travel for camps this summer. The executive director of recruiting/running backs coach, who is wearing a throwback Kevin Garnett Timberwolves jersey ahead of Minnesota’s playoff game with Phoenix, is concerned about getting the staff from a camp in Sacramento, Calif., one day to another camp in Lincoln, Neb., the next.

    11:15 a.m. – Sawvel takes a few minutes to text recruits before flipping on clips of Idaho’s offense.

    11:24 a.m. – Seeman returns to inform Sawvel that the press release announcing the change of date and location for the spring game is about to be emailed to the media and posted to social media.

    11:58 a.m. – Sawvel heads back downstairs to the weight room to workout. A video of the 53-year-old bench pressing 305 pounds while Cowboys players cheered him on went viral earlier in the spring.

    1:14 p.m. – Sawvel microwaves a bowl of soup on the way back to his office.

    “Some people take lunch breaks,” he says. “I don’t. I workout and then do something like this.”

    1:26 p.m. – Fulton, who has already canceled the buses to Cheyenne for the spring game and rescheduled the post-game burrito order to another team meal, sticks his head in the door with an update on the scramble to assemble an officiating crew for Saturday.

    “Good news, we have eight (officials),” Fulton says.

    1:46 p.m. – A copy of Tuesday’s practice script is delivered to Sawvel’s desk. He begins writing his post-practice speech.

    “There’s an intentionality about everything,” Sawvel says of making the most of each opportunity to speak to the entire team at once. “You only get one shot to get your point across today.”

    2:07 p.m. – Sawvel begins the jaunt to the Indoor Practice Facility for walk-throughs. He is joined by Fulton in the hallway.

    “Well, Nick, adventure after adventure,” Sawvel says.

    Jay Sawvel working with kickers prior to the start of practice.

    2:20 p.m. – The special teams walk-through begins. Sawvel pays close attention to the players forming the two- or three-man “shield” on punt protection because the team’s best blocker in the formations, Ben Florentine, is out with an injury.

    2:35 p.m. – Quarterback Evan Svoboda and tight end John Michael Gyllenborg, two inseparable roommates and rising stars, arrive at the walk-through after hustling over from an afternoon class in the College of Business.

    2:40 p.m. – Sawvel sounds an ear-piercing whistle to begin the team walk-through.

    “The best thing to come out of COVID was the electronic whistle,” Sawvel says, noting coaches weren’t even allowed to blow whistles under the draconian protocols and restrictions of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, his first as UW’s defensive coordinator. “My job is to create more urgency in people.”

    3:10 p.m. – The walk-through ends. Sawvel greets a prospect and his family making an unofficial visit on his way out of the IPF. Then he returns to the HAPC to change shoes and get in a brief workout before practice begins on a breezy, mild, partly sunny day at War Memorial Stadium.

    3:26 p.m. – Sawvel gets a hug from Donoval’s daughter, Marli. He mixes four scoops of Amino Energy into a cup, which is also his pregame ritual, in Donoval’s office.

    “We have all these night games,” says Sawvel, who does not drink coffee, of the caffeine jolt. “Sometimes I can’t get to sleep until 3 (a.m.) afterwards.”

    3:31 p.m. – Sawvel takes the field to watch the placekickers. Keelan Anderson, a true freshman from Cheyenne South, makes a 65-yard field goal during the warm-up routine with senior John Hoyland and redshirt freshman Erik Sandvik.

    “We have good kickers,” Sawvel says.

    3:43 p.m. – Sawvel heads to the northwest corner of the stadium to hang out with Aaron Bohl’s young family for a few minutes.

    4:06 p.m. – Sawvel takes a picture with a visiting recruit before moving to the 50-yard line to monitor practice.

    4:24 p.m. – During the sixth practice period, Jones Thomas blocks a punt with ease, which doesn’t sit well with the head coach who dedicated a block of his time in the morning trying to shore up the shield protection. Thomas was not accounted for at the line of scrimmage in the odd-man rush (five on one side of the formation, four on the other).

    “Make sure we take care of Ben Florentine!” a heated Sawvel screams. “Because he’s the only shield that can count to five.”

    4:31 p.m. – Longtime assistant Marty English, who retired after the 2022 season, joins Sawvel on the field to watch practice. Some of the defensive ends English recruited and developed are teaching UW’s young offensive tackles valuable lessons on most snaps during the team drills.

    6:05 p.m. – UW’s 13th spring practice ends. Sawvel tells the team about the change in plans for the spring game before following up previous post-practice speech themes of “commitment” and “toughness” with a third tenant – “passion.”

    “Losing is not an option. That’s the way you’ve got to live,” Sawvel says.

    6:09 p.m. – Sawvel also wants to get a message across about consistency. The Pokes were 7-0 at home and 1-4 on the road last season. UW played its best football of the season in the first half against Fresno State before holding on for dear life in a victory over the then-reigning Mountain West champions. Back-to-back losses at Air Force and Boise State followed, which squashed the Pokes’ championship dream for another year.

    “We dragged a team through the mud for a half and muddled for a half,” Sawvel recalled of the roller coaster against the Bulldogs. “We’re too mature for that.”

    Losing is not an option. That’s the way you’ve got to live.”

    Wyoming head coach Jay Sawvel

    6:11 p.m. – Sawvel unveils UW’s newest uniform combination, which features a gold jersey top, brown pants and names on the back below the state flag.

    “It’s something for everyone’s pride that people play for their own name, play for their family, play for their own pride,” Sawvel says. “But there’s still a name on the front of it too that we play for, alright. Remember, everybody here, we don’t play at Wyoming, we play for Wyoming.”

    6:15 p.m. – Sawvel walks off the field and into the team room of the HAPC for his post-practice press conference with local beat writers Alex Taylor of WyoSports and Cody Tucker of 7220 Sports.

    “It’s time to go play a game, and I’m excited about that,” Sawvel says at the podium.

    6:26 p.m. – Sawvel is asked about his latest act as a ‘players coach,’ which was to approve having last names on the back of the uniforms. He makes it clear that the critical aspects of the consistent “Cowboy tough” program Craig Bohl built will remain untouched.

    “We’re not going to win a game or lose a game because we’ve got names on the back of a jersey next year. We’re not going to become a team of individuals because we got names on the back of a jersey,” Sawvel says. “Last time I checked, they have names on the back of jerseys at Alabama and they get really talented people to play together as a team.

    “There’s so much foundationally that has not changed in this program and will not change. I’m my own personality on stuff, but there’s also so much I believe in that we did. We double rep, we’re physical, we’re going to hit in practice, and when we get to August we’re going to hit more.”

    6:29 p.m. – The interview session ends. Sawvel heads upstairs to eat dinner at the training table where quesadillas are on the menu.

    7:05 p.m. – Sawvel returns to his office for scheduled phone calls with two recruits. After the conversations are over, he plans to return home to “read and chill.” But there might be one more recruit to call before bed.

    7:32 p.m. – This is where it’s time for me to say goodbye to Sawvel. Football never sleeps, but I do.


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