By Chris Willis
As a tall gentleman with white hair and certain presence turned heads entering a popular Western Michigan University coffee shop, it became clear to me that this might be the last time I’d be interviewing the face of the Broncos football program over the last eight seasons.
Former WMU head coach Bill Cubit’s contract was terminated immediately following the Broncos season-ending home loss to the Eastern Michigan University Eagles on November 17.
WMU finished the 2012 campaign a disappointing (4-8, 2-6 MAC).
The mark was the Broncos worst under Cubit and the result was the University deciding to turn the program in a new direction. No matter what that may be, Bronco football is in a much better position now than it was when Cubit grabbed the reins in December 2004.
WMU hasn’t won a Mid-American Conference Championship since 1988.
The 2012 season was filled with adversity, starting with a plethora of injuries to the Broncos receiving corps. WMU senior quarterback Alex Carder, who was on five pre-season watch lists, broke his middle finger on his throwing hand just when the Broncos were starting to gain season momentum. Enter Tyler VanTubbergen.
“I don’t think you can really point to or blame one thing for the turnout of this season,” said WMU quarterback Tyler VanTubbergen. “A couple plays here and there just didn’t go our way. We’d start slow, or just weren’t focused, it’s just that every play is so important and we didn’t always execute the way we should’ve.”
During the 2011 season under Cubit, WMU was the eighth ranked passing offense in the nation, and its three senior wide receivers led Cubit’s high-powered offense to an appearance in the Little Caesars Pizza Pizza Bowl against the University of Purdue Boilermakers. Wideout Jordan White was selected as an All-American, led the nation in receiving yards and 100-yard games, and was drafted by the New York Jets.
“He’s a great offensive mind,” said VanTubbergen. “He runs a lot of complicated schemes and has been known for having really successful offenses over the last few years. I’m hoping that even with him being gone that stays the same.”
Cubit boasted six NFL draft picks during his tenure and the Broncos were bowl eligible in five of the eight seasons he was head coach. He also led WMU to three of the schools four bowl appearances and was named 2005 MAC Coach of the year.
WMU’s win total from 2005-08 is the second most in school history. Only the 31 Bronco victories accumulated from 1997-2000 totaled more. Not coincidentally, Cubit was the brown and gold’s offensive coordinator for two of those seasons.
The Broncos won eight games in 2005, led the nation in interceptions (22), were the sixth best run stopping defense (71.9 YPG), and were selected to the inaugural International Bowl. It was the first winning season for WMU since 2000 and a sign of things to expect from Cubit.
The Broncos were (51-47) overall under Cubit, (36-27) against Mid-American Conference foes, and posted an impressive 31-13 record at Waldo Stadium which is the best home winning percentage in school history. WMU beat six BCS schools on Cubit’s watch, and he scheduled up in every season at the helm.
In 2010 WMU became the first MAC school to face the University of Notre Dame. Most coaches tend to schedule “cupcake” teams for likely wins, while Cubit went the opposite direction embracing an underdog role which propelled WMU and the MAC conference into the national spotlight.
“I mean anytime you beat a BCS team with the resources we have and knowing the resources that they have, it says a lot in my opinion.” said Cubit. “There were a lot of great victories here.”
Cubit scheduled Big Ten opponents to open every season. Not bottom feeders, but against the likes of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the University of Illinois. He led WMU to impressive road wins at the University of Nebraska and the University of Connecticut and beat Illinois at Ford Field in Detroit.
His teams were known to compete down to the wire in BCS environments such as Florida State University. Cubit’s trailblazing largely contributed to why the MAC is one of the most respected football conferences in the nation today.
“He was a big influence on me,” said VanTubbergen. “He’s the guy who recruited me and was really the only coach that gave me a chance to play Division I. I’m gonna miss him and I wish him the best. I just really appreciate all he’s done for me and all of my teammates over the years.”
Of those interviewed, the larger portion of the WMU and Kalamazoo community say they will remember Cubit most for being the coach who always stopped and said hello, whose wife was always right by his side with a friendly smile, and for boasting the best player GPA in MAC.
“I just wanna thank everybody,” said Cubit. “It’s a great community, I love the fans, the students, the players, and I wish it could’ve kept going. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and that’s the way it is. We did it the right way.”
Some say they will remember a family man who that thought more important than winning, was for his players to grow into young men who become productive members of society rather than only successful athletes.
“My best moments are seeing guys leave here with a degree when nobody gave them a chance,” said Cubit. “They go out there and they’re productive citizens and then they call back or text and say ‘Hey coach thanks a lot’. Just seeing them transform to be successful members of society is what matters most. Some of these kids have overcome tough home lives with no male figure and it’s hard.”
That’s the legacy that Cubit leaves behind.
“I always tell the kids that the number one thing I think they gotta do in life is they gotta know what they want,” said Cubit. “The second thing is you better really love what you do. I love coaching and I love being with the kids. I don’t mind the sixteen to eighteen hour days because I know it’s for the purpose of molding young kids.”
Despite all of the negative things that came of this season, Cubit’s last victory was a significant to WMU alum and fans alike. He became only the second WMU coach since the 1972 season to take the
Broncos into Mt. Pleasant and defeat the hated rival Central Michigan University Chippewas.