Tomey left Texas without a ring or regrets

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After the Rose Bowl, after Texas had done what no one without orange blood thought it could do, Dick Tomey stood on the field wearing his Longhorn gear and a big grin. He stood near the end zone where, minutes earlier, quarterback Vince Young had delivered the national championship to the Longhorns. Tomey had coached this defense, helped to mold the players who made that big stop near midfield that gave Young the chance to win the game.

The problem, of course, is that Tomey had coached this defense in 2004, the year before the Longhorns won it all. Tomey left them and all their potential behind to coach here, at San Jose State, a school with a small amount of football history and a small number of fans.

It has been that way throughout Tomey's career. He has won everywhere he coached. He took over a moribund team at Hawaii and went 63-46-3 in 10 seasons. He left for Arizona, where he went 94-64-4, the most wins ever in Tucson, in 14 seasons. But the Wildcats never made it to the Rose Bowl. Tomey always has won, but he has never won it all. As Texas marched to a 13-0 record and the crystal football, Tomey coached San Jose State, two time zones away, to a 3-8 record.

He hasn't lost a wink of sleep yet.

"People ask me, 'Do you regret that?'" Tomey said. "Not one time. Not one time. I still have the relationships with the people at Texas, which, to me, is the most important thing. Getting back to rekindle the relationships at the Rose Bowl was wonderful. We [he and his wife, author Nanci Kincaid] stayed three days in the team hotel. We saw all our friends. The players were marvelous."

Yes, the relationships are for a lifetime. But the chance to win a national championship doesn't come along every season. As much as Tomey won -- and his 161 career victories rank 11th among active I-A head coaches, he never missed the jewelry.

"If somebody had said, 'You're going to get a ring if you stay, I'm still going,'" Tomey said. "Maybe if I was 32 years old, I would feel differently."

Tomey is 68, although he looks and acts at least a decade younger. He spoke in his small, functional office across the parking lot from Spartan Stadium. It was a typically brilliant Northern California summer morning.

"Where I live and my life outside of football is very important to me," Tomey said. "I've coached in great places to live and that's not an accident. I moved once in 24 years, from the time I set foot in Hawaii, to the time I left Arizona. I was totally blessed with that. My kids got to be in the same place. My coaches had a stable situation. Their kids got to go to the same schools and live in the same neighborhood. I wouldn't have wanted to be a vagabond coach."

After 24 seasons as a head coach, Tomey didn't mind at all going to work for Mack Brown. He didn't leave Texas because, as with some men in his profession, he struggled with the idea of being an assistant coach.

"It's not about being a head coach," Tomey said. "It's about where you're living. I liked Austin. It's a great place. We have been West Coast people. My entire last 30 years have been spent in and around the West Coast. This is just more of a comfort zone for me. It is more about that than anything else. I wasn't interested in being a head coach it if were someplace else."

He also returned to San Jose State because he is old enough to remember when the Spartans won a lot of games in the 1970s under Darryl Rogers and in the 1980s under Jack Elway and Claude Gilbert.

"If you look at the available talent, at facilities, at leadership, I think we've got so many positives," Tomey said. "Our negatives have more to do with the recent past."

Tomey has dedicated himself, as Brown did in Texas, to recruit locally. It paid off last February when he signed the Central Coast Section Player of the Year, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound running back Dominique Hunsucker of Valley Christian in San Jose.

"It's trying to build a vision of the future for what you see," Tomey said. "We still have a lot of work to do in terms of what to do. We're a bunch better today than we were this time last year."

San Jose State is a very young team. The good news is that the Spartans have seven home games for the first time since God was a redshirt freshman. In 25 seasons as a Division I-A head coach, Tomey never lost more than seven games in a single season before 2005. It will take a big step for the Spartans to avoid losing seven again. But Tomey would rather be here than in Texas any day. Even without the jewelry.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.