Thursday, August 13, 2009

Assistant Coaches: Unsung Nomads

Assistant football coaches are the backbone of most collegiate football programs. They study hours of tape on opponents and develop game plans. They kiss the rear ends of dozens of high school and junior college kids during what has become a year-around recruiting process. And they serve as buffers between the often volatile head coaches with big egos and the sensitive players with similarly-sized egos.

They also get paid relatively little, usually have no job security, and can pretty much count on uprooting their families half-way cross the country every three or four years. Sounds like a great job, eh?

In the 15 years I've been broadcasting Idaho State football, I've had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of Bengal assistant coaches. Every Thursday during the season, I've sat down with my play-by-play partner and the offensive and defensive coordinators and discussed the game plan, injury status and scouting report on that week's upcoming opponent. And in travelling with the team during that time, I've also gotten familiar with a number of position coaches. It's one of the real perks of the job, getting to know these guys and having the opportunity to pick their brains about football, recruiting and coaching.

So I thought it would be fun to take a look at what's happened to some of the assistants I've been privileged to meet over the years. Not surprisingly, some have made it big since they left Idaho State. Few bigger than James Franklin (above), officially named "head coach in waiting" at Maryland who, reportedly, is guaranteed a $1 million payout if the school doesn't honor that commitment. Franklin served just one year on Larry Lewis' Idaho State staff in 1999, as wide receivers coach, before moving on to Maryland. He's been an offensive coordinator at Kansas State and Pitt, too, before returning to the Terps program.
"Big Timers"
Some of the other "big timers:" Marvin Lewis (1981-84), head coach, Cincinnati Bengals, where he's joined by Mike Sheppard (1980-81) as wide receivers coach; Kevin Gilbride (GA at ISU 1974-75, and a "co-coach" of the ISU women's basketball team), now offensive coordinator for the New York Giants; Kyle Whittingham (1988-1993), head coach, Utah; and Gary Andersen (1988-93), head coach, Utah State.

Others haven't been so fortunate. I haven't been able to find links to a number of the assistants I knew back in the 1990s, so I'm assuming they are out of football. Others have suffered the fate of being let go with fired coaching staffs, and having to take a job where they find one. Mark Rhea, for example, moved from defensive line coach at Toledo to defensive coordinator at Tiffin University, a D-II school in a small town in Ohio. Rhea coached the d-line for Idaho State from 2000 to 2005.

Here's a summary of former ISU assistants I was able to locate, and what they are doing now:

James Ward, former Bengal defensive coordinator (1999-2002), is now coaching cornerbacks at Nevada; Keith Uperesa, ISU offensive coordinator (1999-2000), offensive line coach at UNLV; Chris Ball, ISU defensive coordinator in 1999, now secondary coach at Washington State, after holding the same position at Pitt and Alabama; Jeff Banks, former running backs coach and recruiting coordinator (2001-2003), holds the same posts at UTEP, where he is joined by Aaron Price, former ISU quarterbacks coach (1999-2000) now performing the same functions; Bruce Barnum, who served as both offensive and defensive coordinator for the Bengals (1997-2005), is on the offensive side of the football at Cornell, where he's joined by former ISU quarterbacks coach Joe Borich (1999-2005); Rob Bolks, defensive coordinator (1994-96), is coaching the secondary at Missouri State, where he's joined by former Bengal quarterbacks coach Rob Christophel, who is working the same position; Johnny Nansen, who coached on the defensive side of the football at Idaho State (2001-2003), is tutoring defensive linemen at Washington; Rob Christoff, who coached linebackers for the Bengals (2007) has moved to the same position at Idaho; and Mike Orthmann, the Bengals' offensive coordinator the last two seasons, has landed in the same role at Arizona Western.
--Brad B.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.


Frank Mercogliano said...

Interestingly, Rob Christoff was with Boise State last year, giving him the triple play, all in three straight years.


Anonymous said...

Prayers and thoughts need to go out to Keith Uperesa. He's been battling cancer and is set to begin radiation treatments within the next couple of weeks.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear that -- he is indeed in our thoughts and prayers.

--Brad B

Anonymous said...

Dave Christensen is another former ISU assistant worth mentioning. This season marks his first year as the head coach at Wyoming.

Anonymous said...

Good point -- Christensen coached tight ends and running backs at ISU in 1990-91. It's interesting, ISU had really bad football teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but some outstanding assistant coaches: Kyle Whittingham, Gary Andersen, Christensen....

--Brad B.

Anonymous said...

He is indeed in our players cool..
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