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.

Soccer is a Kick in the Grass....

The first week of practice for the Bengals has been filled with a mile run, tough work outs, rain and plenty of sweat. Photographic services took a peek at the Bengals during a practice so that we can share it with the fans. In a team with ten freshman the Bengals have been working on cohesion and unity amidst a strong offensive strike. Freshman standouts include Ashley Jones and Laura Perez who have posted several goals during scrimmage drills. Returners who will surely see more time on the field include senior defenders Christina Beseris and Kacey Ball. Their hard work has shown on the field with their increased fitness level and stamina. This season the Bengals will be led by midfielder and all-time career assists leader Annamarie Hofstetter, forward Lauren Ryan, who was ISU’s lead scorer last season, as well as defender Karissa Henage-Fisher who was named to the Big Sky All-Conference First Team last season.

Kat Ford and Bailey Williams will be ISU’s goalkeepers for the 2009 season. Though Bailey competed in 12 games for 986:56 at goal the spot for this season’s keeper position is still up in the air. Williams who posted a 2-7-2 record last season, complete with two shutouts, had a goals against average of 1.46 and a .771 save percentage. Ford did not see much playing time last season as she competed in two games for a total of 78:39, however she allowed just one goal against Northern Colorado when the Bears were on a hot streak defeating ISU 6-2 in October. Ford posts a 1.14 goals against average and an .800 save percentage having amount four saves in her time at goal. Pictured in goal during an ISU practice is Kat Ford.

Previous assistant women’s soccer coach Lindsay Massengale is still competing in the Women’s Professional Soccer League for the FC Gold Pride in the Bay Area. Massengale earned a spot on the team after showing her skills during the team’s preseason camp. She has played four games and started in two as a defender for the FC Gold Pride and has played 193 minutes. Massengale has been replaced by assistant coach Becky Hogan, (see her in the photo on the left). It rained during practice and was unusually cold for the end of summer thus the beanie and rain jacket. Hogan comes to ISU with a great deal of knowledge having served as the head coach for the Utah Rush Soccer Club and Skyline High School in Salt Lake City. She also played professionally for the RushSLC (WPSL). In a fun connection both Hogan and Massengale played for the Boston Breakers of the WUSA.

Replacing Nakada in charge of the goalkeepers is assistant coach, and former ISU Bengal, Shannon Boyle. The team couldn’t be in better hands as Shannon is considered one of the best keepers in Idaho State history. In her time with ISU saw the Bengals earn three-straight Big Sky Conference Tournament titles and was named the Big Sky Tournament MVP in 2002 under the direction of Nakada.

Fans will be able to see the Bengals in action for the first time in an exhibition game against Northwest Nazarene on Tuesday, August 18 at 11:00 am at Davis Field.

---Katie Zigars, Asst. SID

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Story Time

I'm gonna break away from the Idaho State stuff for a minute to delve into something else so bear with me...I'll get to some Idaho State links here in a minute. I have to tell you a story, so get comfortable.

Many of you folks know, or maybe you don't know, about my favorite band, which is Chicago. Now, there's a myriad of reasons I like that band, the horns, the vocals, whatever, and some folks around here know that I can play the drums (set taught) and percussion, but I have always wanted to play the piano. That statement is even funnier because my wife is a piano player and teacher. Anyways, with the advent of the internet, I was able to really learn more about Chicago, and what I learned was maybe the most talented musician on the planet was in the band, and he was the guy who I tended to gravitate to when listening to CDs and stuff, and that guy in Bill Champlin. Bill joined the band in late 1981 after Chicago was doing so horribly that they were dumped by Columbia records after two albums of a long multi-album deal. Chicago 13 missed the top 20 and had no hit singles, and Chicago XIV hit #71, and it looked like Chicago was done, but the band brought in Champlin, and a wave of hit singles followed, including songs like Look Away and You're Not Alone, in which Bill sang lead.

Now, 28 years after joining Chicago, giving up a promising solo career that came on the heels of eight albums with the great Marin County band Sons of Champlin (who played in Holt Arena in 1973 doncha know), Bill is no longer with Chicago, having been replaced for the remainder of the 2009 summer tour by Lou Pardini, who is now officially in the group.

If you are still reading this, you might be going....Bill Champlin? Who the hell is that? This is Bill Champlin at his best, reworking the power ballad Look Away (the Billboard #1 song of 1988) into an unreal acoustic piece. Well, in this overbloated age in which Lady GaGa is a star, and Britney Spears churns out horrendous garbage that qualifies as a hit song, Bill is a musician. Actually, a musician's musician.

Bill has a pair of Grammies to his credit for writing Turn Your Love Around, which was a monster smash for George Benson (here is George singing it live in Madrid, and here is Bill's take while performing live on German television) and After the Love is Gone, which was an even-bigger hit for Earth, Wind, and Fire (Here is Earth, Wind and Fire singing it live, here is Bill singing it with EWF on tour in 2004, and this is such a rare version from Thicke of the Night back in 1983 which is the only performance with all three writers, Champlin, Jay Graydon, and David Foster).

Bill got his start with his own band the Sons of Champlin (originally the Opposite Six), who had eight ridiculously fun and tight albums, and came out of Marin County and the great San Francisco scene, but somehow they never hit it big...perhaps SoC was a little too R&B with their upfront horns and musicianship. Still their songs are amazing, such as You, 1982-A from their debut album Loosen of Naturally, and even seeing video from a few years ago of the band performing at the Palms in Vegas is a treat.

From there, Bill ended up as the most in-demand guy in the music industry, performing on albums and CDs for Boz Skaggs, REO Speedwagon, Amy Grant ... anyone and everyone. Then he put out two solo CDs, Single and Runaway, which featured songs such as Fly with Me and Keys to the Kingdom. Runaway featured songs like Tonight, Tonight and Take It Uptown, which was from the movie Copper Mountain (Jim Carrey's first movie).

Bill then joined Chicago, and in recent years the band has featured him prominently in concert with a special medley of some of his vocals, including a great introduction where he got to showcase a little of his talents. Still, Bill put solo stuff out from time to time, such as No Wasted Moments (one of my favorite CDs ever). Even his unreleased Chicago stuff is better than most music out now or then.

How does any of this relate to me other than as a fan you ask? Well, way back when, after I had accumulated all the Chicago stuff I could, I decided to get the solo stuff from folks, and naturally, I was trying to figure out how to get Champlin stuff, as it's just not readily available at Wal-Mart. Well, Bill had a website to sell his CDs, and there was a link to "ask Bill". So I asked which one would he recommend...figuring he had like a flunky answering, but I actually got a nice note back, and just by reading it, you could tell it was from him. I ended up buying two, and over the course of the next year or so, I got pretty much everything, and he and I started emailing a bit. Eventually, he gave me his home address so I could send a CD cover for him to sign, and we finally met in 1999 in Boise after a show (he left my friend Doug and I a pass to wait afterwards and meet up).

Bill also offered my family and I tickets to the Stadium of Fire July 4 show in Salt Lake, and I passed because I wasn't going to be there due to that being my daughter's birthday. I then somehow not only ended up there, but in a meet and greet, where he was baffled to see me and gave me a bear hug, and then took time to talk to my kids and stuff, which was funny just to see their faces.

Cut to this week, and Bill's newest CD "No Place Left to Fall" hit stores on August 4 (it had been out on iTunes for a while and I've had it pretty much since it was available for download there) and it is getting rave reviews. From start to finish, it is an amazing of those CDs that you need to listen to over and over to catch the little musical nuances that let's face it, you don't get with Lady GaGa or Britney Spears or T-Pain. You can catch a little of the title track here with Bill talking about it, but right now my favorites are a funky little number called Tuggin' on Your Sleeve, the title track, and Stone Cold Hollywood.

It sucks that after 28 years, Bill is out, but he is going on a short little club tour of the West Coast from San Diego to Seattle. So here is my imploration to you guys, because I never try to steer anyone wrong, but check those dates out, and if you can make it to a show ... don't think about it, just go. You will never see a better musician surrounded by other unbelievable musicians as you will if you catch one of Bill's shows (I believe he has Jerry Lopez joining him on guitar, who is a monster on his own). Seriously, you will not be sorry, and knowing Bill, he will just hang after the show for a while and tell stories and make it a night to remember.

Anyways, I know plenty of famous people, mostly pro athletes, but this was weird to hear news like this about someone I know have great respect for. Sure, Matt Gutierrez got cut from the Patriots and I know him, but this is inherently different. Bill is a great guy who will always make the best of a situation, but if you want to treat yourself, pick up this CD, or see his show. You just won't be sorry about it.

OK, now back to ISU....thanks for hangin' in there...

How's the BBQ?
Matt Gutierrez did get cut by the Patriots, and then got promptly picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs, and guess who threw the only offensive touchdown in KC's intersquad scrimmage? That would be Matt.

Thumbs Up!
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gives out a thumbs up to our very own Evan Dietrich-Smith. When the paper calls you "almost impossible to beat" and says that you "dominated one-on-one pass rushing drills", well, that can only mean good things. By the way, this should surprise no one. Evan is a gamer.

Outjumping Steve Smith
Scroll down a little here to see D.J. Clark picking off a pass outleaping Steve Smith.

Getting His Big Chance
Did you know that New Orleans Saints defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith (not that Will Smith, this Will Smith) are out for the first four games? Jeff Charleston does, and the former Bengal is making big waves at Saints camp as he projects to be a starter.

Good Hands
Scroll down and get to picture number five to see Pago in action for the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals.

And last but not least, good ol' Jared
The media just loves Jared Allen...he's not a bad quote. He talked here about the end of Vikings camp, and pretty soon he will be featured on Cribs and in Maxim. Be warned. Of course, he is kid accessable, as this report from CBS/Fox 12 in Mankato shows.

Bengal Links
Boise State East....or so it seems, but Kelvin Ang had a nice story regarding ISU's four Broncos who have made a home here at ISU. Kelvin also notes that after a spring in which Benny Laporta was the only running back, there is a little more competition there in the fall, including this guy, but not this guy. Also, Tim Flagstad reported on the volleyball teams' return to practice, and yes, there are 18 of them. Go Bengals...and Bill!

Looking Ahead No. 11: Portland State

Most schools save the last week of the season for a matchup with their arch rivals. Since Weber State doesn't like to compete with BYU-Utah for fans and attention and the Wildcats agreed to buy out ISU's game with Cal Poly, however, Idaho State gets to play Portland State in their season-ender this year. And since it's in Pocatello, that's probably not a bad thing.

In the last eight seasons, the home team has won the Bengal-Viking clash, so the odds favor ISU ending the year with a win for the second straight season. In this, PSU's coach Jerry Glanville's third year at the helm, the Vikings don't appear to be greatly improved from the squad that finished 4-7 in 2008.

Glanville (above) has made noises about fixing some of the Vikings' obvious problems: their nearly non-existent running game and their porous defense. But even though long-time run-and-shoot guru Mouse Davis "retired" as PSU's offensive coordinator last spring and was replaced by co-coordinators, I'll believe PSU is more committed to establishing the run when I see it. As for the defense, which gave up 32.5 points a game, better only than Idaho State's, well I tend to believe that's only going to get better when PSU dumps its whacked-out approach to offense.

The bottom line is that it's extremely difficult to play good defense when your defenders are on the field almost nine minutes a game longer than your opponents', as was the case for the Vikings last year. I know that time of possession is one of those stats people like to make fun of (I do it myself when there are instances when the stat is totally meaningless), but over an 11-game season, there's no denying that PSU's defenders get worn down.

That time of possession stat is not going to improve significantly unless the Vikings can run the football -- at least a little. When fullback Bobby McClintock went down with a knee injury last year, the Vikings lost their only legitimate running threat out of their one-back, run-and-shoot attack, and the result was a 1.7 yard per carry average. That, in turn, led directly to PSU's quarterbacks being sacked 41 times, an average of almost four a game -- the highest per-game average in the Big Sky. McClintock is reportedly back healthy this year, but it won't matter if the Vikings aren't committed to handing him the football more often.

It's not that the Vikings won't be bringing some talent with them when they arrive in Pocatello for their Nov. 14 contest. Quarterback Drew Hubel threw for over 290 yards a game and 18 touchdowns last year; wide-out Aaron Woods caught 66 balls for over 1,000 yards and six scores; and on defense, both linebacker Erik Pedersen and defensive back Deshawn Snead (who led the league with six picks as a freshman last year) were pre-season all-league picks.

The Vikings will be without Mario D'Ambrosio, one of the league's better receivers, however. D'Ambrosio, who caught 76 passes for 9 TDS last season, suffered a severe knee injury and his football career appears to be over. They also lost backup quarterback Tyge Howland, who also went down with a knee injury over the summer.

Portland State was able to hold off the Bengals, 36-13 last year in Portland, despite ISU holding a 35-25 minute advantage in time of possession. The Bengals had the football for over 10 minutes in the second quarter but could only put two field goals on the board, and trailed at half, 16-13. PSU then outscored Idaho State 20-0 in the second half. The Vikings had a net of only 12 yards rushing in the game, but Hubel and Co. riddled a depleted ISU secondary for 547 yards and three touchdowns. Bengal DB Michael Wright managed to pick off two passes and break up three in the face of the onslaught.

Both PSU's Glanville and Idaho State's John Zamberlin arrived as head coaches in the conference three years ago. Zamberlin got the first scalp, beating the Vikings 38-20 with the help of two fumble recoveries for touchdowns in 2007. Coach Z would like nothing better than to cap off a season of significant improvement with another W this year.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Football Reaches Out to Kids with Diabetes

Prior to the opening of football camp, the Idaho State football team took a little detour. The team headed to FMC Park in Pocatello as part of the Portneuf Medical Center's Diabetes Camp. There the team got a chance to spend an hour with kids of all ages that suffer from type-1 diabetes. The team signed autographs, talked with the kids, and overall had a great time.

"Getting a chance to do this really lets our guys know that they are looked up to in this community," said head coach John Zamberlin. "It was great to see our guys not just participating but interacting with the kids, and really taking an interest. Something I think they will never forget."

Jason Jones (99) and Brennan Ghassemiah (29) get ready to sign some autographs

AJ Storms (30) talks with a youngster.

Offensive coordinator Brian Jensen and quarterback Evan Mozzochi (10) talk with kids about life and ISU football.

Erik Jacobson (74), Jake Rouser (45), Nic Edgson (in back), and Braeden Clayson (76) talk to kids.

AJ Storms sings a bunch of autographs.

I think just based on the smile of this little guy that the entire trip out to the Diabetes Camp was a total success.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Looking Ahead No. 10: Montana

One of the more common questions I hear as I travel around the Big Sky Conference is, "Why has Montana become so dominant in football?" Here's my theory: the Grizzlies were just another competitive program until Nevada, Boise State and Idaho, the three best programs in the league, all moved up to Division-I (now FBS). Montana was the best positioned program to take advantage of their departures, and they have done so with gusto.

The Griz, as anyone who has followed the Big Sky for any length of time knows, have won or tied for 11 straight BSC titles. They've been in the FCS playoffs for 16 consecutive seasons, and they've had a winning record 23 straight seasons. But the Montana dominance really began in 1996, the year after BSU and Idaho left the league, and three years after Nevada departed. The numbers tell a pretty simple story:

Until last season, Nevada (71 percent), Boise State (65 percent) and Idaho (63 percent) had the all-time winningest records in Big Sky Conference football competition. Montana edged past the Vandals last season, on the basis of a 7-1 record, which gave the Griz a 64 percent winning percentage all-time in league play. Before 1996, when BSU and Idaho left the league, Montana had just a 52 percent winning percentage. Since 1996, Montana has gone 86-13 -- 87 percent.

Montana already had a number of advantages in place when that triumverate left the league -- a new stadium, an excellent coach in Don Read with an exciting system, a good recruiting platform and an emerging fan base. When the opportunity to dominate the league arrived, then, the Griz were more than poised to pounce.

Even though the Griz have had some of the best offensive teams in Big Sky history during that run, it's always been my contention that their dominance has been based on solid defense more than anything. In a league where there are always two or three teams that put a lot of points on the board, consistent defense has been a discriminator for Montana. Again, that distinction has been much more pointed in the post-1996 period. To wit: In the first 32 years of Big Sky play, the Grizzlies led the league in scoring defense five times. Not bad, but certainly not distinctive. Since 1996, however, UM has led the BSC in scoring defense nine out of 13 seasons. No other school has held that honor more than once.

So in a year when Weber State, the other defending co-champion, returns a ton of offensive weapons, the Griz will once again rely on their five returning all-league defenders -- and the home field advantage when the Cats and Montana meet on Halloween in Missoula -- as the difference-makers.

That's not to say Montana doesn't have some offensive playmakers of their own. Running back Chase Reynolds (above) emerged last year to rush for 1,583 yards and a school record 22 touchdowns as just a sophomore. Wide receiver-kick returner Marc Mariani, meanwhile, caught 69 passes for 1,308 yards and 15 touchdowns, and also returned two punts (including a back-breaker against Idaho State) for scores. Reynolds and Mariani are poster boys for home-grown, small-town Montana talent. Reynolds is from the tiny town of Drummond (population 318), and got only a partial scholarship when he first signed with the Griz; Mariani, from Havre (pop. 9,621) walked on initially.

To make best use of those playmakers, however, the Griz are going to have to identify a new starting quarterback and shore up an offensive line that gave up a whopping 55 sacks in 16 games last year. The Griz return three offensive linemen who earned at least honorable mention all-league notice last year, and tackle Levi Horn is a pre-season all-Big Sky selection this year. But it seems like some of the Grizzlies' honor winners may have been riding the coattails of the program's success. Even Idaho State, which had trouble generating any kind of pass rush all season, sacked Grizzly quarterback Cole Berquist four times in Montana's 29-10 win in Missoula last year.

Replacing Berquist is not going to be an any easy job. Even though he played poorly against ISU last year, he was exceedingly efficient throughout most of the season, completing almost 61 percent of his passes and throwing 28 touchdowns to only eight interceptions. In fact, when you look at Montana's 2008 season, when they finished second to Richmond for the national championship, "efficiency" is the word that really stands out. The Griz were second in the league in scoring, first in scoring defense, first in net punting, second in pass efficiency, second in pass defense efficiency, and second in total defense. And in the stat that literally defines efficiency, the Griz were first in turnover margin, with a plus-16 mark -- more than doubling No. 2-ranked Weber State (plus 7).

Finding a new quarterback who can match Berquist's execution, then, becomes the top priority for UM Coach Bobby Hauck. Andrew Selle, who played in seven games last year, emerged from spring ball as the heir apparent, but the Griz took a flyer on Oregon transfer Justin Roper this summer, which tells you they may not be entirely sold on Selle. Neither Selle nor Roper's limited experiences so far indicate they are ready to operate at the same high level as Berquist did last year. Selle completed only 51 percent of his throws last year, with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Roper, meanwhile, has completed only 53 percent of his tosses in 11 games at Oregon, with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. Those aren't bad numbers against PAC-10 competition, but I don't think anybody in Missoula is ready to cede the starting job to Roper just yet.

As I noted above, the Griz return five all-league players on the defensive side of the ball, including end Jace Palmer, who led the team with 8.5 sacks; second-leading tackler Shane Schillinger, who had four picks from his safety position; linebackers Shawn Lebsock and Brandon Fisher; and cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who earned all-league recognition as a freshman. The Griz will have to find a secondary pass rusher or two, having lost second-leading sack man Mike Stadnyk to graduation. The Griz really did not excel at pressuring the quarterback last year, registering only 32 sacks in 16 games.

Last year's loss in Missoula was the coming out party for Bengal quarterback Kyle Blum, who thew for 246 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions in his first starting assignment. He showed good mobility and a penchant for making plays against the Griz, but his decision-making also demonstrated his inexperience. Now that Idaho State head coach John Zamberlin has named Blum as his starter going into the season, the ISU-Montana game scheduled for Nov. 7 in Holt Arena should provide a good benchmark on how much Blum's grown in a year's time in that position.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.