College of Idaho's gridiron architect

C of I officials believe they have found the right man to build the program from the ground up.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comJune 23, 2013 

New College of Idaho football coach Mike Moroski, who spent the previous 26 seasons as an assistant coach at UC Davis in California, was hired in January. He has spent much of his time recruiting and signing players who will begin competing in the NAIA Frontier Conference in August 2014.

CALDWELL - Tim Keane was a high school tight end who was leery of UC Davis' academic rigors when Mike Moroski recruited him to play for the Aggies.

"Trust me," Moroski told him. "You'll be great."

Eleven years later - in January of this year - Moroski became head coach of the reborn College of Idaho football program and brought his now colleague, Keane, to campus for a job interview.

Keane, an assistant at Davis, wasn't sure he wanted to move to Idaho, but he joined the Coyotes as offensive coordinator in April.

"It was the whole process all over again," Keane said. "I kind of put my trust in him and really believed in him."

He's not alone as the NAIA program in Caldwell prepares for a return to the gridiron in 2014. Among those who have placed their trust in Moroski:

Æ The president and athletic director, who expect him to field a competitive team packed with engaged students.

Æ The 50-plus players who have committed to join a program that doesn't yet have any on-campus facilities and will play in nearby Simplot Stadium, which won't be renovated until late this year.

Æ The students and faculty on the quaint, 1,059-student campus, who expressed reservations about disrupting the culture with the addition of up to 120 football players.

Æ And local high school coaches, who are eager to see the state's only small college football program deliver on their belief that Idaho kids can compete in the Frontier Conference.

Five months into the job, Moroski has done nothing but impress.

"The more I know him, the more I respect him, the more I like him and the more I like being around him," Athletic Director Marty Holly said, "and the more I'm 100 percent sure we have the right person to start up our football program."

Moroski, 55, brought a deep résumé to the job. He played quarterback and pitched at UC Davis, spent eight years as a backup quarterback in the NFL - including a year with the Bill Walsh-led San Francisco 49ers - and served as an assistant coach for 26 years at Davis.

"He's been a coordinator, he's been in the pros, he's played college football. He has a great background and now he's really ready to assert himself as a head coach,'' former longtime UC Davis coach Jim Sochor said. "College of Idaho is really fortunate to be able to get him to come over."

The Davis program also produced former Boise State coach Dan Hawkins and current coach Chris Petersen. Petersen tipped Holly that Moroski might be interested and that connection has helped the Coyotes build a big brother-like relationship with the Broncos.

"(Moroski) is a really big guy on character," said former Bishop Kelly High wide receiver Cory Brady, one of this year's signees. "His philosophy and strategy seem very similar to what (Petersen) talks about. It made me very excited just listening to him talk about what he wants from his players."

Moroski was born in Bakersfield, Calif., and raised in Novato, Calif. His parents were teachers. His dad, a star basketball player at Cal Poly, became a high school principal.

"Academics was always just part of the deal," Moroski said. "I really got immersed in that at Davis. It didn't really make sense to me until I understood the recruiting side. Our edge at UC Davis was recruiting really good student-athletes."

Moroski (6-foot-4) was a three-sport standout in high school - football, basketball and baseball. Basketball was his favorite as a kid, but he played football (a two-year starting quarterback) and baseball at Davis.

He was the Far West Conference Player of the Year in 1977 and 1978 and enshrined into the Cal Aggie Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985.

"Tall, rangy, good arm, good athlete, he could get outside, he could be elusive when he wanted to be," Sochor said. "He was a smart, accurate thrower and a good decision-maker. All the things you look for in a quarterback."

The Atlanta Falcons drafted Moroski in the sixth round of the 1979 NFL Draft. He started seven games in six seasons with the Falcons, as a backup to Steve Bartkowski.

He spent parts of his seventh season with the Houston Oilers (five games, no starts), San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Raiders. He was in training camp with the 49ers that year and heard they were interested in giving him another try in 1986, so he refused to sign an extension with the Oilers with one week left in the 1985 season.

"They said, 'Either sign or we're going to cut you,' " said Moroski, who completed 56.7 percent of his passes in his career with eight TDs and 18 interceptions. "I'm thinking to myself, 'There's no way they'll do that.' I didn't want to sign. I knew the 49ers could happen. And they cut me."

The 49ers signed him and Jeff Kemp to back up Joe Montana in 1986. Montana and Kemp got injured - allowing Moroski to start two games, a win and a loss during which he tossed two TD passes and three interceptions.

That season left a lasting impression on Moroski. The coaching staff included the legendary Walsh and future NFL head coaches Mike Holmgren (quarterbacks coach), George Seifert and Ray Rhodes.

"The one year with the 49ers is what got me excited about coaching," Moroski said. "Prior to that, I thought maybe (coaching) just because I liked the game. But I wasn't sure. … (The coaches) were great guys, real positive, great teachers. They were interested in people. … I can't remember anybody ever yelling at practice."

He earned a bachelor's in managerial economics and a master's in educational psychology from Davis. During his master's studies, he interviewed Walsh and asked about the decision to hire Holmgren, who at the time was a young college assistant but eventually won a Super Bowl as the Green Bay Packers head coach.

"Well," Walsh told him, according to Moroski, "it was just his ease at the board. He was systematic and methodical and a good communicator and even-keeled - a good teacher, ultimately."

That is Moroski's role at the College of Idaho: to educate.

"There are a lot of life experiences that a kid gets in 4› years," he said. "They're dealing with a lot of things during that life segment. It's an exciting time of life and guys really like to learn and to learn the game. I hope to have on my staff guys who are as good as anybody at teaching the game. That's my heritage."

C of I President Marv Henberg hopes that philosophy will translate into a football program that integrates seamlessly into the existing environment.

About a third (340) of the school's students are athletes, but the football program has been dormant since the Coyotes' final game in 1977.

Moroski has made himself visible on campus since he arrived. He and his wife, Cathie - they have four grown children - live nearby.

"I don't think there's anything near the level of anxiety there was about (players fitting in) and I think Mike Moroski is the main reason," Henberg said. "I promised the students and faculty that they would be involved in the search process. He was their top choice as well as my top choice and (Holly's) top choice. And now they've gotten to know him."

Moroski attended classes last semester to get a better feel for the school's educational offerings. Henberg even spotted him at a play produced by the theater arts department.

"That sends a message," Henberg said, "that this guy is about us, too."

It also sets an example for the players who will arrive this fall. They weren't recruited just to play football.

"I want them to come for the whole campus experience," Moroski said. "You want some guys who eat, drink, sleep football all the time, but they've still got to be willing and capable students or they'll miss out on the life of the college, which I think is unique. You can get it at other places, but I think it's special at a small, liberal-arts school."

Said Holly, who is in his 33rd year as athletic director: "Long after I'm gone, I would expect that he is a vital part of this valley."

Moroski joined the UC Davis staff as a volunteer in 1987, immediately after his NFL career ended. He followed Petersen as the freshman coach and never coached anywhere else - a total of 26 seasons in various roles, including offensive coordinator (1993-2010), assistant head coach (2011-12) and every offensive position coach.

He applied to replace retiring Davis coach Bob Biggs last fall. Former Boise State and Cal assistant Ron Gould got the job at the Football Championship Subdivision school - convincing Moroski it was time to seek a new challenge.

"I had a growing desire to be a head coach," Moroski said. "And to be honest, this is perfect. I don't have a burning desire to be at the (Football Bowl Subdivision level, where Boise State plays). I do have a burning desire to do what I do really well and to compete.

"… Was I disappointed (in Davis' decision)? Yes. Did I understand? Absolutely. Certainly I was not overly disappointed and then this coming along, I think it's better. It's a unique opportunity to build from the ground up. Sometimes having your hand forced works out really well."

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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