Boise State's Riddle gets the most out of special teams

ccripe@idahostatesman.com © 2014 Idaho StatesmanJanuary 23, 2014 

Kent Riddle directs Boise State special teams during a 2005 practice. "He's really the guy I lean on quite a bit," coach Bryan Harsin said.

  • KENT RIDDLE FILE

    Age: 44

    Hometown: Iowa City, Iowa

    Playing career: Quarterback at Oregon State from 1987 to 1990. His only playing time came as a true freshman in 1987, when he was 3-for-9 for 38 yards in 18 snaps.

    Coaching career: Oregon State offensive graduate assistant (1993-94), Army fullbacks coach (1995-98), Army special teams coach (1999-2000), Boise State special teams and running backs coach (2001-05), Colorado special teams and tight ends coach (2006-10), North Texas special teams and tight ends coach (2011-12), Arkansas State special teams and tight ends coach and assistant head coach (2013)

    Education: Bachelor's degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism management from Oregon State (1992)

    Family: Wife, Camaren; children Connor (13) and Kayleigh (7)

    Did you know? Riddle's grandfather, Bucky O'Connor, was a men's basketball coach at Iowa. O'Connor posted a 108-54 record in seven seasons and led the Hawkeyes to the national third-place game in 1955.

Editor's note: We'll profile each member of the Boise State football team's new coaching staff over the next seven months.

Kent Riddle never set out to become a special teams coach. He stepped into that role in his fifth year on the staff at Army in 1999.

Fifteen seasons later, he's considered a special teams guru whose knowledge helped the Boise State football program even in the eight years between his five-year stint with the Broncos under Dan Hawkins and his arrival this month as part of first-year coach Bryan Harsin's staff.

Riddle has been the special teams coordinator at Army (1999-2000), Boise State (2001-05), Colorado (2006-10), North Texas (2011-12) and Arkansas State (2013).

"It's been something that certainly became part of me," said Riddle, who played quarterback at Oregon State. "It's something I tremendously enjoy because I get to work with every position group on the team … every guy on the team, I'm going to have some interaction with. That's a big deal to me."

And it's a role that suits him.

Riddle, 44, is personable, energetic and a straight shooter — qualities that make him popular with players and colleagues.

He set the foundation for a tradition of outstanding special teams play at Boise State that continued under his successors, Jeff Choate (2006-11) and Scott Huff (2012-13).

"The best thing I can tell you about Rid is you want to play for him as a player," said former Boise State tailback and kickoff returner Lee Marks, who was on the roster during each of Riddle's five years as an assistant. "He's someone who you know is going to give you the best tools to be successful and who is going to make sure that you're prepared when you're on that field, as far as the X's and O's go.

"… He's one of the best coaches I've ever been around."

Marks' relationship with Riddle has changed from player-coach to colleague in recent years. Marks worked as a strength and conditioning assistant for three years at Colorado and last year at Arkansas State. He also will serve in that role at Boise State.

Marks was a running backs coach at Sioux Falls and South Dakota State, where he leaned heavily upon the drills he learned from Riddle.

"As a coach, I notice how extremely dialed in he is in every phase of the game," Marks said. "Obviously he's a great special teams coach, but if he wanted to be an offensive coordinator, there's no doubt in my mind he could be. If he ever wanted to be a head coach, there's no doubt in my mind he'd be a great head coach. … He's never too up, never too down. That's the guy you want to go to during a game."

Harsin shares that sentiment.

He made Riddle his assistant head coach last year at Arkansas State and the associate head coach in Boise. Riddle will help carry out Harsin's vision with the staff and players and provide a sounding board on game-management issues.

"He's really the guy I lean on quite a bit," Harsin said. "When I want to talk about the flow of the game, the decisions that need to be made, he's a guy I can sit down and talk to. Timeouts, whether to go for two — we have those types of conversations."

Riddle will reprise his previous role in Boise as the running backs and special teams coach.

His first stint was wildly successful. He coached tailbacks Brock Forsey (school-record 32 touchdowns in 2002), David Mikell, Marks and Ian Johnson. He produced dynamic kick returners like Marks, Mikell, Chris Carr and All-American Quinton Jones. And he helped kicker Tyler Jones become a Lou Groza Award finalist in 2004.

The Broncos beat Hawaii 44-41 in 2005 with a punt return for a touchdown, a blocked field goal return for a touchdown and a blocked PAT return for two points. That 2005 team scored five special teams touchdowns — the most since Boise State began tracking non-offensive touchdowns in 1999.

"He did a good job of instilling a lot of pride in our special teams units," Jones said, "and having all the guys who were on any of those teams take it very seriously. It was a good place for guys to make an impact."

Said Marks: "He made special teams feel like it was the most important unit on the team. We had guys like (star defenders) Andy Avalos, Korey Hall, Colt Brooks, Gerald Alexander, just to name a few - you almost had to pull us off of special teams because that's how important we felt it was. And a lot of that has to do with Rid."

The Broncos continued the emphasis on using their best players on special teams after Riddle left but the realities of injuries and youth often led to backups and true freshmen serving in key roles.

Riddle hopes to return to the star power days.

"We will play our best players on special teams," he said, adding that he will continue the Hammer tradition started by Choate, "and we will play fast and play with great effort and we will hit. Our goal every game is to create big plays and score."

Riddle's transition back into the Broncos program should be eased by the presence of Huff, who is the new offensive line coach, and the yearly collaboration between Riddle and the Broncos since he left.

The Broncos' fake punt in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl — the play that sparked their victory against TCU — was named "the Riddler" because Choate learned it from Riddle.

"I spent a lot of time talking to (Choate and Huff) in the offseason," Riddle said.

At some point, he said, he realized it "would be fun to go back" to Boise.

Harsin's hiring made that possible.

Riddle said the struggles he experienced on Hawkins' staff at Colorado taught him that there's something unique at Boise State that can't be transported elsewhere.

"Maybe the biggest lesson of all is this is a special place and it's run by special people," he said. "The community involvement here is unbelievable. When you're at a place like this, you should relish every moment of it."

Kent Riddle file

Age: 44

Hometown: Iowa City, Iowa

Playing career: Quarterback at Oregon State (1987-90). His only playing time came as a true freshman in 1987, when he was 3-for-9 for 38 yards in 18 snaps.

Coaching career: Oregon State offensive graduate assistant (1993-94), Army fullbacks coach (1995-98), Army special teams coach (1999-2000), Boise State special teams and running backs coach (2001-05), Colorado special teams and tight ends coach (2006-10), North Texas special teams and tight ends coach (2011-12), Arkansas State special teams and tight ends coach and assistant head coach (2013)

Education: Bachelor's degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism management from Oregon State (1992)

Family: Wife, Camaren; children Connor (13) and Kayleigh (7)

Did you know? Riddle's grandfather, Bucky O'Connor, was a men's basketball coach at Iowa. O'Connor posted a 108-54 record in seven seasons and led the Hawkeyes to the national third-place game in 1955.

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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