Brian Murphy: Bleymaier's influence remains at Boise State

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comJanuary 26, 2014 

Over the course of 30 years as a Boise State administrator, including 29 as the Broncos' athletic director, Gene Bleymaier attended thousands of events in blue and orange.

On Saturday, for the first time, Bleymaier was rooting for the other team.

Now the athletic director at San Jose State, Bleymaier - who was fired at Boise State in August 2011 - watched the Broncos defeat his Spartans 76-55 at Taco Bell Arena.

"When you wore blue and orange for 30 years, it's definitely different," said Bleymaier, wearing a Spartan pin on his suit jacket lapel.

Despite his abrupt and unexpected dismissal, Bleymaier is still revered by many in the Boise State community. He was greeted by fans, longtime boosters and current coaches with handshakes, warm embraces and well wishes throughout the arena.

On Friday night, more than 130 people attended a reception for Bleymaier in the Gene Bleymaier Football Complex, the Broncos' new football facility. Current Athletic Director Mark Coyle introduced him.

"It was a really special night," said men's basketball coach Leon Rice, who was hired by Bleymaier. "Gene, for the rest of my career, will always be really special to me. He's a guy I trust, a guy I came here for. I think he's just terrific in what he does."

The Broncos' famous blue turf was Bleymaier's idea. And he hired a string of successful football coaches, including Chris Petersen, which led the football program to unprecedented heights. He built and upgraded facilities with the help of a loyal and dependable group of fundraisers.

He was happy to have the opportunity to thank them - formally - in the Broncos' beautiful new building. Bleymaier had walked through the facility several times before Friday.

"It wasn't what I was able to accomplish," Bleymaier said. "It was what this community and coaching staff and the all the people who worked in the athletic department were able to accomplish. It's exciting. It's exciting to know that a program can be built like this," said Bleymaier, who graduated from Borah High before playing football at UCLA.

The hard feelings over his ouster have not totally healed. Bleymaier was fired in 2011 after the Broncos were sanctioned by the NCAA for violations, including a lack of institutional control. Boise State President Bob Kustra said he offered Bleymaier an opportunity to resign, but Bleymaier insisted on being fired.

The two still have not spoken, Bleymaier said, and Kustra did not attend Friday's reception. Some Boise State fans and boosters remain loyal to Bleymaier and haven't forgiven Kustra. Some, like those who approached Bleymaier on Saturday night, just wanted to tell him how good it was to see him and wish him luck.

"Hey, that's life," Bleymaier said when asked about his departure. "We're enjoying San Jose. It's worked out really well for us. We're near our three kids and our granddaughter. I've got a great job at San Jose State, so things have worked out well."

At San Jose State, Bleymaier is determined to build a program like the one he presided over at Boise State - successful on the field and supported by the community. It won't be a quick fix, he said. He hired Dave Wojcik, a Boise State assistant to rebuild the Spartans' perennial woeful men's basketball program.

"I probably would have never gone there if there was somebody else," Wojcik said. "I just know what he's about character-wise. I know what he's done here in building things. He's going to do it the right way. He's behind me 100 percent."

San Jose State has begun construction on a $56-million renovation of its basketball facility. Attendance is up in basketball, even as the Spartans struggle on the court.

For 30 years, Bleymaier built Boise State into the little program that could, shepherding the Broncos' rise and growth. The blueprint remains. He's dusting it off at San Jose State, which is a first-year member of the Mountain West.

"You really approach it the same way. It's about getting the right people in place. Hiring talented coaches that believe in the philosophy that we're all about and then getting the community involved," he said. "That's what we need to do. We've got over 100,000 alumni in the Bay Area. For the most part, they've been kind of quiet and dormant. That's on us. We need to give them something to cheer about. As we do that, they'll get involved."

It worked in Boise.

The signs of Bleymaier's success are all around, including the gleaming football facility that bears his name.

He may be wearing another school's colors, but his contributions to Boise State shouldn't - and won't - be forgotten.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444; Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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