Idaho State football coach Mike Kramer met with Athletic Director Jeff Tingey on Thursday. And one thing was clear — Kramer would not return to the Big Sky program next season.
The 61-year-old Kramer opted to retire after six years in Pocatello, where he led Idaho State to an 18-50 record, including 10-38 in the Big Sky.
“The intention (of the meeting) was to improve the program,” Tingey said. “I had opened possibilities of what could and could not happen. But a change in the program and a change in the leadership was at the forefront of the meeting.”
When asked if Kramer would return next year if he hadn’t retired, Tingey responded with one word.
Kramer’s departure takes effect immediately with spring practice starting next Thursday. He did not attend Thursday afternoon’s press conference, and Idaho State will pay out a prorated amount for the final year of his contract, which is worth $164,000.
“We knew we needed a change of direction with our football program,” Tingey said. “We knew we needed to improve. And we knew to some extent that we needed some different or better leadership with our football program.”
Rob Phenicie will take over the Bengals from Kramer. Phenicie was the wide receivers coach the past two years, then was promoted to offensive coordinator Jan. 19 when Matt Troxel left for Montana.
Phenicie left Idaho State last week for an offensive assistant position at Northern Iowa. He began coaching with the team this week but will return to Idaho State for his first head coaching job. Tingey said he expects the school to finalize a contract with Phenicie, who was not in Pocatello on Thursday, in the coming days.
Phenicie, whose playing career included stops at Nebraska, Orange Coast College and Memphis, was previously the offensive coordinator at UNLV (2010-11) and Montana (2003-09), and also coached at Wyoming (2000-02). In addition to becoming Idaho State’s head coach, he will also serve as the offensive coordinator.
“It’s his experience, tied with the fact that he’s been here,” Tingey said. “He’s not new to the program. The athletes don’t need to get to know him. They don’t need to see him in action. They’ve seen him in action. I know that they like him and the leadership that he brings.
“His experience at the University of Montana is very important because they’ve been very successful, and they’re a program we want to pattern ourselves after.”
6 Winning seasons in the past 33 years for Idaho State
Kramer took over an Idaho State program in disarray in 2011 with academic probation costing the Bengals scholarships and practice time. Kramer brought a sterling resume to Pocatello with three Big Sky championships at Montana State and one at Eastern Washington. But he also came with a lot of baggage after Montana State fired him in 2007 when the fifth current or former Bobcat was arrested within a year.
Kramer later won a $240,000 settlement for wrongful termination.
While he restored Idaho State from academic probation, he couldn’t turn around the long-struggling program, mounting one winning season in six years when the Bengals went 8-4 in 2014. It was Idaho State’s first winning season since 2003 and earned Kramer his fourth Big Sky coach of the year award and a contract extension. But the Bengals went 2-9 each of the past two years.
Kramer also drew negative national attention to Pocatello when he pushed wide receiver Derek Graves to the ground in anger during a 2012 practice. Graves said he injured his neck, and ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” aired footage of the incident on national television. Idaho State suspended Kramer for one game and Pocatello Police investigated, but prosecutors declined to pursue charges.
Kramer long complained the academic handcuffs placed on Idaho State before he arrived hindered his team’s performance on the field. He recently said the priorities at Idaho State were, in order, academics, social responsibility and winning.
Tingey bristled at the remarks Thursday.
“The hard to win at ISU, I don’t agree with,” he said. “Academic standards are the same everywhere else. Our academic standards are about middle of the pack in the Big Sky Conference. We are definitely higher than some schools, but we are definitely lower than some schools.
“To say that we can’t win because of academic standards is ludicrous.”