A fixture in football in the state of Idaho for more than 30 years, former coach and administrator Herb Criner died Saturday morning at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. He had successful heart surgery March 25 but soon after had intestinal and liver complications and kidney failure.
Criner moved to Idaho in 1980 to take the head coaching job at Coeur d’Alene High, then was a Boise State assistant for four years before moving into a position with the Broncos’ athletic department, retiring in 2005. He helped his son, Scott, coach at Rocky Mountain High the past three seasons.
“Herb was involved since Day 1, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone as happy as him, being back out there with his son doing what they love,” said Dave Middleton, Rocky Mountain’s director of football operations.
With the Grizzlies, Criner helped coach the defense but was asked to help with the kickers last season.
“We had (Jonah Dalmas) get first-team all-conference kicker and punter, so right there that shows what he can do,” Middleton said. “Herb would joke that if we needed to get better somewhere, he’d help and make it better.”
Rocky Mountain won the 5A state championship Nov. 21, a fitting final game for Criner. He led Coeur d’Alene to victory in the 5A championship in 1982, capping off an undefeated season. The Vikings were 43-14 in his five seasons there.
Criner coached running backs and kickers at Boise State from 1985-88 under Lyle Setencich and Skip Hall before moving into athletic administration, serving as assistant athletic director under Gene Bleymaier for nearly 17 years. His brother, Jim, was Boise State’s head coach from 1976-82.
“He was the nicest guy I have ever known,” Bleymaier said. “He was a wonderful friend. I always enjoyed being around Herb. He made me smile and laugh constantly. Everyone loved Herb Criner. He was a fantastic administrator and one of the best people I ever worked with.
“I am grateful that I was blessed to have him as a friend.”
After news of Criner’s death, kind words poured out from all over.
Former Grizzly Ryan Beard, now playing baseball at the College of Southern Idaho, put Criner’s initials on his cleats before Saturday’s doubleheader against Salt Lake Community College.
Calin Criner, his great nephew, posted a funny video of Herb dancing in the locker room after a win.
“He helped put all of us in situations to succeed, wouldn’t have any of my opportunities (without) him and the rest of the Criner family,” tweeted former Rocky Mountain safety Khalil Oliver, now playing for Oregon.
“He’s a legend, that’s all you can say,” Middleton said. “Not many people can say they’ve had an impact on people that are in their 60s all the way to 16, but he really has.”
Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_Southorn