At a place where creativity has been the norm historically, Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin had the opportunity to take that approach with his staff at a critical juncture.
The Broncos had two openings on the defensive side of the ball, and they were coming off an atrocious year on special teams.
On Jan. 4, Jalil Brown was brought in to coach cornerbacks, and on Jan. 18, Jeff Schmedding was hired, prompting new responsibilities for most of the assistants. Coming off his fifth season at the helm, Harsin saw this as a chance to fill needs, not just hire solely on vacancy.
Harsin is 52-15 with two Mountain West titles coaching at his alma mater.
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“I looked at it personally as ‘take those five years, what did you learn, what was good and what was bad?’ ” Harsin said. “(Then) take that into the next five years and really try to start over, in a way.
“Just because we’ve done it, doesn’t always mean it’s the best way to do it.”
Schmedding’s addition was key — the defensive coordinator at Eastern Washington the previous four seasons, he was hired when Boise State had an opening for a defensive line coach. Chad Kauha’aha’a had left for USC in December, but that didn’t necessarily mean the Broncos would just go find a guy who coached the line.
Harsin shifted outside linebackers coach Spencer Danielson to coach the defensive line, and Schmedding took over coaching Danielson’s crew. Importantly, Schmedding had coached special teams for seven years at EWU. He’ll be the co-special teams coordinator with running backs coach Lee Marks.
“We want to do some things differently on special teams, to bring in some new perspectives with the foundation we already have,” Harsin said.
Kent Riddle had overseen special teams in Harsin’s first five seasons and, while it was always a collaborative effort, change was needed. Football Outsiders ranked the Broncos’ special teams 121st in the nation in 2018, and better than 73rd once the previous four seasons. Schmedding said, “I like to be aggressive in our schemes.” Boise State has not blocked more than three kicks in a season since 2011.
“Whatever happened before doesn’t factor into how I attack it, because I wasn’t a part of it,” Schmedding said. “... It has to be an all-in attitude, the whole team has to be involved.”
Harsin stressed that his staff is “all low ego, high output,” and Danielson has fit that. He was a linebacker in college and has coached the position his entire career. But his intelligence, recruiting acumen and energy should translate into a new spot.
“He could coach quarterbacks. He can connect with anyone,” Harsin said.
Offensively, Riddle will focus primarily on tight ends (33 combined catches last season) while aiding Harsin as associate head coach. Zak Hill, the sole offensive coordinator the last two seasons, will continue to call plays but will share the OC title with receivers coach Eric Kiesau.
Kiesau’s group greatly exceeded expectations last season, and as a coordinator in previous stops at Fresno State, Washington and Colorado, he could add his flair to an offense that replaces its starting quarterback, top rusher and top two receivers. However, he doesn’t foresee a massive overhaul.
“Maybe some of the decision-making, Zak and I will do together, but we’ll operate the way we have in the past, there won’t be a lot of change,” Kiesau said. “... Now you can lean on both of us.”
Boise State isn’t out to reinvent the wheel, and the wins have still rolled in, but as Harsin looks to a season with key spots to fill and some question marks, trying to be proactive was the goal. It was an unusual shakeup, but one that he’s optimistic will work.
“We’ll find out. ... We can all come back and say ‘great idea’ or ‘bad idea,’ but I think right now, it’s the right thing to do,” Harsin said.