Jeff Choate had a lot of good inspiration to draw from when he was hired as Montana State’s football coach after the 2015 season.
He had coached at Washington, Washington State and Florida after he’d left Boise State following the 2011 season, having spent the prior six years on the Broncos’ staff. There were ways to pluck from each, but the Boise State ties were very much in the front of his mind.
Choate hired ex-Boise State players Gerald Alexander, Byron Hout and Matt Miller as assistants. Alexander is now at Cal, while Hout and Miller remain with the Bobcats. Choate went back to the Boise State well in May when he hired Nate Potter to coach tight ends.
“When you first build a staff, there’s not a road map, you have to ask what is most important?” Choate said. “To me, it was familiarity, loyalty and knowing the culture we want to establish. Those guys who played at Boise State, you knew they’d check all the boxes.”
There was perhaps a belief a while back the challenge to duplicate the Boise State formula elsewhere was difficult. Choate bristles a bit at that thought, especially since he’s trying to create his own in Bozeman.
But the parallels are certainly there, be it geographically or in mentality.
“We talk about it quite a bit, trying to replicate in Bozeman what we had in Boise,” said Miller, who is Montana State’s offensive coordinator. “It’s something that’s not easy to do, obviously, but the blue-collar mentality really fits. The facilities aren’t like what Boise State had even a decade ago. Guys walk a half-mile each day to the stadium to practice, but they aren’t complaining one bit.”
In Choate’s first three seasons, the Bobcats improved from four wins to five to eight. They’re 3-0 against Montana and reached the FCS playoffs last season for the first time since 2014.
At Boise State, it was about maintaining a culture of success that preceded Chris Petersen’s staff, of which Choate was a part. In Bozeman, it took a little more of a turnaround. Even the seemingly minute things stood out — Hout, the defensive line coach, said players now wear the same gear when they work out. They used to wear whatever, but now, it’s a sign they’re all on the same page.
“All of us came into Boise State at different times, but all had a ton of success there, so we all have seen up close what it takes to get there,” Hout said. “Petersen was all about the big picture, so we keep guys focused on that, but those little things make big things. You make some things slip, and it can keep sliding away from you.”
Potter and Miller have mined their ties for a little more outside help — both played alongside Kellen Moore, and the duo recently visited Dallas to pick the brain of their old friend, the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive coordinator.
“The guy is a football genius, so having the relationships we’ve had now since we were in college have really helped,” Potter said.
The Bobcats are poised to be among the top teams in the Big Sky again, returning a 1,000-yard rusher in Isaiah Ifanse, most of the starting offensive line and sack leader Bryce Sterk. Three Idahoans are on the roster, all from Meridian, including quarterback Tucker Rovig, who Choate said had a slight lead in the race for the starting job coming out of spring practices.
Choate hopes to make the Treasure Valley another recruiting pipeline, again utilizing those local ties. Another way of doing that may be continuing what he’s done in who he’s hired.
“It takes a little time to get that flywheel spinning, and then the challenge is to keep it that,” Choate said. “… That’s where we’re at, and who knows, to maintain it, maybe that includes getting a few more ex-Broncos in here.”
A native of Helena, Montana, Miller played for Boise State from 2011 to 2014 and remains the school’s all-time receptions leader with 244. After a tryout with the Denver Broncos and an ankle surgery, he intended to leave football behind.
He worked at a ranch in tiny Pryor, Montana, before reaching out to Boise State about working as a quality control assistant. He was hired by Choate as receivers coach in December 2015. Seven games into last season, Choate promoted Miller to offensive coordinator and playcaller. Miller also coaches the quarterbacks. The offense averaged 410.3 yards per game after he took over, 339.7 ypg before.
“I was always so focused on making sure my unit was dialed in, then had to think about the whole offense, and that’s an area (where) I’ve continued to have my mindset grow,” Miller said.
Choate on Miller: “I felt like when he was 18, he was 28. He’s an old soul, very mature. He’s a Montana kid, someone I’ve known for a long time. His great uncle married my wife and I. A few weeks before the change, I asked if he would be ready to call plays if I asked. He didn’t hesitate to say yes, and I knew he’d be ready when the time came.”
A productive defensive end/linebacker at Boise State from 2008 to 2011, he had 157 career tackles with 10 sacks and five forced fumbles. He also, of course, was involved in the 2009 fracas after beating Oregon. He was a defensive graduate assistant in 2012 under Choate at Washington State before returning to Boise State as a GA for three seasons.
Choate hired him as the Bobcats’ defensive line coach in December 2015. Hout recently oversaw Washington transfer Bryce Sterk’s outstanding 2018 season (8.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss).
“It was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, as long as I remember, to be a coach,” Hout said. “The best thing I get out of it is the success of the kids. On the field is awesome, but even helping them setting up a bank account, stuff like that.”
Choate on Hout: “Byron is one of the most passionate guys I’ve been around — a really smart kid. He’s a self-starter, just knew he’d be a home run. I coached him, I worked with him, and as a defensive guy, he knew I was going to have a lot of opinions, and he can handle that.”
Named to Boise State’s 2018 Hall of Fame class, Potter played offensive line for the Broncos from 2008 to 2011 and became a consensus All-American as a senior. He played two seasons for the Arizona Cardinals before spending four seasons as a quality control coach and GA at Boise State. He spent 2018 as the offensive line coach at the College of Idaho. He was named the Bobcats’ tight ends coach May 20.
“It was really exciting to get that call, just made me think about how neat the Boise State connection is,” Potter said. “It’s a flashback to the college days, crashing at Byron’s house as I get settled. It’s a great community like Boise is, and working with guys I know makes it a special opportunity for me.”
Choate on Potter: “I celebrated a lot of wins with him, but didn’t spend a lot of time with him. I knew Matt had his eye on him, and I wanted him to tell me, but he kept saying, ‘Whatever you think is best, Coach.’ My brother (Jon) is a coach at the C of I, and he said it should be a no-brainer to bring him on. Chris Strausser, Scott Huff, the guys that coached him, they all said the same thing.”
National championship player, ex-assistant dies: Mike Bradeson, a defensive back on Boise State’s 1980 Division I-AA national championship winning team, has died after a cancer battle, according to the University of Nevada. Bradeson had four interceptions in his two seasons playing for the Broncos in 1979 and 1980. He served as an assistant coach at Boise State from 1981 to 1985 before stints at Nevada, Cal and UNLV. He coached at Nevada for 13 seasons (1986-91, 2010-16) and most recently worked in the Wolf Pack’s community relations branch of the athletic department.