Idaho State senior defensive end Sean Rutten looked out at the media to speak, but he seemed to be in somewhat of a haze.
ISU Athletic Director Jeff Tingey had just announced that head football coach John Zamberlin had been terminated, effective the day after the Bengals’ final game on Saturday at Eastern Washington.
“Coach Z and the entire staff all would give you the shirts off their backs,” Rutten said softly. “That’s the type of guys they are. They would give you anything at any time. Coach Z always did right by me. He respected me for the work I put into this.”
Tingey agreed that Zamberlin put his heart and soul into the program. “I have a great respect for Coach Zamberlin,” he said. “He cares deeply for his student athletes and the community. He has done good things for the young men who have been part of the program.”
At the end of the day, though, Tingey said he wanted another direction for the program. “We want to win championships,” Tingey said.
Tingey said he already has spoken to athletic directors at all the universities “in the area” about possible candidates. He said the position would be filled as soon as possible with a target by the end of the month when recruiting heats up.
Reached at his home, Zamberbin said he wanted to take some time to compose his thoughts. During a 24-year coaching career, he had never been fired.
He did ask to be able to finish the season. “I am going to finish the week out,” he said. “I told my players, I am not going to quit on you.”
Zamberlin’s assistants also were given termination notices. Tingey said he would require whomever he hires to interview all of Zamberlin’s assistants to see if they would be a good fit on the new staff.
“It’s tough,” said ISU quarterback Russel Hill. “You’ve been with these coaches and we’ve put in a lot of time together. They gave us their heart and soul and we gave it right back. It’s a blow to your emotions ... your self esteem.”
Hill praised Zamberlin for turning around the culture of the football program through his four years. “The selfishness when I got here, it is night and day now,” Hill said. “It used to be ‘me and I’ oriented. Now we lose as a team and we win as a team.”
“We understand this is a business, but coach Zamberlin has taught me little things that I will take with me the rest of my life. In am indebted to him. I wish I could have performed better for him.”
Tingey said he knows that many people will look negatively upon his decision because Zamberlin was so embraced by the community. “This is a difficult day for Idaho State University,” he said. “But one that is important.”
So what qualities does Tingey desire in a new coach? “We want a new coach who can command respect,” Tingey said. “We want a coach who can recruit strong young men, physically and academically. Those players need to be able to transition well because Pocatello is different. It is a small community.
“We want a coach who is good at speaking to people, who can promote his program. We want a coach who can stand up for his convictions.”
“First and foremost, we want to have success ... everyone wants it. And we need to not only find the best coach, but the best coach who is the right fit for Pocatello.”
Tingey wouldn’t point out specifics in terms of things Zamberlin did to make him decide to buy out the final year of his contract. “I don’t want to get into the blame game,” he said.
He said he made the decision because he felt uncomfortable that more people were becoming involved in the process and he didn’t want Zamberlin to hear the news from someone else.
Although Tingey said he doesn’t yet have the numbers in terms of what it will cost to terminate Zamberlin a year before his contract is terminated, it is likely to be well over $100,000, not counting the fact ISU most likely will have to pay a new coach much more than the approxiate $100,000 a year that Zamberlin earned.