SPOKANE, Wash. — For what feels like the millionth month in a row, Idaho State coaches and players have stressed one thing. The words vary, but the theme remains.
It’s a new era.
The past is the past.
We’re turning over a new leaf.
In fairness to the Bengals, they have to say these things. First-year head coach Charlie Ragle and the team hasn’t yet started this new season, which begins Aug. 27 with a road matchup against UNLV, so for now, they have to ask you to trust them. They want to put last season’s one-win campaign — and the previous years of forgettable football — in the rearview mirror and zoom into a new age like Marty McFly in Back to the Future.
But around the Big Sky Conference, do their peers think they’re driving the iconic DeLorean, or the starter sedan you get when you turn 16? Do they think the Bengals are on the right track? At Monday’s media availability at the Big Sky Kickoff, the Journal set to find out.
We chatted with head coaches at schools around the conference about Idaho State and whether they think the Bengals are headed in the right direction. Here are their answers.
Question: What is your perception of ISU’s team?
Jay Hill, Weber State: I think everybody’s perception of Idaho State is you better be ready to play when you play. And I loved Rob Phenicie. I thought Phenicie did a great job. And you better be ready defensively when you played his offense. I think Charlie Ragle will be the exact same way. He will play great special teams, he’ll play great defense. He’ll have offensive intelligence.
They have enough talent. And they’ve had good coaching. And so it’s not like you’re going into a game where you think that they’re going to be unsound. When you play against them, they’ve had good coaching, they will continue to have good coaches.
Brent Vigen, Montana State: As far as teams that came out and competed, I thought last year on that Saturday, in Bozeman, they came out and did just that. And being able to do that through the season that they had last year speaks to those kids, their willingness to continue to fight, and I’m sure they’ve turned the corner with the new staff, and there’s a new excitement and hunger there.
Aaron Best, Eastern Washington: I think it’s one of the toughest places to play on the road, number one. I think a lot of coaches would echo that…. They’ve always had good players. It’s just like you mentioned — just kind of collectively putting that together.
Troy Taylor, Sacramento State: They’ve got good players and Charlie will do a great job. They’re brought in a good staff. I think they’re gonna do a great job. You know, it’s a tough conference, in terms of week-to-week, anybody can beat you. So that’s the hard part of it in the Big Sky — you gotta take them one at one at a time. But they’ll do a good job. They’ve got everything they need there to be successful.”
Bruce Barnham, Portland State: It’s getting better. I think they have some great pieces there. And honestly, I think you can still do it… But we used to recruit because of the people at that place. Great people in that area.
Question: Do you think ISU is on the right track? What will it take to get there?
Barnham: Yes, I think so… You have people that give a damn. You have people that are investigating. So that’s what you need. That’s what you have to have. If you don’t have the support, I don’t care who you are. When I played, Montana was like, ‘Oh, it’s Montana.’ But then all of the sudden, they put money in goods and facilities, and now look where they’re at. Now they’re doing it.
You know, people probably love (athletic director Pauline Thiros) or hate her, but Pauline is (freaking) smart. Pauline is one of the smartest (freaking) people I know. So with her guidance, she knows what’s going on and what she needs to do. She made a great decision — she didn’t hire me.
Hill: I mean, people talk about turning things around, and the reality is the league is brutal, and you’ve gotta be really good. And you’ve gotta have good talent, and you’ve gotta have things to recruit to. So I put it as much as anything on the administration. You have to invest in facilities. You have to invest in infrastructure such that you can recruit to, because ultimately it comes down to having great players. And I will say this: I don’t think it had much to do with the coaching. I thought Phenicie did a great job, and I think Coach Ragle will do a great job. They have to invest in the infrastructure of the program.
Vigen: That’ll be something that we’ll witness through the course of this season. Any time you’ve got a group of guys that endure what they did last year, go through a coaching change — a coaching change isn’t easy to go through. I’ve been a part of it as a player, and as a coach, and you get on the other side, you do have a renewed energy. So being successful is about momentum. It’s certainly about having talent. And I would suspect that they have a little bit of both of those. It’ll be interesting how it develops for the fall.
Best: I mean, (Ragle) was a Pac-12 assistant coach that wanted the opportunity to be a head coach. And I think he’s excited about the opportunity. It makes our league better if they’re better. So I love competitiveness. I love challenges. We don’t play them this year, but I know in the past, it’s been a very difficult place to play for a lot of reasons.
Taylor: Absolutely. I think there’s a lot of excitement. And like I said, (last season) was my first time up. I had never been to Pocatello. It was a very nice place. I love the dome. It’s definitely an advantage playing in a dome, I think. And once you get that thing filled up, it’ll be a tough place to play.”