Phenicie vs. Montana

Idaho State head football coach Rob Phenicie stands on the sidelines during ISU’s game against Montana Oct. 5, 2019 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Montana.

Rob Phenicie wants to create a winning tradition at Idaho State football.

The Big Sky Conference preseason polls released Thursday show how far the Bengals still have to go.

ISU was voted 11th out of 13 teams in both the coaches and media polls, ahead of Southern Utah and Northern Colorado.

Weber State was voted the conference favorite in both polls, receiving seven out of 13 first-place votes from the coaches and 28 out of 42 from the media.

In both polls, the Wildcats were trailed, in order, by Montana, Montana State, Eastern Washington and Sacramento State, giving the conference a clear top five teams heading into the season.

Shortly after the reveal of the polls, Phenicie addressed what the Bengals need to do to get to that level as part of his interview at the conference’s media days, which were held remotely this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Interviews were pre-recorded and shown on Pluto TV Thursday morning.

Idaho State finished 3-9 (2-6 in the Big Sky) a year ago, ending the season on a six-game losing streak to clinch the Bengals’ worst record in Phenicie’s three years at the helm.

“The challenge this year at Idaho State is just that we’re still working on building a winning tradition,” Phenicie said. “That’s what you need here. It helps when you’re coming off a 6-5 year or a 7-4 year. ... It really gets the kids hungry. When you make the playoffs, and I found this out when I was at the other school I was at (Montana) ... that kind of motivates you.

“We need to make the playoffs first so the kids realize that there’s something that you’re really, really practicing for, that you’re really playing for.”

In an uncommon year, the media days were uncommon as well.

Instead of sitting a table in a hotel conference room, Phenicie shared a screen with Montana State coach Jeff Choate, Portland State coach Bruce Barnum and the Big Sky’s Mariluz Cook.

“It was easy,” Phenicie told the Idaho State Journal before the interview aired. “It was fun getting on there with Jeff Choate and Bruce Barnum. I’ll have a chance to watch it on Pluto, whatever that is. It was fun, they really did a good job of organizing it with the format and all that stuff, so good job, kudos to the Big Sky on that one.”

Despite the COVID-19-forced venue change and the uncertainty that remains around whether a season will even be played, discussion — during Phenicie’s time on the mic, at least — focused mostly on football issues.

He expanded on several other topics during the interview, including Wyoming transfer quarterback Tyler Vander Waal.

“We brought him in because we need competition at that position,” Phenicie said. “At the end of the season last year, we didn’t quite get the play that we needed there and it showed in our record. Tyler has come in with great leadership ability. That’s what we’re looking for, competition, and that’s why you bring guys like that in, to let the cream rise to the top. ... We need to grow at the quarterback position.”

As opposed to last year, when the Bengals returned experienced starters at almost every position except for quarterback, there are a lot of questions to answer about the roster in 2020.

ISU will be building entirely new starting groups on the offensive line and in the secondary, and working in multiple new starters at several other positions.

“You almost have to start from square one with these guys,” Phenicie said. “We didn’t have spring ball to get these guys evaluated, so you don’t really know. We’re going to have to go back to the basics, go back to the beginning and make sure you know.”

Idaho State is scheduled to start the season Aug. 29 at New Mexico.