By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Life in the Northwest has taught football coach Mike Kramer about getting out of the way of bulls and wild horses.
The recent 11-day break during Idaho State's spring practice wasn't the first time Kramer has seen firsthand how a rodeo in town halts football faster than an NFL lockout.
And those three wayward bulls that escaped Holt Arena on campus in Pocatello before being gathered up a mile away...well, let's just say, they should be happy Kramer, nicknamed "The Big Human," wasn't the one corralling them.
Kramer has a bit of a bullish side himself. Having previously led Eastern Washington and Montana State to Big Sky championships, the four-time conference Coach of the Year already is saying Idaho State can be a title contender this fall.
"We know what we're facing, we know what we're capable of and I think it's time for us to make some sort of ascendancy here at Idaho State to the upper regions of the Big Sky," the 55-year-old Kramer said.
"Myself and coach Don Bailey, our offensive coordinator, we walk the walk because we've been able to walk the walk (in the Big Sky). And I think our players sense that, and I think they have good confidence in what we're doing."
It was expected that Kramer would stir the pot at ISU. He led Eastern Washington to the Big Sky title in 1997 and rebuilt Montana State's struggling program into a conference champion in 2002, '03 and '05.
While it's rare for someone to be a head coach at three universities in the same conference, Kramer's hiring at Idaho State got the most attention because of the way he left Montana State after seven seasons.
Kramer was fired in 2007 after five former MSU players were arrested within a year's time, the final straw being a former player who sold drugs. Kramer filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming he was sent packing without cause and that the school libeled and slandered him.
The lawsuit was settled last August, with Kramer collecting $240,000 and neither side admitting fault. The resolution helped pave the way for Kramer to return to football as the assistant to the Director of Football Operations at Washington State. Months later, Idaho State went out on a limb by offering the bigger opportunity.
While the three years out of football - some may call it an exile - was a time of loss for Kramer, it also provided reflection.
"It gave me a unique perspective of the joys and the love of the game and the love of the players," he said. "I think any coach that's out of the profession will admit in the end that's it's not the rings, it's not the fans in the stands, it's the players and the relationships you build with those guys. You know, 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds are young guys that are very impressionable, and you can have a dramatic impact on them on a day-in, day-out basis provided you do that. I missed that a lot and I look forward to having an impact on these guys' lives, not just on the field but off the field."
The tougher job would appear to be on the field. Idaho State won the FCS title (then NCAA Division I-AA) way back in 1981, but the Bengals do not have a storied history for football, and their last winning season occurred in 2003.
Still, there's talk of considerable improvement this season because the returning talent in the program didn't necessarily match last year's 1-10 record.
Senior linebacker A.J. Storms led the FCS in tackles per game (13.3) and was voted to The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America second team. The special teams featured senior punter David Harrington, also a second-team All- America whose 44.4-yard average led the FCS, and senior punt returner Tavoy Moore, who was second nationally with an 18.3-yard average, was fifth with 184.9 all-purpose yards per game and made the All-America third team.
Senior linebacker Basim Hudeen joined Storms in the 100-tackle club. In addition, 6-foot-7 Brad Shedd is a mountainous left tackle and junior Jon van Vliet is an emerging center.
Kramer and Bailey, who were paired at Montana State as well, are implementing a fast-paced offense that often will go without a huddle and is suited for ISU's domed stadium. Glendale College transfer Kevin Yost, accustomed to a fast-paced offense, probably has the inside track for the starting quarterback job over College of the Canyons transfer Justin Arias and Kyle Morris, who gained a lot of experience as a freshman last season.
Moore, ISU's leading receiver, is being moved into the backfield as a full- time running back. A handful of transfers, including Anthony Boyles (Washington) and Myles Daughtry (New Mexico), should fill Moore's void on the perimeter. Plus tight end Josh Hill, who has good size and speed, will be a primary target.
"I wouldn't say we're fast-paced, I would say we're the fastest-paced team," Kramer said. "We really want to go as hard as we can as quickly as we can, with a minimal amount of formation and play-calling and audibilizing. We want to be able to snap the ball, get up on the line of scrimmage and run another play right away.
"Number one, we have to get demonstratively better at quarterback. We've not had an All-Big Sky quarterback for quite some time. The second thing, which goes hand-in-hand with a really good quarterback, is at least one dominant receiver."
Storms is sitting out spring practice after being one of seven players to have shoulder surgery. Moore is being held out for academic reasons.
Kramer's debut on Sept. 3 will be at the same Washington State program that he departed for Idaho State.
Clearly, the familiarity is aplenty out in the Northwest.
Mike Kramer is coaching again in the Big Sky. And those rodeos are still halting spring practice.