Four days before spring football was set to begin, former head coach Mike Kramer was forced into retirement. Current head coach, Rob Phenicie, was brought back to Idaho State after leaving for Northern Iowa and offensive coordinator Matt Troxel was brought back after leaving for Montana.
Then earlier this month a group of football boosters told the Idaho State Journal that they were going to withhold $80,000 until Athletic Director Jeff Tingey and university president, Arthur Vailas were removed. It later became known that the $80,000 was only $58,000 and that the money already belonged to the university, meaning there was no money to withhold.
Phenicie’s new contract is a two-year deal worth $85,000 annually. Phenicie is guaranteed to be head coach through the 2017 season and is also guaranteed at least an offensive coordinator position for 2018.
Athletic Director, Jeff Tingey told the Idaho State Journal that the plan is to sign Phenicie to a multiyear deal as head coach following this season. Idaho State still has to pay out Kramer’s contract, which is worth $164,000.
The main question for the football program is whether this political turmoil will have an effect on the players this season.
“We just block it all out,” said senior linebacker Mario Jenkins. “Its 90 players right now, just focusing on us. I just play football. That’s what I’m here for.”
“[It’s] wild for my family,” Troxel said on moving three times in one offseason. “My wife is a saint. I’m the easy part, I’m the one that just gets to go right away. She’s the one that’s [going] to pack the house and take care of the kids.”
After having a baby in December, Troxel said he sold his house in Pocatello, bought a house in Montana, and three months later, bought a different house in Chubbuck.
The Bengals did not finalize a coaching staff until mid-July when Kam Yancy was hired to coach corners from Oregon State. Yancy is the older brother of newly added running back Kieran Yancy, also from Oregon State. Kam Yancy said that it was Oregon State head coach, Gary Andersen, who referred Kieran to Idaho State, not him.
“It just happened that way,” Kam Yancy said. “It’s good to have him here.”
The Bengals return most of an injury riddled offensive line from last season.
Chase Collins is slighted to start at right tackle after two shoulder surgeries, Skyler Phillips will start at right guard after missing seven games last season and Brian Fineanganofo will protect quarterback Tanner Gueller’s blind side at left tackle after missing first five games in 2016. Sophomores, Jacob Molenaar and Dallen Collins will round out Idaho State’s offensive line, both of which started all eleven games last season as freshmen.
“They are a little older,” Gueller said on his offensive line. “We have great leadership with all five of them. They have improved tremendously.”
Gueller, now a redshirt junior, is entering his second full season as the starting quarterback. His cast of receivers includes his older brother, Mitch Gueller. Redshirt sophomore Chris Reynolds Jr., senior Hagen Graves and the speed-demon slot receiver and former running back, Michael Dean complete the lineup.
Ty Flanagan got most of the first-team reps in fall camp as running back but James Madison, who was nursing a minor injury throughout camp and Yancy should also see time on game day.
“We can’t go through a season with one running back,” Phenicie said. “We have to have three or four.”
Despite the addition of quarterback Gunnar Amos, a transfer from the University of Idaho, Phenicie said the starting job belongs to Gueller, who had been in the system for four seasons, compared to Amos’ four weeks.
“Tanner is obviously going into the game starting,” Phenicie said. “Gunnar hasn’t had the reps that the other three have had. We know what we have with the other guys so we need to see if Gunnar can play.”
“He has so much more confidence now than he had,” said backup quarterback Robert Kvinsland on Gueller. “He keeps getting better as his confidence keeps growing.”
The Bengals will run the same up-tempo style, pistol and shotgun offensive that it did under Kramer but with a few added wrinkles.
“Maybe a different flavor of what I like more or what Phen likes more compared to what we have done in the past,” Troxel said.
Defensive coordinator, Spencer Toone will keep the same 4-3 look the Bengals implemented last season.
The strength of the defense will be the front seven, as the Bengals return both starting outside linebackers in Jenkins, who plans to declare for the NFL draft, and Joe Martin, who had 88 tackles a season ago.
Christian Holland and Kody Graves battled for the starting middle linebacker spot throughout fall camp, but Toone said both guys would see playing time during the season.
“It’s a grudge match,” Toone said on position battles. “Those are the areas where we really have to solidify people… At the end of the day it’s all about production.”
The secondary is an area that saw a flurry of position battles throughout camp. The second corner spot and now both safety positions with the injury of Jayson Miller, saw a constant rotation of players throughout camp.
Caleb Brown, who was saw less reps due to a minor injury, Brandon Monroe and Kobe Lowe all saw first-team reps as corner during camp and Tucker Louie-McGee and Adkin Aguirre shared a healthy dose of reps as safety.
The defensive line will see a constant rotation of players as the Bengals return three players who appeared in all eleven games last season. Eight of the 13 defensive linemen appeared in eight or more games last season.
“We have some decent depth there and we need that depth because you are constantly rotating guys in. You need your d-line out there the whole game,” Toone said.
The Bengals open the season Thursday night at Holt Arena against Western Oregon. Idaho State will then travel to Utah State and Nevada before opening conference play on the road against Northern Colorado.
The Bengals next home game will be the homecoming game on September 30 against Cal Poly.