Big Sky Record: 2-6
Place in Big Sky: 9th
The Crazy Offseason
It was a year that seemed doomed before the start.
Former head football coach Mike Kramer was forced into retirement days before spring football was set to begin. Then, a group of boosters threatened to withhold $80,000 that didn’t belong to them until President Arthur Vailas and Director of Athletics Jeff Tingey were removed from their positions, sparking a summer filled with drama that attracted statewide attention.
ISU’s first-year head coach reminded its team every day that they were picked to finish last in the conference by both the coaches and the media. Now, he’s telling his team that 4-7 isn’t good enough. There’s still, “unfinished business.”
“4-7 is not something to be satisfied with,” said head coach Rob Phenicie. “As coaches, we aren’t paid to be satisfied.”
Proving the Polls Wrong
After getting whacked in Logan the previous week by Utah State in exchange for $280,000, the Bengals trotted into Reno, collected $300,000 and got back on the bus with a two-point victory. It was the first win over an FBS school since 2000 and fans greeted the team with doughnuts and orange juice as players exited the bus early Sunday morning.
Following one of the biggest wins in program history, the Bengals traveled to Northern Colorado the following week where ISU lost its first conference game of the year in heartbreaking fashion byway of a last-second field goal, losing by one.
It was one of three games that ISU lost by 14 points or less.
“It was frustrating,” Phenicie said. “We felt like we could have had a couple more wins there. We let a few go and we kind of faded there at the end of the season. We need to be better at that.”
The Late-Season Slide
Idaho State regained its confidence the following week with a four-point Homecoming win over Cal Poly, but lost five of its last six games, including ending the year on a three-game slide.
“I thought we made a lot of steps in the right direction as a program,” said quarterback Tanner Gueller. “4-7 is not what we set out to be, but I feel like when you step back and take a look at it, I think there’s a lot of positives that can be taken away from the season.”
Going into the Montana game, a week that featured Phenicie and former Griz head coach Bob Stitt engaging in trash talk that was mediated through both local medias, ISU had an offense that averaged 32 points and 445 yards-per game.
During its final six games, ISU failed to eclipse 31 points and the team failed to score more than 17 in the final three weeks of the season.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s an accomplished season,” Gueller said, who will be entering his third full year as a starter next season. “We expect a lot out of ourselves. That starts from Coach Phen on down.”
Idaho State finished the year ranked 10th in the Big Sky in scoring defense and 12th in total defense in a conference that houses 13 teams.
As a result, defensive coordinator Spencer Toone, who was in his fifth season coaching at ISU didn’t have his contract renewed and the Bengals are currently looking for a new defensive coordinator.
Linebacker’s coach Roger Cooper is rumored to be a top candidate.
“We have to do a better job offensively as well,” Phenicie said. “You can’t score that many points and expect to win a game. 14, 17 and seven points isn’t good enough.”
Guard Skyler Phillips, one of the four players who were given First Team honors, accepted an invitation to the Reece’s Senior Bowl and is one of three players – Mario Jenkins and JonRhyeem Peoples are the other two – who have received heavy interest from NFL teams.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see a letter,” Phenicie said on Phillips going to the Senior Bowl. “It’s a pretty big honor. If you’re going to go to one, that’s the one.”
Phenicie said that a Pro Day is a likely possibility, but a date has not been set and it would be run by strength and conditioning coach Dan Ryan and assistant coach David Fiefia.
Phenicie verbally agreed to a three-year contract extension earlier this year. Phenicie said that he and Tingey have agreed on all terms and the deal will become final once the State Board approves the deal. No further details on Phenicie’s contract were given.
Idaho State has very few scholarships to give, but will only lose nine seniors.
Four Bengals were picked as First-Team All-Conference, the most since 2003. Ten ISU players were given some type of All-Conference honor, the most since 2014. Six of the ten will return next season, including the running back duo of James Madison and Ty Flanagan.
“For running a single-back offense that doesn’t use a fullback, that’s a pretty good accomplishment,” Phenicie said.