Idaho State head football coach Mike Kramer is about to enter the last year of a three-year extension he signed after the 2014 season despite rumors around campus regarding a possible dismissal.
According to Athletic Director Jeff Tingey, coaches are graded, in order, on three things – player grades, player off-field performance and conference record.
Out of the 122 FCS teams, ISU ranked 118th in yard and points per game defensively.
The new look 4-3 defense gave up 531 rushing yards to Portland State, who did not complete a pass reroute to a record setting afternoon, while Southern Utah, Montana and Northern Arizona combined for 1,116 yard through the air, including a game in which Montana backup quarterback Chad Chalich set a school record for passing touchdowns single-game with seven.
ISU attempted 313 rushes on the season gathering 1,358 yards on the ground, both good for last in the conference.
“In general, we expect our football team to be successful on the playing field,” Tingey said. “We want to be successful and are not satisfied with the existing performance. We would much rather be 9-2 or somewhere in the middle.”
This season, ISU was banged up on the offensive line, and had to force younger players in the secondary as the Bengals lost a number of corners for a variety of reasons.
Despite going 2-9, there were positives.
ISU lost to North Dakota by seven and held the Fighting Hawks’ potent rushing attack, 206 yards on the ground, a number that is typically much higher for North Dakota, who earned a first-round bye in the FCS playoffs after going 9-2 on the year.
The offense was able to keep pace against Montana until quarterback Tanner Gueller left the game with an injury.
ISU only trailed Oregon State by 16 in the third quarter after a 75-yard highlight reel run by Jakori Ford in Corvallis.
Special Teams turned 180 degrees from the 2015 season, as punter Sean Cheney was awarded Third Team All-Big Sky.
The team is young, and has very few scholarships to offer for the upcoming season.
During Kramer’s six-year tenure, the Bengals have had one winning season and an overall record of 18-64. During the first two years of his three-year extension, ISU has gone 4-18 overall and gone 2-14 in Big Sky play while some players made headlines.
Although defensive lineman JonRhyeem Peoples was never convicted, he was charged with two felony accounts of marijuana distribution. He was dismissed from the program until the court proceeding were concluded.
“He was charged but was never convicted,” Tingey said. “He was never a part of the team until those court proceeding was finished. When that occurred, we welcomed him back to the team, but not on scholarship.”
According to the Idaho State Journal, Peoples pled guilty to reduced charges on two misdemeanor accounts of marijuana possession. He returned to the team the same day he was sentenced and his case is currently sealed by the courts.
“As soon as we knew anything about JonRhyeem, he was removed from the team,” Tingey said.
As far as player grades. they are the highest they have ever been in over fifteen years, according to Tingey.
“In the classroom, it has been outstanding,” Tingey said.
The lack of team success on the field and Kramer’s coaching style has caused some players to seek alternative options.
One former ISU player who wished to remain anonymous said he is giving up a full ride scholarship to transfer out of ISU to play for a partial scholarship in Division II or Division III.
“A lot of people are telling me I’m crazy,” the source said. “I understand that it is a free education. But for me, it’s not about the money. There are a lot of places where I can go and get the same education or even better… I would rather give up a full ride scholarship to go somewhere else and enjoy my time wherever I am.”
This source is not the only player who has transferred out of ISU during Kramer’s three-year extension.
At the end of the 2015 season, starting quarterback Michael Sanders transferred to Henderson State.
“I just didn’t feel it was the right fit for me here at Idaho State,” Sanders told KPVI Pocatello, Idaho Falls in an on-camera interview in 2015. “It’s unfortunate because I really would have liked to be here but I just have to move on.”
According to the source, “Half the people see it as they have a scholarship that they don’t want to give up and half want to transfer because [the coaches] don’t respect talent here. They don’t put them on the field.”
Starting quarterback Tanner Gueller says he hasn’t heard any rumors of anybody wanting to leave the program.
“I don’t hear too many of those comment on the team. I don’t know where he is getting those from. I feel like we have a lot of guys behind Kramer,” Gueller said. “As far as half the team not wanting to give up their scholarship and half the team wanting to leave, I haven’t heard any of that. Every guy I talk to is fully invested in this offseason and progressing to next season.”
According to the anonymous player, Kramer never gave him an opportunity to show what he could do on the field, saying that he already knew he was going to transfer before conference play began.
“I hear a lot of players saying that they don’t like Kramer,” he said. “Coaching, taking over everything, them not getting a fair opportunity, they don’t feel like they are going to get anything out of this program in the future.”
Gueller feels differently.
“I think that from the top on down, from scholarship to walk-on, it doesn’t matter, you are going to get your chance to show what you can do to play football,” Gueller said. “It is a matter of expectation to get that opportunity and capitalize.”
Starting out, the source was sold on ISU as many recruits are, but when he talked to former players, some warned him about ISU.
“I asked former players, how was the school and everything,” he said. “Some of them told me don’t come here and some told me it is what you make it.”
According to the source, this is abnormal.
“A lot of other programs will get their athletes, build them up and help them go to the next level,” he said. “And here, I don’t feel like I gained anything, I didn’t learn anything, I didn’t get pushed harder enough to reach my goal.”
“It happens in every single sport and every single year, there is somebody who is not happy,” Tingey said. “You can never please everyone but we are looking out for the greater good of our student-athletes, our program and the university.”
“It is a business of pimps and hoes,” the anonymous source said. “They use you, they get what they want out of the athlete and some programs they just forget about them after they graduate.”
According to Tingey, all departing athletes take an exit interview with the Athletic Advising Board, a third party group in which Tingey doesn’t see names, only the sport.
“Those interview have been very valuable to us,” Tingey said. “That student-athlete should feel comfortable and safe speaking to that group.”
Tingey said responses vary from year-to-year.
“I think for the most part, the student leaving the university is positive. They have gained valuable athletic and academic experience.”
Kramer signed a three-year extension at the end of 2014, where ISU went 8-4 and almost punched a ticket to the FCS playoffs.
According to Kramer’s contract extension, the head coach makes a base salary of approximately $154,000 per-year, up about 10 percent from his base pay prior to the extension.
According to Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications Stuart Summers, Kramer’s salary was about $164,000 this season.
The reason for the $10,000 difference can be easily explained.
The contract allows for a coach to earn more than the base rate of pay. The head coach may receive incentive dollars for things like winning a certain number of games and may earn supplemental dollars through University-operated summer camps.
In addition, Kramer is to receive one percent of the contractual payment on money games if the team loses, and three percent if the team wins. ISU was paid a total of $900,000 to play Colorado and Oregon State,that means the coach would be compensated $9,000, which gets close to the $164,000 figure Summers provided.
According to the contract, ISU would have to pay out the rest of Kramer’s contract as liquidated damages if the program were to let him go.
“Ultimately, I have authority to hire and fire our coaches,” Tingey said, who confirmed Kramer would be coaching in 2017 season. “But I will always discuss those things with Dr. Vailas and with the other vice presidents of the university.”