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Interview: MSU’s Coach Choate
Jack Thorsen | Friday Sep. 2nd, 2016
In late 2015 Montana State University welcomed Jeff Choate as the 32nd head football coach at MSU. An Idaho native who graduated from UM Western in 1994 Coach Choate has spent most of his 24 seasons in coaching within a 10-hour drive of Bozeman. “This is what I’ve worked my entire career for,” Choate said, “to lead a college football program.”
Choate played football at Montana-Western in Dillon, graduating from that school in 1994 (BS, Secondary Education). His coaching career began with the Bulldogs in 1991-93 before he began a high school career coaching career in Idaho. He became head football and track coach at Challis High School (1994-96), was an assistant football, wrestling and baseball coach at Twin Falls High School (1996-97), and was Athletic Director and Head Football Coach at Post Falls High School (1997-2002).
“When I got into coaching I didn’t just set out to be a head coach,” said Choate. “I’ve always wanted to be a Big Sky Conference coach. It’s the league I grew up around, and I have strong ties to Montana. One of my most enjoyable years in coaching was at Eastern Illinois in the FCS level because it’s a great balance between a great brand of football, talented players, and the commitment of the kids to getting an education, which is the reason we’re all in this. The direction of the program under Coach Ash, the leadership of President Cruzado and the vision of Peter Fields all make this a tremendous opportunity.”
The Division I chapter of Choate’s coaching career began in 2002 at Utah State, where he coached the defensive line (2002) and specials teams and safeties (2003-04). He coordinated special teams and coached safeties at Eastern Illinois in 2005-06 before returning to Idaho. Choate worked as special teams coordinator from 2006-11, also coaching running backs (2006-08) and linebackers (2009-11). He was defensive run game coordinator and linebackers coach at Washington State in 2012, and after a brief time at UTEP in the spring of 2013 moved to Florida, where he coordinated special teams and coached outside linebackers. The next season he took over special teams and defensive line duties at Washington, where he coached in 2014-15.
MSU Football contributing writer Jack Thorsen caught up with Coach Jeff Choate after a practice in August to ask a few questions.
JT: When the coaching job at Montana State opened up earlier this year, why did you seek the job?
JC: A lot of it had to do with my connection to Montana from years ago. Going to school in western Montana and my wife being a Dillon native, we have a lot of familiarity with the Big Sky Conference. It’s something I knew I wanted to do: be a Big Sky Conference coach. I felt like this was one of the better jobs, and the opportunity to be in Bozeman is attractive as well.
JT: When you first got here, what did you want to focus on the most?
JC: Just building relationships with the players. I wanted to make sure we built a relationship and they knew my door was open and they can trust me. I wanted to instill a culture and Core value with these guys and make sure they know how we do things. It’s a three-step process. We build a culture and then trust each other and then spring training comes around and that’s when we begin to practice and play between the white lines.
JT: Is there anything the team needs to improve on before the first game on September 1st?
JC: A lot ! I just don’t think it’s ever a finished product. Even on a touchdown play there’s going to be one of those 11 guys that didn’t do his technique just the way you wanted it and that’s one of the challenging things about being a college football player. You hear a lot of constructive criticism from the coaches and there’s never a perfect football player. [Our} coaches efficiency in play calling [is another thing we can improve on].
JT: Are there any players that have really stood out to you in this out-season, whether it’s on the field or off?
JC: There has been a number of guys who I think have stood out especially the seniors like Chad [Newell] knowing they have shoes to fill coming into this season. Austin Barth has really stood out at tight end and Khari Garcia is leading that defense real well. Also, Tyler Bruggman, knowing he has a big spot to fill at quarterback, has really stepped up.
JT: You kind of already answered this in the previous question, but it’s getting very close to that first game in Idaho. With Dakota Prukop leaving earlier this year, people are obviously wondering who will play quarter back this season. Will it be Tyler [Bruggman]?
JC: You know I was asked that same question by a reporter this morning, and I answered it the same way. At least you heard what I said (laughs). But yes, Tyler has really stood up well. I think he will be the one to fire that first game, but he’s not the only one in contention. Ben Folsom has been really good at training, so we’ll see when it gets closer to that first game.
JT: What would you like the Bobcat fans to know before the season starts?
JC: I just want them to know that these players are working hard, and there’s still a lot we have to improve on before that first game in Idaho, but hopefully it’s a fun season. I can’t wait to get out there and hear all the people supporting us.