MOSCOW, Idaho – Steve Axman has hopped around a lot during his coaching career – 15 stops at 13 universities – and at almost every job he’s specialized in mentoring quarterbacks.
But once he joined the University of Idaho in 2007, things were immediately different: Jonathan Smith was already on staff as a holdover from Nick Holt’s tenure, and the only natural spot for the former Oregon State QB was to coach his old position.
That left Axman, the Vandals’ offensive coordinator, a bit out of his element. But not any longer.
In January the University of Montana hired Smith to be its offensive coordinator and Axman took over QB coaching duties in addition to running the offense.
“I’ve been a quarterback coach most of my career so it feels much more comfortable for me personally,” Axman said this week as UI started spring practice. “I think that when a person is a quarterback coach and a coordinator, it’s kind of easier because you’re coaching a person (and not just the offense).”
As part of the staff reshuffling, Axman also relinquished his role as tight ends coach and former San Diego Chargers tight end Al Pupunu was brought in to fill the open spot.
Coach Robb Akey would rather have kept his staff intact, but the transition has gone smoothly.
“I think we’ve made the best out of that situation,” he said. “Steve Axman is a tremendous quarterback coach, and he has been for years.”
Pupunu came to UI after serving as an assistant at Southern Utah. The former Weber State star set the single-season FCS receptions record while Akey was on the Wildcats’ staff, so the two are familiar with one another.
Pupunu went on to spend nine seasons in the NFL, a lengthy career that helps get the attention of young college players. But during the interview process with Idaho, Pupunu’s teaching credentials came up more than his playing days.
“There (are) some guys who can play at that high level but can’t coach,” Pupunu said. “It’s a matter of just getting the guys to do what you want.”
Pupunu has a one more player under his wing than he expected coming into spring. Derek Wieting, a 5-foot-11 junior-to-be from Meridian, has moved from defensive end to tight end/H-back to better fill the Vandals’ needs.
Wieting saw lots of action in his new role Saturday as the Vandals practiced in full pads for the first time.
“Our offensive coaches felt like they could use some help there,” Akey said. “I had to pull him away from the defensive coaches – they still wanted to keep him. But I think it might be a good position for him.”
Tailback/returner Kama Bailey was on the sideline on crutches after sustaining a knee injury Friday. He’ll have an MRI this week and could miss the rest of the spring, Akey said.
UI will also hold out starting defensive lineman Jonah Sataraka (knee) for all of spring for precautionary reasons.
“He’s got X amount of reps on that knee and I would rather spend those reps in the fall than right now,” Akey said. “So we are doing the best thing for his knee.”