So, Mike Kramer, how is the rebuilding going at Idaho State?
As only a former lineman could put it, the Bengals football coach explained in concrete terms that he’s barely into the third stage of a four-part project.
“First was decon- struction, then demo- lition, and this year is the excavation,” said Kramer, now in his third year in charge of the Big Sky Conference’s most downtrodden program.
“Next year, that’s when we rebuild,” said Kramer, whose previous stops at Eastern Washington (1994-99) and Montana State (2000-06) were successful partly because he had something to work with.
Kramer was quick to credit Dick Zornes, his predecessor in Cheney, for laying the groundwork for a winning tradition, which Kramer in turn passed to successor Paul Wulff.
In 2008, the torch was passed to current coach Beau Baldwin, “and Beau has expanded on it,” said Kramer, who went 37-32 at Eastern and reached the I-AA (now FCS) semifinals in 1997.
In Pocatello, on the other hand, “We’ve had a long period of being as god-awful as we can be,” said Kramer, who added that the deconstruction and demolition phases were needed to cure the “general malaise” at a school that celebrated a national I-AA title in 1981.
Back then, Eastern was still competing at the Division II level. Now the Eagles are among the top programs in FCS, winning the national title in 2010 and ranked third going into today’s game in Pocatello.
Meanwhile, the Bengals have gone through eight coaches. The most successful was Larry Lewis, who went 40-49 over eight years but was fired after a 2-9 season in 2006. In the meantime, former Big Sky rivals Idaho and Boise State moved on to the FBS, the latter in spectacular fashion.
Things only got worse. John Zamberlin was hired away from Central Washington in 2007, then dismissed after compiling a four-year mark of 6-39.
At the same time, Kramer went 40-43 at MSU before being fired in 2007 after several football players were arrested on drug charges. Kramer later settled with Montana State over the circumstances of the dismissal, which never involved Kramer’s product on the field.
The numbers in Pocatello aren’t pretty: just six winning seasons in the last 32 years, a losing streak on the road that’s 43 games and counting, and a 17-game losing streak in Big Sky games that was snapped three weeks ago against Northern Colorado.
That game alone indicates progress under Kramer, who is 7-23 overall through 2½ seasons. Last year, the Bengals gave up at least 50 points in seven of their eight conference games. This season every Big Sky game has been in doubt going into the second half.
Kramer knows the numbers by heart: 72 touchdowns given up last year, but only 24 so far this season, the product of a veteran unit and a revamping of the defensive staff after the 2012 season.
“A lot of the credit goes to Coach Kramer for the difference you are able to see, one year to the next,” said Baldwin.
But even as Kramer tries to turn the corner, he makes it clear that there are few more corners to turn – or demolish.
“It’s got to happen in your offensive and defensive lines, and that takes time,” said Kramer.