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Idaho Football

Idaho receivers coach Matt Linehan’s football journey comes ‘full circle’

Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan throws during the first half of a game against Missouri on Oct. 21, 2017, in Columbia, Mo.  (Associated Press)
By Stephan Wiebe Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Every day, Idaho receivers coach Matt Linehan gets to wake up, go to work and walk through the same Kibbie Dome doors his dad, Scott Linehan, entered as the Vandals’ wideout coach more than 30 years ago.

Before he embarked on an NFL coaching career that included stops at the Vikings, Dolphins, Rams, Lions and Cowboys, the elder Linehan got his coaching start in Moscow in the late 1980s.

Now, his son is doing the same.

“It couldn’t have come more full circle for me,” Matt Linehan said.

Like his dad, Matt Linehan also played quarterback for the Vandals. He became a local folk hero after leading Idaho to a 61-50 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl victory in 2016 against Colorado State in a game that featured the highest-scoring second half in NCAA bowl game history.

Now, he hopes to help lead the current contingent of Vandals to similar football glory in the Big Sky Conference. He said he’s grateful Idaho coach Jason Eck chose him to help in that journey.

The Daily News recently spoke with Linehan about his time as a player, his dad’s impact on him and what he hopes to bring as a coach at his alma mater.

“For me to come back here is special, because this university has done so much for me to allow me to come here and live out my lifelong dream of playing quarterback at the collegiate level,” Linehan said.

Familiar territory

If you would’ve told him two or three years ago if he thought he’d be back at Idaho, Linehan said he probably wouldn’t have believed you.

Although he last played in 2017, there still are a few players on the roster who suited up with Linehan as their quarterback. Guys like running back Roshaun Johnson, defensive lineman Nate DeGraw and defensive back Wyryor Noil all were familiar faces for Linehan upon his return.

“There’s a couple players I actually played with my last year that are still on the team, and some people in the building I’m familiar with,” Linehan said. “… So kind of a unique experience for those kids having a chance to play with them and now I’m one of their coaches.”

Linehan fits the bill of several of the coaches Eck chose to add to his new staff when he took charge of the program in December. Eck’s staff is full of young, energetic coaches that have brought a renewed energy to Moscow.

The new feel was apparent during spring camp.

“It’s an exciting time, but it’s unfamiliar territory for a lot of us,” Linehan said. “Even though I’m coming back, it’s a new coaching staff, it’s just a different feel in the building.

“So I think the players are excited about the change and what’s to come.”

A coach’s son

Every chance he got, a young Matt Linehan would go out to NFL practices or meetings with his pops.

Linehan said his parents never pressured him or steered him one way or another, but he knew at a young age he wanted to be involved in football coaching when he grew up.

“I was fortunate enough to have my dad in the NFL for 17 years and any chance I could get in high school and middle school growing up, whenever I could go to work I would,” Linehan said. “I’d just sit there and be a sponge and soak up as much info as I could for as long as I could.”

He’s thankful his dad rarely said no.

“With his schedule as busy as it was, to make time to make sure I could come around – and try to stay out of the way, but allow me to kinda be out at practice and meetings – I was always grateful for that,” Linehan said.

One of the things he was most impressed with was his dad’s ability to connect with his players – something that’s not always easy in the pros, where the stars make significantly more money than the guys coaching them.

“The best way to learn the game is learning how to teach it,” he said.

Growing up, his dad was his football coach and his mom, Kristen Linehan, was his basketball coach.

Linehan’s parents met at UI, and his uncles played for the Vandals too, so it was fitting when Linehan accepted a scholarship offer to go to Idaho in 2014.

Leaving his mark

Linehan saw individual success right from his freshman season in 2014, when he started 10 of 11 games, threw for 2,540 yards and racked up four 300-yard games.

But it also was a rocky debut to the college ranks as Idaho went 1-10 and Linehan tossed 18 interceptions to 11 touchdowns.

It wasn’t until his junior season in 2016 that everything finally came together.

The Vandals finished the year 9-4 with a bowl victory in Boise and a banner to bring back to the rafters of the Kibbie Dome.

Linehan that season completed 62% of his passes, amassed 3,184 passing yards and tossed 19 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions.

His high-stepping, 7-yard touchdown run and jaw-dropping 54-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Frysinger in the Potato Bowl remain a couple highlight plays Vandal fans re-watch again and again years later.

“There were moments, there were spurts (that) we had some bright spots, but we could never put it all together, and that year we had a bunch of games where we finally put it all together,” Linehan recalled. “I think that (bowl win) was the final tipping point to show what we were all about.

“I was just happy to be a part of that. Being the quarterback of that offense was really special.”

Back where it all started

After he wrapped up his playing career at UI in 2017, Linehan had a brief stint in the Alliance of American Football (AAF).

He “played about a half” of football for the Salt Lake Stallions before the startup league went bankrupt and the season ended.

From there, his next major stop was as a graduate assistant with Missouri in the Southeastern Conference, where he learned what the game was like in the “cream of the crop” of college football.

That’s where he was when he got a phone call from Eck about coming back to Moscow.

Linehan’s football journey hasn’t been easy. There were myriad losses, injuries and other setbacks, like living in a hotel room in Salt Lake City when the AAF went under.

But there also were successes, like lifting the Potato Bowl trophy on the blue turf in Boise and setting records in the UI history books.

Now, he gets to use everything he’s learned to help shape the current Vandals – a task he doesn’t take lightly.

“Coach Eck’s doing a great job right now and really restoring a feeling in this building we haven’t seen in a long time,” Linehan said. “For him to come in with the mindset he has and bringing in the staff he brought in, I’m just happy to literally be a part of it right now … and I want to make sure I’m doing the job they ask me to do and doing it every day to the best of my ability.”