For 11 months in 1997, Houston Nutt tried to repair a Boise State football program that was hurting after the death of popular coach Pokey Allen.
Nutt was a fast, smooth-talking coach who said all the right things. He was a podium-thumper: Emotional and passionate. He was deeply spiritual and preached about the power of love and joy. He cried after a 58-0 loss at Washington State because he was proud of his players.
Fast forward to 2023, last week specifically, as Spencer Danielson took his shot at repairing a Boise State football program that was hurting after the firing of coach Andy Avalos, a beloved former player.
Danielson is a fast, smooth-talking coach who says all the right things. He’s a podium-thumper: Emotional and passionate. He is deeply spiritual and preaches about the power of love and joy. He almost cried after a 45-10 victory at Utah State on Saturday night because he was proud of his players.
One coach was phony – and left Boise State after one season, in the middle of the night.
The other is genuine and sincere – he’s been a loyal assistant coach since 2017 and hopes to remain at Boise State for many nights to come.
Danielson is Boise State’s interim head coach who, despite all his wonderful qualities, hopes to make Jeramiah Dickey’s job painfully miserable over these next few weeks.
Dickey, the Broncos’ athletic director, fired Avalos because of division and issues inside the locker room. Dickey’s primary responsibility between now and mid-December is to find a coach who can bring unity to the roster, among many other things. I’m guessing that his working list of candidates could include Danielson, coaches within the Boise State family, and coaches on Dickey’s personal wish list.
Danielson wants the job – and he was masterful in his first audition Saturday night in Logan, Utah. Players played with passion. They played for the love of the game. They played with joy. They played together.
That was not always the case under Avalos, a good man who couldn’t make it work. He was more serious. More businesslike. More tight. Not right or wrong, just different.
The post-game scene in Logan was all about pandemonium – and a Gatorade shower. Two of them. Danielson felt overwhelmed. He found time for a quick knee and a moment of reflection. He looked another coach in the eyes and did everything he could not to cry.
“It was an emotional game for everyone because of how much this team has been through,’’ Danielson said Monday. “At the end of that game, it just brings tears to my eyes even thinking about it. To be able to have that moment together, I love these kids dearly and it was just awesome for them to have that.’’
Danielson, at times Monday, carefully and cautiously, continued his audition for the job, building momentum for his case after Saturday’s impressive outcome. He was asked about his head coaching philosophy, and didn’t shy away from an answer: Hire good coaches and mentors. Empower them. Trust them. Build confidence. Let everybody do their jobs.
Or, in his words, hire coaches who teach players about life beyond football. “At the end of the day, that’s why I do this,’’ Danielson said.
Danielson has plenty of work ahead, starting Friday afternoon against Air Force. There are Mountain West championship implications. There are roster and recruiting implications. There are hiring implications. There are financial implications for Dickey going into the 2024 season.
A loss would be devastating for all, and would relegate the Broncos to a bowl game that would be hard to embrace. A win would create more emotions, which is part of the problem.
Dickey can’t hire his next coach based on emotions. You don’t marry the first person you kiss – and you don’t hire a football coach because he beat Utah State and Air Force. Combined, those two teams have lost six of their past eight games.
No doubt, Danielson has the locker room wrapped around his finger right now. He also understands the difficult chore ahead and is attacking this opportunity with what he calls juice and energy. Winning gives him a chance to remain in the community that his family loves. Winning gives the entire Boise State family hope.
“We’ve still got such an amazing chance. … 2023 football, our story hasn’t been written yet. It’s not finished,” Danielson said.
For the final chapter, I’d love to see Dickey hire a coach from outside the family. It hasn’t happened since Dirk Koetter in 1998, a hire that sparked the greatest generation of Boise State football success.
I’d also love to see Danielson win three more games – and make this hire nothing but torture for Dickey and his committee of decision-makers.
That would be a win-win for Boise State football, which reminded us of one thing Saturday night: Big wins, genuine love and sincere joy feel pretty damn good.
Mike Prater is the Bronco Nation News columnist who co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk (KTIK 95.3 FM on Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m.) and the Boise State football postgame show (KBOI 670 AM). He is on Twitter @MikeFPrater and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org