Notebook: Montana State coaching carryover helping provide stability

Montana State quarterback Matthew McKay runs a drill during the first day of spring practice Tuesday at Bobcat Stadium.

After Montana State found a new head coach, Troy Andersen received calls from people asking two essential questions.

What was newly hired Brent Vigen like? And would the other coaches stick around?

Andersen, an all-American athlete at MSU, was part of the head coaching search committee. He believed Vigen was a good person. He also was thrilled because he knew, for the most part, the Bobcats’ coaching staff would remain intact.

As the Bobcats took part in the third day of their spring practices Saturday, this has remained a crucial factor in their preparation for the fall season.

“We all loved our position coaches, and they’ve got us to where we’ve been,” Andersen said. “They know what we’re about, our culture and everything they bring to the table is awesome, so we’re really happy they’re back.”

Andersen and offensive lineman Lewis Kidd, two of MSU’s leaders, both expressed disappointment when previous head coach Jeff Choate departed to become a co-defensive coordinator at Texas.

Kidd was part of Choate’s first recruiting class about five years ago. He admitted it was tough seeing someone who led the program to the FCS semifinals just three years later take off. But Andersen and Kidd both understood why Choate would take up that opportunity.

Both of those players, as well as others, had a role in MSU’s search committee. Both of them appreciated they were a part of it and that athletic director Leon Costello listened to their input. They also gained a new appreciation for this sort of undertaking.

“It’s kind of interesting to have a first-hand experience of what the process is like, what different coaches bring to the table,” Kidd said. “You kind of get that different sense of who we liked, who we didn’t think was the best fit for the program at the time, whatever it was. It’s been awesome. Obviously with Coach Vigen, it’s been great. Different style than Coach Choate, but it’s awesome. It’s awesome to have a head coach who’s had a lot of experience.”

Andersen considers the change, including with new schemes, exciting. He feels like he’s a freshman again. He called it a change of scenery.

Kidd, who hasn’t been through a coaching change like this before, believed building relationships will continue to be vital.

“It’s been all signs moving forward,” Vigen said. “There’s been no resistance to the change whatsoever.”

Quarterback competition continues

Some things won’t change after Choate left and Vigen took over. The Bobcats, for another consecutive season, will have a quarterback battle.

Vigen acknowledged less than a week ago that at least five signal callers are in the mix to become the starter. That includes Tucker Rovig, Casey Bauman and Matthew McKay.

Rovig started most of MSU’s games in 2019, including throughout the Bobcats’ postseason run. Bauman was the team’s Day One starter that season until he was benched for Rovig. McKay transferred to MSU from North Carolina State following that season but has yet to play a game for the Bobcats.

Despite their histories and experiences, Vigen called the position’s situation a “clean slate.” He wants spring ball to provide competitive scenarios in order to identify who might thrive most with MSU’s new schemes.

“We’re really excited to get those guys out there,” Vigen said, “and no different than any other position, see how those guys would ultimately perform when the lights are on.”

Rather than select which quarterback will fit with his preferred style, Vigen is striving to designate which quarterback he believes is simply most skilled. Then the Bobcats will craft a game plan around that passer. He hopes the Bobcats have a strong sense of who the starter could be by the end of spring practices.

He admitted that’s difficult with a group of players who have varying strengths. MSU’s quarterbacks showed Saturday they’re comprehending the new schemes quickly.

“You’ve got to find the guy who’s most productive, and production comes in different forms,” Vigen said. “It can come from throwing the football, decision making, leadership, one’s ability to run the football and there’s more things beyond that. Who’s going to give us the best chance to win football games?”

Linebackers could be strength for Bobcats

Football has changed since Bobcats linebackers coach Bobby Daly was an all-American at that position at MSU. Rather than mammoth, bulky players, Daly wants athleticism for his position group. He believes the Bobcats have plenty of it.

With Andersen regaining health, MSU could be strong at linebacker in 2021. The Bobcats return Callahan O’Reilly, Nolan Askelson and Michael Jobman, who all have started games for the team and racked up tackles in the past. Vigen hinted Saturday that Amandre Williams, who was an all-Big Sky linebacker/lineman hybrid in 2019, and Daniel Hardy will play more as defensive linemen.

Daly hopes to be closer to establishing a depth chart by the end of spring ball. He believes MSU has several who will compete for playing time. He wants to pinpoint which players he would feel comfortable turning to.

“The guys who can be the most consistent, the guys who can make the most plays,” Daly said, “those are the guys who are competing for starting jobs when we roll into the fall.”