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Sty Of The Tiger- The Stunning Downfall of the Idaho State Bengals Football Team

By Edited Jul 6, 2016 2 0

Watching Idaho State University football playing Brigham Young University recently could be compared to watching my 9 year old daughter in an MMA fight with champion Cain Velasquez. Idaho State Football was definitely outmatched. There was never a doubt that BYU would not only win the game, but would do it in dominant fashion. BYU 59- ISU-13. It’s a good thing BYU let the cheerleaders in on a few plays or ISU may have been held scoreless like they were when they lost to Washington by 56 points. Of course Washington had much better cheerleaders then BYU and they were able to hold ISU scoreless.The problem for ISU fans is that the football program has not been dominant for many years.

In 1979 the Idaho State Bengals were 0-11. Not a single win. Head coach Bud Hake was fired. Dave Kragthorpe was appointed the new head coach of the Bengals. In his first year as Bengals head coach the team went 6-5. That was a huge turnaround for the ISU football team. The question was could they keep the positive momentum moving forward for the 1981 football season? The 1980 ISU football team had finally won. The team had 19 consecutive losses, but that all ended in 1980.

The Bengals went on to surprise the Country when they won the 1981 NCAA Division 1 AA National Champions[1]. The Bengals beat Eastern Kentucky 34-23. The Bengal football team were true National Champions. They finished the season with a 12-1 record. There only loss was by 3 points when they were playing at Montana. The Star quarterback for the Bengals, Mike Machurek, was sick and not able to play that game. If Machurek hadn’t gotten sick then the Bengals would have probably been undefeated that season. It didn’t matter though, because the Bengals were National Champions!

Today the NCAA Division 1 AA football conference is now called the Division I Football Championship Subdivision. The teams in this league generally are not of the same talent that Division 1 teams are. Division 1 is for the bigger schools like Alabama, Georgia and BYU.

Unlike the football polls that are used to determine the Division 1 Champions, the smaller division used a playoff system. Initially there were only 4 teams chosen for the playoffs. In 1981 the number of teams chosen for the playoffs rose to 8. 1981 was also the year that Marvin Lewis began his coaching career. Lewis was the linebackers coach in 1981. Lewis eventually evolved from the Idaho State Bengals to the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.

After the huge achievement of 1981, the Bengal football squad was excited to try and win another championship the following season. In 1982 the Bengals followed up the National Championship by going 3-8. It was a very disappointing seasons for the Bengal faithful.

1982 was the last season for head coach Dave Kragthorpe. Kragthorpe had a 21-14 record as head coach for the Bengals. Kragthorpe left ISU with and went to Utah State as the athletic director.

Since Kragthorpe left ISU after the 1982 season, there have been 7 different head coaches for the ISU football team. All of the coaches since Kragthorpe have left ISU with a losing record. The current coach of ISU is Mike Kramer. His stats so far, in his 3 seasons as head coach the team has won 6 games total. Kramer could get his 7th overall win for the Bengals when his team plays Weber State for the final game of the season. If I was a betting though…
Although all of the head coaches since Kragthorpe have had an overall losing record, there have been some bright spots. In 1983 new ISU head coach Jim Koetter led the Bengals to the first round of the NCAA 1-AA playoffs. Unfortunately they lost to conference rival University Of Nevada-Reno. Although the loss was very disappointing, it brought a renewed surge to the Bengal fans, many of who felt confident that 1984 was going to give them a solid shot at winning another 1-AA National Championship. Unfortunately the highly regarded 1983 season was the beginning of the end for the Bengals football team.

Since 1983 the Bengals have only had 5 winning football seasons.

  • 1994:  6-5
  • 1995:  6-5
  • 2000: 6-5
  • 2002:  8-3
  • 2003:  8-4

In 2002 the Bengals slit the Big Sky Conference Championship with 2 other teams. In 2003 they followed up with another winning season. It looked like they were on track for a third consecutive winning season but instead finished up the 2004 season with a 3-8 overall record. The decline continues clear through to today. Will 2014 be a winning season for the Bengal Players? Probably not.

There have been countless reasons why Idaho State went on a huge decline. Part of the problem is awful recruiting. Idaho State sucks as recruiting. They have had some amazing recruits over the years, but overall the recruiting sucks. Sucks. There’s no way to put it nicely.

Some local fans complain when ISU recruits out-of-State recruits. I personally have heard people refer to some of the recruits as “Ghetto trash”. “Why the hell would we bring ghetto trash from California to our community”? As a whole Pocatello fans are not racist, but some of the older white people in the community still dislike bringing “colored folks” into our community who do not “respect our values”.

Some of these same people will then become a champion and supporter of the “ghetto trash” player from out of State if he performs well. These same people with these ignorant attitudes will also complain that there is not enough recruiting of local players. They feel that ISU should give the football scholarships to talented players from Idaho and preferably to those players who grew up in and near Pocatello. They will also complain if the local recruits are not performing at the level they think they should and then say things such as” why would they recruit him? We know he sucks because we have watched him play his entire career as he grew up here in Pocatello”. Some people in Pocatello can never be satisfied.

As piss-poor as the recruiting abilities are of ISU, it is at least a HUGE step above what a few of the locals could do.

As awful as their recruiting abilities are, a lot of it comes down to the awful performance of ISU over the years. Who in their right mind would want to come play for a losing team like the Bengals? ISU generally does not get the top players ever. ISU has to train and mold their recruits into football Warriors. Unfortunately no coaches have stuck around long enough to build up a great recruiting network. Some coaches have left voluntarily, while others have been fired.

Current ISU football coach Mike Kramer is a warrior at heart. ISU needs to leave Kramer in charge of his football team and let him do things his own way. ISU has a habit of firing coaches for poor performance. Of course this is not unique to just ISU football, but ISU seems to have it mastered. You cannot build up a solid recuing team if you are a small-town college who has a new head coach every few years. Kramer knew the coaching job at ISU would be extremely difficult when he took the position.

There have been many great football players come out of the local high schools in Pocatello. Some of them have been very successful in football such as current BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Taysom Hill was the starting quarterback at Highland high school in Pocatello when the team won the 2008 Idaho State Football Championship.

Taysom Hill had skills. Obviously ISU wanted Taysom Hill, but he knew he would be better off if he went and played for a bigger school. Taysom Hill was getting a lot of interest from recruiters all around the Country. Taysom Hill had offers from many large schools including Arizona, Oregon State, Boise State and Washington State. Initially Taysom committed to Stanford.

As with many young men in Southern Idaho, Taysom interrupted his college football career by going on a 2 year mission for his Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and better known as The Mormons. While on his mission Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh departed the college ranks for the glory of coaching in the NFL. This was one of the reasons that helped sway Taysom to choose a different school and he chose BYU.

It’s not that ISU can never recruit top tier talent locally for their schools; it just doesn’t work out too often for the guys. Highland High school football standout Troy Bell was recruited by ISU. Boise wanted him too. At the time Boise State was nowhere near the caliber of team that it is today, but it was still leagues ahead of ISU.

Out of the Highland Class of 1996 Troy Bell went to play football for Idaho State University and Bryan Johnson went to play for the Boise Broncos. Troy Bell was one of the greatest athletes that never turned pro. Today he still lives and works locally here in Pocatello, never having played in the Pros. On the other hand Bryan Johnson left Boise State and ended up playing in the NFL. Although his career in the NFL was cut short by constant injury, he at least had the chance to taste the glory as an NFL player. Bell never had the chance. Would Bell have ended up in the NFL if he had gone and played football for Boise instead of ISU? Nobody knows for sure but there are a few people that believe he would have had an awesome chance of going pro. If only. Dirk Koetter was the head coach of Boise State at the time. Dirk Koetter was a local guy from Pocatello and he wanted Bell to play for him. Of course Bell could have been injured at Boise and had his career end like it did at ISU…of course fate may have been different and he may not have got injured. Koetter was not only the coach of Boise, but also played on the 1982 Idaho State Bengal Championship squad.

On the other hand there have been a handful of players from ISU who have been able to evolve into the NFL successfully. The 2 biggest names are Merrill Hoge who had a super career as a running back with the Pittsburgh Steelers and then finished up his career with the Chicago bears. After 8 seasons as a successful NFL player Hoge was forced to retire because of concussions, the other player was Jared Allen.

Jared Allen attended high school in California. He started off at Live Oak High School. He was accused of stealing some yearbooks so he moved over to Los Gatos High School. Allen should have had many different colleges to choose from, but he was considered a trouble maker. His supposed theft of yearbooks drastically altered his life and he ended up playing for Idaho State University. A few of the older people in the community may have referred to Allen as “ghetto trash” if he had been black.

In 2003 Jared Allen earned the Buck Buchanan award. This award was for the most outstanding defensive player out of all of Division I Football Championship Subdivision teams. It was quite the honor for Allen. He definitely deserved it. It was an even bigger coup for ISU. They could now use Allen’s success to help improve recruiting. If only.

Jared Allen plays for the Minnesota Vikings and is an amazing player. When you consider that he played college at little Ol’ Idaho State instead of a marquee college, it is even more amazing. Allen is a huge success story for Idaho State. Maybe Idaho State could capitalize on Allen’s success to improve their recruiting. If only.

In the early days Reno, Boise, and ISU were all foes in the same conference, The Big Sky. Reno and Boise have since moved up divisions and now play football with the big boys. ISU though, is still in the Big Sky.

Occasionally Idaho State will bust out a win over a Division 3 school. The locals cheer. We need to cheer. We don’t often get to celebrate. ISU victories are few and far in-between. ISU also has begun playing big schools each year such as BYU. At these games against the big colleges ISU doesn’t have a chance at, but the payday is great for the school. It also gives these Bengal ballers a chance to play in the limelight, even if the limelight illuminated a loss by huge numbers, such as their game at Nebraska in 2012 where the Bengals lost 73-7. Good thing that Nebraska let some of their 4th stringers play or the loss could have been even more lopsided. Here in Pocatello we cheered as we listened to the radio when Pocatello scored its’ lone touchdown of the game.

Idaho Central Credit Union is a huge supporter of the Bengals. Some of the games are chocked-full of Idaho Central Credit Union employees and their families. At some of the football games at Holt arena the echoes would be extremely loud and the seats very barren if not for the support of ICCU and all of the free tickets they give to their employees. Even when the team is in the midst of a losing season, local support can still be found all-around town. Maybe this local support could help the Bengals recruit better. If only.

The Idaho State Bengals play all of their home games inside Holt Arena. Older people in the community sometimes refuse to call it Holt Arena and will still refer to it by the original name, The MiniDome.

ISU Holt Arena

The MiniDome was second only to the Astrodome, but was the first covered dome on a College Campus for sports. It was quite the achievement for little town Pocatello. Many schools and pro teams have since followed in the trend. ISU was a forward looking trend-setter. Today we need more of that forward-looking thinking. Coach Kramer needs to be left alone to do his job and the school needs to proved support to him in any way it can. Kramer’s the head coach. Kramer should lead the recruiting efforts. Don’t impede Kramer in recruiting. Let Kramer set the agenda. Don’t try an influence Kramer to choose local recruits over out-of state recruits. Leave Kramer alone. Give Kramer your full support. Victory will not come soon enough for the Bengals, but if the community and leadership at ISU leaves Kramer alone, it can come much sooner. Leave Kramer alone and it could drastically help recruiting efforts. If only.

ISU Turf

Each year Holt Arena on the ISU campus is host to the Rocky Mountain Rumble. The Rocky Mountain Rumble brings out of State teams (and Even Canadian teams) down to play Idaho teams. Some of the players are visiting ISU for the first time. They have never played inside a huge covered stadium like they get too at Holt arena for the annual Rumble. This should be an opportunity to show-off why playing ball for ISU is so great. Some of the players are extremely talented and would be an asset to ISU. The first year the Rocky Mountain Rumble was ever held some of the players from California were amazingly talented. They also loved playing at Holt Arena. As I sat in the stands with my father and sister I was excited because there were some very muscular and talented athletes who were interested in learning more about ISU. Some of these guys could have easily been starters for ISU, but instead they were in town and still playing college ball. They loved the atmosphere. I was sitting with them. They wanted to know more. This should have been a great way to help guide them to keeping an interest in playing football for ISU when they graduated. It definitely should have helped recruiting. If only.

Instead of looking at the potential prospects of possible recruiting 1 or 2 of their top players in the future, the hardcore local fans of Highland High School and Pocatello High school were instead accusing them of using steroids because “no boy in high school” can be that muscular. Yeah, way to go hardcore fans. The majority of the fans treated them well, but there was enough annoyance that some of the players didn’t care if they ever returned to Pocatello again, when only a few hours before they were excited about the future possibilities of an Idaho State Football career. If only. If only these few local Pocatello fans realized that Samoans are naturally bigger, and when they lift weights regularly they get big muscles. No steroids needed. Ghetto trash and steroid users is all that we get from big cities…unless they do good and then we are their biggest fans. If only.

The future looks bleak for ISU. Eventually the winning ways can return but they need to leave head Coach Kramer alone. Let him do his job and do it his way. We don’t need any interference from the athletic department, unless Kramer specifically asks for it. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way at ISU. If only.


When spring practice 2014 kicks off the locals will again be optimistic that possibly..Just maybe..This could be a winning year. We always hope that the upcoming year will be a winning season. If only.

Kramer does have 4 Big Sky Championships to his name, but none of them with Idaho State. Kramer had previously coached Eastern Washington where he won a Big Sky Conference title and then he also won 3 Big Sky Championships when he coached Montana State.

The 1995-1996 Highland Rams football team was one of the best ever, if not the best team Highland has ever had. They took State and about 13 players went Division 1. The 95-96 Highland High football team probably could have also Beaten Idaho State.

The Bengal faithful hope...just maybe...this could be the year.

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Bibliography

  1. "FCS/I-AA Playoff History." Petes Poll. 26/11/2013 <Web >

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