Sports Fodder …It took Jeff Choate about two minutes to energize Nevada Wolf Pack football on Monday afternoon.
“That high octane is going to be present,” said Choate who was introduced as the next Wolf Pack head coach.
It was made very clear by university President Brian Sandoval and Athletic Director Stephanie Rempe that the Wolf Pack wanted a head coach who would ignite the program after two years of lying dormant under head coach Ken Wilson.
“He runs hot,” Rempe said of Choate. “He’s all gas, no brakes.”
There was definitely a throw-gas-on-the-fire vibe on Monday. The hibernation years of lying dormant are over, Wolf Pack fans.
If you were looking for a reason to care about Wolf Pack football again, to come back to the program physically and emotionally after the last two years of losing, well, Rempe and Sandoval gave it to you on Monday.
“Jeff Choate will change our town,” Rempe said. “He is a culture builder.”
“This is something we’ve been waiting for,” Sandoval said. “She (Rempe) knew, we knew we had to get this right. We found a great football coach at the right time at a very crucial moment in Nevada football.”
Choate clearly won the press conference on Monday which, don’t forget the reason we arrived at Monday in the first place, is only three victories less than Wilson had in two seasons.
Nevada football has never had a coach inject the community and the football program with so much energy so quickly since Chris Ault came back home from Las Vegas in December 1975.
“I’m ready to go,” said Sandoval, who was a teen-aged Wolf Pack fan when Ault took over the program in the 1970s. “I’m ready to run through a wall.”
Choate is exactly what Nevada football needed.
The Pack, above all else, needed a head coach who has the ability to motivate, inspire, excite and, yes, sell Nevada football.
Yes, there was clearly a if-you’re-not-with us-you’re-against-us vibe going on Monday. And by the end of the press conference nobody was against anything silver and blue.
Selling, unfortunately, is what college sports is all about now.
Wilson was not a salesman. But Choate could sell a red sports coat to Chris Ault. He’s going to motivate his players and he’s going to motivate you to give part of your paycheck so he can buy players.
“It’s going to be a fun ride,” Choate said. “This is what I was born to do. I’m a great fit for this community. This is a blue collar community. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work together.”
Sandoval, it was obvious on Monday, is still more politician and Wolf Pack wide-eyed teen-aged fan than he is a university president. We spent the press conference waiting for him to rip open his shirt and reveal his F-UNLV sweatshirt.
It was certainly good to see Wolf Pack fan Sandoval re-emerge on Monday. That, too, has been dormant since Sandoval signed off on the strange and peculiar hiring of the mellow and low-key Wilson in December 2021. It returned on Monday.
How could the same guy who hired woe-is-me Wilson hire the pants-on-fire Choate just two short years later? Well, just be glad he did, Pack fans.
“He’s a tenacious and ferocious competitor,” said Sandoval of Choate. “He’s truly a leader of the Pack.”
Even the cliches were inspiring on Monday.
Sandoval made zero effort along the lines of downplaying the importance of the hire.
“This is a new chapter in the history of Nevada football,” Sandoval said. “This is a big moment in this university’s history.”
It is hard to argue with him. Never has a university president fully understood the moment better than Sandoval on Monday.
Wolf Pack football, it is obvious, is at a crossroads. The last two years have totally changed the sport and, before Monday, seemingly left Nevada behind.
The Name Image Likeness revolution, where players expect a living wage to play the support in addition to a free education, has overwhelmed college sports in the last two years like a suffocating mushroom cloud.
It’s threatening to obliterate mid-major universities like Nevada. Wilson, it was obvious, was never going to ignite the community in a way that would grow the Pack’s NIL coffers.
Choate now puts the Pack in the NIL circus for the first time.
Give Sandoval and Rempe full credit for firing Wilson after just two years and not delaying the inevitable by giving him a third year. Sandoval and Rempe, above all else, showed the community just how important the sport of football is to the university.
Rempe is a ball of fire and energy and she stepped up in a big way during this hiring process. For the first time we actually feel the Rempe-Sandoval team can transform Nevada athletics reminiscent of the days when president Joe Crowley and athletic director Chris Ault did the same in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Wolf Pack football program, maybe for the first time since the sport came back from a one-year hiatus in 1952, is starting over right now.
Rempe and Sandoval knew better than anyone that delaying that start for another year might have left Wolf Pack football on life support.
Well, the patient now is indeed alive and on the road to recovery.
Choate has only been a head coach in college football once before, at Montana State from 2016-19.
He went 28-22 in those four years and got to the FCS (Division I-AA) playoffs his last two years. His teams improved each year, going 4-7, 5-6, 8-5 and 11-4.
So don’t worry about his ability to coach and lead young men. He’s done it before. He’ll continue to do it, especially now that a Division I-A FBS school has finally given him the keys to the program.
But head coaching experience doesn’t always lead to future success. A lot of former Wolf Pack head coaches had previous head coaching experience before coming to Nevada. See Jim Aiken (Akron), Chris Tormey (Idaho), Gordon McEachron (Pepperdine), Joe Sheeketski (Holy Cross), Buck Shaw (North Carolina State) and R.E. Courtright (Pittsburg State).
Tormey and McEachron were two of the least successful Pack head coaches in history. Wilson stole their game plans.
But Choate also has one of the more impressive resumes for a Wolf Pack head coach in school history. He’s coached at Utah State, Eastern Illinois, Boise State (2006-11 under Chris Petersen), Florida, Washington, Montana State and Texas.
He’s more than qualified to be the head coach of the Nevada Wolf Pack. Couple that experience with his personality, well, he was Pack perfect.
Wilson and Choate have traveled in similar circles for many years.
Choate was a Boise State assistant under Chris Petersen from 2006-11 when Wilson was a Nevada assistant under Ault. The only time Wilson and the Pack won in those years against Boise State was 2010, 34-31, in overtime.
Choate joked about that memorable game on Monday.
“The last time I was in Reno my field goal kicker (Kyle Brotzman) missed (two field goals),” Choate said with a laugh.
Choate’s Montana State Bobcats lost to Washington State and linebackers coach Ken Wilson, 31-0, in 2017. Wilson was then offered the Montana State top job after Choate left for Texas (to be co-defensive coordinator) in 2021 (he turned them down and returned to Oregon).
Wilson also replaced Choate in 2013 at Washington State as linebackers coach. Choate was with the Cougars for just one season (2012) before getting hired at Florida in 2013.
And now Choate replaces Wilson.
The most interesting thing about Choate’s background is that he was on Petersen’s Boise State staff in the glory years of Broncos football.
It’s taken more than a decade but maybe some of that Boise State magic will finally rub off on the Wolf Pack now that Choate is calling the shots.
But that sort of thinking might be drinking a bit too much of the Wolf Pack Kool Aid. Just because you are around great coaches, after all, doesn’t mean you are a great coach. It just means you might be the Forest Gump of coaches, in the right place at the right time.
That Boise State era was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime era in college football history, when mid-major teams could build programs that could compete with Power Five teams on any given Saturday.
It’s almost impossible now because of NIL money. Boise State, ley alone Nevada, will never even be the Boise State from about 1999-2019 anymore, at least not on a national scale.
The best the Boise States and the Nevadas of the world can hope for now is to dominate the Mountain West. The Broncos, by the way, just won the conference title game three weeks after firing their head coach (Andy Avalos). Choate was considered for the Boise job that went to Spencer Danielson, the guy who won the final three games.
How much did Choate have to do with Boise’s success from 2006-11? Well, he was just a running backs, linebackers and special teams coach. Petersen was the head coach, Bryan Harsin was the offensive coordinator and Justin Wilcox was the defensive coordinator for the bulk of those years.
So, yes, maybe hiring Choate and expecting to capture the secret to Boise’s Chris Petersen success is about as realistic as was hiring Wilson and expecting Chris Ault’s success at Nevada.
One risk of hiring a coach like Choate is that he will have a year of significant success and then leave town. He did it at Montana State, in a state he loved (he played at Montana Western) and in a job he claimed he loved.
Losing a successful coach, though, is just the price of doing business at Nevada. And it is certainly better than having to fire the coach (see Jeff Tisdel, Chris Tormey, Brian Polian, Wilson).
Choate will be 54-years-old next fall in his first season at Nevada, the very same age Jay Norvell made his Wolf Pack debut in 2017. And Norvell left in the middle of the night.
Nevada was clearly a destination for Wilson. Did that make him a good coach? When he was hired be promised to never leave which, it turns out, turned into a threat.
But for a coach like Choate, especially if he wins Mountain West championships, Nevada won’t be a destination.
And that is perfectly fine. All we ask of Choate is that he doesn’t pull a Norvell when he does leave, and doesn’t take almost the entire offensive coaching staff and all of the meaningful wide receivers and quarterbacks with him.
Choate announced on Monday that his offense was going to run the ball.
That, maybe more than anything else, was the most disturbing thing he said.
Nobody this side of the service academies bases everything they do on offense on running the ball anymore.
It’s not 1985 anymore. You run now to protect leads. You throw the ball to get leads.
Choate is a lifetime defensive coach, another thing that is a bit disturbing. It’s almost impossible, after all, to recruit big-time defensive talent to a mid-major school.
So maybe when he declared his love of running the football that was just the old linebacker coach in him coming out, puffing out his chest and telling the world he loves physical run-it-down-your-throat football. Maybe he was just trying to throw some respect Ault’s way, a guy who loved to run the ball so much he invented an offense (the Pistol) to do it efficiently.
Let’s hope it’s not more than that. We have nothing against an offense that can run the ball but let’s hope Choate hires an offensive coordinator that also knows how to throw the ball.
The Pack went 2-10 in each of the last two years because it couldn’t throw the ball consistently. We’ve had enough of that.