Harsin’s instant transition

Bryan Harsin had a plan. He had to, with National Letter of Intent Day looming two weeks from tomorrow. Bryan Harsin had a plan. He had to, with National Letter of Intent Day looming two weeks from tomorrow. With Marcel Yates electing to take the defensive coordinator’s job at Arizona, Harsin needed the appearance of seamlessness, and yesterday he promoted linebackers coach Andy Avalos to D-coordinator at Boise State. Yates is a great recruiter, and Avalos isn’t far behind. In a wide-ranging interview with Jeff Caves on Idaho SportsTalk yesterday, Yates said Bronco commits and prospects, some of whom he visited as recently as late last week, are off-limits to him. “I told those guys that there was communication from Arizona,” said Yates. “I don’t lie to recruits.” And, he added, “Whenever you’re leaving a program, you don’t want to mess with recruits from that program.” With a guy like Yates, you take him at his word.

Some factions of Bronco Nation take these things personally and lash out at moves such as that of Yates. He’s coached at Boise State for 11 of the past 15 years, and he played for the Broncos for four more. How could he possibly leave? Well, he’s coached at Boise State for 11 of the past 15 years. “As far as loyality goes, I’ve been getting hit with all those questions,” said Yates. “I will always be a Bronco,” he added. “At the same time, I have ambitions.” As far as the murmurs of strained relationships with Harsin are concerned? “That’s unfair,” Yates said. “Our (friendship) goes back to 1996 when we played together. I don’t know where this whole question is about coach Harsin and people not liking to work for him. I want to see him successful—and he wants to see me be successful.”

That “always be a Bronco” thing? Yates means that. Think about his playing career. He persevered through interim coach Tom Mason in 1996 and the subsequent death of Pokey Allen, then with Houston Nutt and Dirk Koetter. Yates (and Harsin, for that matter), made it from the Broncos’ worst season ever, 2-10, to the pinnacle with the program’s first bowl championship and a 10-win season in 1999. He’ll have permanent, deep-rooted ties to the school.

It needs to be pointed out that the money dripping from Pac-12 programs—and all Power 5 schools—has driven the wedge between them and the Group of 5 exponentially deeper in the past few years. The playing field was more level, with asterisks, early this decade. But the Group of 5 is being left behind, and coaches are going to be drained from those programs ad infinitum. With that said, Yates said he had been offered more money by schools other than Arizona. “It wasn’t about the money,” said Yates. “It was about a better fit to advance my career.” Yates’ goal is to be a head coach—someday. “If I go to Arizona as defensive coordinator, does that put me in a better position to be a head coach? I think it does,” he said. The Arizona Daily Star reports that Yates’ initial salary will be $500,000, a 50 percent increase from the $333,013 he made at Boise State.

In light of what’s happened the last year-plus, with former Boise State quarterback Mike Sanford Jr. resigning his offensive coordinator’s position to go to Notre Dame and one-time Bronco defensive back Yates now departing to Arizona, let’s just assume Avalos won’t be at Boise State forever. But he, too, is a former Bronco player. Avalos played from 2001-04 and was an All-WAC linebacker his junior and senior years, wrapping up his career with his famous 92-yard pick-six against Louisville in the Liberty Bowl. His coaching path took him through Division II and Division I-AA until Chris Petersen hired him as defensive line coach in 2012. Tellingly, Yates is ecstatic about Avalos’ promotion. “That’s a perfect hire,” said Yates. “Andy was my righthand man.”

Darian Thompson’s and Rees Odhiambo’s NFL stock has risen, as the Boise State standouts have received invitations to the NFL Combine next month. Thompson, the Mountain West career interceptions leader, was already very much on the NFL Draft radar, having been invited to the Senior Bowl a week from Saturday. Odhiambo was what you might call a part-time mainstay for the Broncos the past three years. He missed a lot of time with injuries, but that didn’t keep him from being named first-team All-Mountain West as a senior. Odhiambo will be interesting as we look back on all the injury concerns over Jay Ajayi in his ramp-up to the draft last spring.

Yes, San Diego State made Boise State look bad in its 56-53 win Saturday night. But Aztecs star Winston Shepard said it wasn’t easy—and in that, you get a show of respect for the Broncos. “To be honest with you, I didn’t know they were 1-for-17 (from three-point range) until I looked at the stat sheet, I really didn’t,” said Shepard after the game. “A lot of times you are in the game and you’re so focused; ‘I can’t let Webb get one, I can’t let Duncan get one, I can’t let Drmic get one.’ They have a ton of shooters, but it just speaks to San Diego State defense, but please don’t take anything away from Boise State, those guys are a great team. Love their coach, love Webb, those guys are having a great season.” Small consolation, but a nice sentiment.

Maybe we’re becoming accustomed it now. Ugh. At the Broncos-Aztecs game, did you look down at the sideline table and scan it to see the ESPN2 announcing crew? It wasn’t there. Continuing an “experiment” (read: budget slash) it began last winter, the Worldwide Leader had announcers John Brickley and Cory Alexander perched in front of a couple big monitors in Bristol. Wrote the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Mark Zeigler, “This wasn’t some meaningless February clash between San Jose State and Air Force over a buffering Internet feed on ESPN3. This was ESPN2, one of only five Mountain West games on the network’s No. 2 channel (no games are on big-boy ESPN). This was a clash of the conference’s only remaining undefeated teams…on a Saturday night…in a near-soldout arena. It’s embarrassing.”

Here’s what the Mountain West standings look like now. San Diego State is 5-0, with Boise State in sole possession of second place at 4-1. The Broncos would be tied for second had New Mexico not been surprised in The Pit Saturday by Wyoming. Like the Lobos, Fresno State is also 3-2, and the Bulldogs face the Aztecs tonight in Viejas Arena. Look out for UNLV. It’s like a ton of bricks has been lifted from the Rebels now that coach Dave Rice is gone. UNLV is 2-3 after two straight wins in conference play, the last one a 100-64 walloping of Air Force.

Jeff Ayres had his best game as a pro with 29 points and 16 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough last night as the L.A. D-Fenders outlasted the Idaho Stampede in double-overtime, 122-118. The Stampede sent the game to OT when Treveon Graham, who put up 24 points, drained a three-pointer with 11 seconds left to knot the score at 99-99. Former Stamp Vander Blue scored 28 points for the D-Fenders, five of them in the second overtime. The Stamps play at Santa Cruz tomorrow night.

This Day In Sports…January 19, 1952:

The PGA approves allowing black participants on the pro tour. But it would be nine more years before Charlie Sifford would become the first black player to earn a PGA Tour card. And the Masters was a holdout—it would be 1975 before Lee Elder became the first African-American to play in the fabled tournament in Augusta.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)