THE FRONT ROW WITH MARK NELKE: Feb. 9, 2014 - Coeur d'Alene Press: Sports

THE FRONT ROW WITH MARK NELKE: Feb. 9, 2014

Happy with progress - to a point

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Posted: Sunday, February 9, 2014 9:45 am

Preparing for his second season as Idaho football coach, Paul Petrino, in general, said he was pleased with the progress of the program.

But, as someone once said, you are what your record is, and last year's 1-11 record was a little hard for Petrino to stomach.

"I've won everywhere I've been my whole life," said Petrino, an assistant at Carroll College, Idaho, Utah State, Louisville, Southern Mississippi, Louisville again, the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL, Arkansas, Illinois and Arkansas again, before the Vandals gave him his first head coaching job in December 2012.

"So maybe my ego told me I'd come in and win 'em all right off the bat. And to be honest with you, I thought I would. No way did I think I'd win one game. I thought for sure I'd win six. Because I always have. So, it was a little humbling experience, but I think we had a great recruiting class (announced last Wednesday). I really like the attitude, the energy of the building right now. So I'm excited to have a great offseason, spring ball, and it'll really help being in a league next fall so our schedule's not quite as crazy."

PETRINO, IN Coeur d'Alene last week for some booster functions, touched on several topics in an interview, including:

* On why his family lives in nearby Pullman, not Moscow:

"I did it for my kid (Mason, a sophomore who last fall was Pullman High's starting quarterback). In Idaho, football and soccer are both in the fall. He grew up being a really good soccer player and football player. In the state of Washington football is in the fall and (boys) soccer is in the spring. So he can play both. He wouldn't have been able to do that in Idaho."

Mason usually plays midfielder in soccer, sometimes at forward, Paul Petrino said.

Mason's twin sister, Anne Mari, plays softball and soccer - seasons that don't conflict in Washington or Idaho.(The youngest, Ava, 7, attends a Catholic School in Moscow).

"She's seven, and she's moved six times," Petrino said. "I've made them move a lot. This was the last move we wanted to make to get the twins through high school ... (and) to let them both play the sports they want to play."

Rob Spear, Idaho's athletic director, said he was totally on board with that ("We're a family-first university," he said.) He also noted that when John L. Smith was coach of the Vandals in the 1990s (Petrino was a Vandal assistant during part of that time), he lived in Pullman.

* On the hits his quarterbacks took last year. Both the starter, Chad Chalich, and his backup, Joshua McCain, ran the ball a lot last year - sometimes by design, sometimes by necessity. But both suffered shoulder injuries that caused them to miss several games (Chalich, the Coeur d'Alene High product who started seven games, was injured early in that seventh game, and never played again the rest of the season).

"We've just got to protect (them) better in the pocket," Petrino said.

(Last fall, prior to the season, Chalich was asked about perhaps running out of bounds instead of taking on the tacklers. Petrino, sitting nearby, interjected, saying something to the effect of, "if he does that, he won't be our quarterback.")

Last week, Petrino clarified: "We don't want them to get hit THAT much, and that was something, I didn't say EVER, if you run out of bounds. That was just something last year in our system, and where we're at in our system and in our offense, those guys had to make plays. We never told Ryan Mallett that (when he was Arkansas quarterback). We never told Brian Brohm (Louisville QB) that. So as the offense gets better, and we get a whole bunch more playmakers, yeah, the quarterback can run out of bounds. But last year, they had to be one of our main playmakers.

"Chad was one of the tougher kids on the team, so he was one that got us going sometimes, with those runs."

Petrino said he hopes quarterback Jake Luton, a senior at Marysville-Pilchuck High in western Washington who signed last week, is able to redshirt this fall, saying he would then have a quarterback in every class (Chalich being a redshirt sophomore this fall, and Matt Linehan a redshirt freshman). That would seem to suggest that Gunnar Amos, a Coeur d'Alene High senior this year who plans to grayshirt next year at Moscow, would likely redshirt in the fall of 2015.

Then again, Petrino cautions, if the younger QBs prove to be worthy of playing early, they'll play, rather than redshirt.

* Adding kicking depth: Last year, as a true freshman, Austin Rehkow from Central Valley High in Spokane capably handled punting and placekicking duties for the Vandals, earning several national honors for his punting.

But he had no backup, meaning an injury would essentially cost the Vandals two players. Petrino said Idaho has a player that plans to walk on this fall and compete for the placekicking duties. He couldn't mention his name because, being a walkon, he hasn't signed a letter of intent.

* Changing the culture: The Vandals have had only one winning season in the last 13 years, and are 3-21 over the last two seasons.

"Like I said, I thought I was going to win six games my first year, so yeah, it's been harder," Petrino said. "There's a whole lot of different ways to win football games.

"What our program is, and what we believe in, is hard work. And we grind all the time, and that's probably different from a lot of different (programs). We hit a lot more in practice. We probably go a lot harder than other people do in practice. So yeah, it took the players a while to adjust and get used to it. But now they have, so I think we'll move forward."

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached by phone at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter at CdAPressSports.

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