Montana State’s football program will have no shortage of candidates to replace Jeff Choate as head coach.
Choate left the Bobcats to take over as linebackers coach for new Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian. He will get a nice bump in pay as he heads to one of the premier college football programs in the nation following a nice run with the Bobcats.
With Bobcats assistant Kane Ioane also leaving to take the job as co-defensive coordinator at Boise State, that leaves B.J. Robertson as the top candidate among current MSU Assistants. Robertson, who was named associate head coach by Choate in November, was highly regarded as head coach at his alma matter, Montana Western, before joining the Bobcats.
The Sheridan native grew up dreaming of playing for the Bobcats, and he would be a great fit to lead them. He has been the best recruiter of Montana players for the better part of the last decade, and the recruits are drawn to him.
Undoubtably, the Bobcats will have qualified candidates from around the country interested in the job. News reports have tied candidates like Mike Riley and Jeff Fisher to the job. Riley is a former Nebraska and Oregon State head coach, while Fisher, a former Chicago Bear, is the former head coach of the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans.
Fisher, remember, lost the Super Bowl by a measly yard when he was with Steve McNair and the Titans. His son Brandon played at the University of Montana.
Another candidate linked by the media to the job is Nebraska assistant Matt Lubick, the son of former MSU coach and Butte native Sonny Lubick.
The Bobcats, remember, made a huge mistake by firing Sonny Lubick after the 1981 season. In 1984, led by a bunch of recruits Sonny brought to town, the Bobcats won the national championships.
The next year, though, the Bobcats fell apart and suffered through a long run of losing while Sonny went to Miami and the Colorado State, where they named the field after the legendary coach.
That never would have happened had the Bobcats kept Sonny. Hiring his son would be good karma in addition to a good move.
The younger Lubick has a strong résumé, which includes working under Dennis Ericson from 2007-09 at Arizona State. Ericson, a former Bobcat coach himself, just so happens to be a member of the committee charged with selecting the next head coach, so put Lubick on top of the list of frontrunners.
Lubick, however, is not the only coach with ties to the Mining City that the Bobcats should kick the tires on. Another candidate they should, and most likely will, consider is Indiana defensive line coach Kevin Peoples.
The 1989 Butte Central graduate has never been a head coach, but he would be coming from the Big 10. And the Sun Belt. And the SEC.
Yes, the vaunted Southeastern Conference.
Since his days at Carroll College, where he was a four-year starter from legendary coach Bob “Putter” Petrino, Peoples has taken one successful step after another through the ranks of college and professional football.
He coached at Blinn Community College in Texas, Northwestern State University, Northern Arizona, Central Missouri, Georgia Southern, Arkansas State, Arkansas and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Peoples also coached for the Las Vegas Outlaws in the first go around of the XFL.
Before being announced as the new defensive line coach at Indiana last March 2, Peoples coached for four seasons at Tulane University, where he helped the Green Wave win consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history in 2018 and 2019.
At Tulane, Peoples helped develop edge rusher Patrick Johnson, whose name you will hear during the 2021 NFL draft. The former Maroon mentored many future NFL players, including Minnesota Vikings end Ade Aruna and Los Angeles Rams tackle Tanzel Smart from his days at Tulane.
Peoples also recruited receiver Darnell Mooney to the Green Wave. Last April, the Chicago Bears got a steal in Mooney in the fifth round. The former Tulane standout caught 61 passes for 631 yards and four touchdowns while playing for a team without a real NFL quarterback as a rookie.
At Indiana, Peoples helped lead the Hoosiers to a 6-2 record and an appearance in the Outback Bowl. He was part of a defense that dominated Michigan and shutout Michigan State. Indiana nearly picked off Ohio State a month and a half before the Buckeyes played in the National Championship Game.
Peoples, of course, is the brother of longtime Butte Central coaches Don and Doug. He is the son of former Butte-Silver Bow chief executive Don Peoples Sr. and the late Cathy Peoples.
He comes from a long line of coaching, winning and leadership. Peoples Sr., who also coached at Butte Central, led Butte through its toughest times after the closing of the mines in the 1980s.
One of the more impressive things about Kevin Peoples is his ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of college football. He started his coaching career in 1993 for Petrino, who came from the old-school where football coaches resembled drill sergeants.
Over the next nearly three decades, Peoples has gained experience coaching with dozens of coaches with dozens of coaching philosophies.
While Peoples is far from soft, he has evolved into more of a players’ coach than a drill sergeant. His players at Tulane would certainly attest to that. There was not a dry eye in the defensive line room when Peoples told them he was moving on last spring.
“There’s no one size fits all with kids,” Peoples told me this past spring. “It’s just like people — finding a way to handle people and handle kids. That’s what it’s all about.
“When we were younger, the coach was just the coach. That was it.” Peoples said. “Coaching has changed. I don’t think the kids have changed at all. I think parents have changed somewhat.”
One thing that has not changed for Peoples is that he has been a winner wherever he went. That includes being a part of the NJCAA national championship team at Blinn Community College in 1995 or coaching in seven bowl games.
Another thing that Peoples would bring to MSU is a strong commitment to education. Through the years, Peoples coached at institutions that put the classroom first. That is one quality that drew him to Indiana and the Big 10.
“The Big 10 is obviously a great conference,” Peoples told me last year. “In the time I’ve been coaching, I think the Big 10 is the best cross between academics and athletics, or athletics and academics — however you want to put it. They are real schools.
“There are definitely lines you don’t cross in the Big 10,” he said. “They’re very similar to Tulane. Tulane is a really high-academic school, too.”
That is a calling card that could also draw Peoples to MSU and vice versa.
Put that all together, and Peoples has to be on the radar of the selection committee at Montana State. It is certainly worth a call to see if such a successful coach is interested in coming home to the Treasure State for one final move.
Without question, Kevin Peoples is definitely worth a kick of the tires and a whole lot more.
— Bill Foley writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74