BOZEMAN — Things have changed considerably since Kane Ioane's most recent fall camp at Montana State. Coach Jeff Choate's no-quit culture is firmly in place and expectations are heightened for a program looking to build on a playoff berth a year ago.
Ioane is also now married with a 14-month-old daughter named Avah, a fact he beams about when he considers all the differences that exist from when he was an All-America safety at MSU from 2000-03 and his first stint on the coaching staff from 2004-16.
“This is the worst I’ve felt,” Ioane said with a smile during an interview session following fall camp practice at Bobcat Stadium on Sunday. “I miss my daughter, I miss my wife. It’s like, ‘Wow, what is happening?’ I haven’t had this feeling before.
“But I loved yesterday when my daughter came out onto the grass fields and was running around, I had to almost choke back a tear. That tugged on the old heartstrings a little bit.”
But make no mistake, Ioane is in full-on football mode in his second turn as the Bobcats’ defensive coordinator.
For the former Billings Skyview High School standout, this is all about business.
Ioane held the defensive coordinator role previously at MSU in 2015 under Rob Ash before leaving to serve as a quality control analyst at the University of Washington for two seasons in the spring of 2017.
He was brought back to take over the coordinator job when Choate parted ways with Ty Gregorak in January. Ioane is also now serving as MSU's safeties coach.
“Memories start to flood back in as you step foot into the stadium,” Ioane said. “It’s a great feeling, but it’s still business when it’s all said and done. It’s still about getting out there and coaching these guys up, and you push all the nostalgia behind as soon as you step between the lines because it’s about business from that point on.”
Ioane was Choate’s first linebackers coach in 2016 before accepting his apprenticeship at Washington under coach Chris Petersen. The Bobcats, though, are a defensive carbon-copy of the Huskies scheme-wise, and Choate likened Ioane’s two-year stop in Seattle to attending finishing school.
As a result, Ioane has returned to MSU a more polished version of himself.
“I see a lot more command from him,” said Choate, who himself spent several years as an assistant under Petersen at UW and Boise State. “He’s got good support around him and he’s got that core knowledge that he gained when he went to Washington. So he’s a lot more poised and he’s a lot more in command.”
“Kane is really, really detailed and really driven,” senior defensive end Bryce Sterk said. “He’s very serious. I think that carries over onto the field and guys know they can’t make mistakes because Kane’s going to see it and make sure he’s on us about it. With him being a former Bobcat it gives us a greater sense of importance in everything we do.”
By the same token, Ioane sees a big difference in the MSU program, even from just three years ago.
“It’s drastic. And that’s what so cool about transitioning from the University of Washington and the culture that they have built there, coach Peterson and that staff and the amazing job that they’ve done there,” Ioane said.
“Coach Choate’s vision when I left here was very similar to what they have established there at the University of Washington. And now coming back you can just tell that the culture has completely flipped and changed in the right direction.
“This is a player-run locker room. Those guys over the course of the summer did an amazing job as far as the leadership is concerned and setting the standard. And you can just see it as we go about practice every day, how these guys come prepared for meetings. It’s just a drastic flip as far as the culture is concerned. It’s awesome to see and be a part of.”
Ioane’s first go-round as coordinator in 2015 did not go as he’d hoped. The Bobcats’ defensive confidence was nonexistent by then and the performance suffered, and it ended up, in part, costing Ash his job after nine otherwise successful seasons.
But Ioane seems far more confident in what he has to work with now — a group that boasts 10 players with at least some starting experience, including cornerbacks Tyrel Thomas and Greg Filer, safeties Jahque Alleyne and Brayden Konkol, linebackers Chad Kanow and Michael Jobman, and Sterk, who had 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss last year.
Mix in Washington dropdowns Amandré Williams at the hybrid “Buck” position and 6-foot-6, 300-pound interior lineman Jason Scrempos and the pieces appear to be in place. And don’t forget: Troy Andersen is slated to play outside linebacker this year, too.
“I walked into a very good situation,” Ioane said. “I’m very fortunate in that regard. I come back and I’ve got five seniors in the back end, really three of which are all-conference caliber players. Up front, it’s one of the better-looking fronts that I’ve seen since I’ve been around Montana State as far as the talent level, athletic ability (and) physicality.
“We’ve got some guys that look dang good when we get off the bus. And the linebacker corps, same thing. That is a very deep, talented group.
“Personnel-wise the pieces are there. It’s our job as coaches, as a defensive staff, to put the pieces in the right place.”
The Bobcats will conduct their fourth practice of fall camp at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Dyche Fields.