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Jeff Choate

Jeff Choate says a strong foundation is in place as Montana State begins spring football.


BOZEMAN — Cohesion is important to any coaching staff, but when it comes to keeping the band together at Montana State, Jeff Choate is a realist.

“This is a fluid business,” Choate said last week, adding, “I’ve got my list” of potential assistant coaching candidates — should he need to consult it.

Choate has been through that process once before. The Bobcats were forced to reshuffle their staff last winter after waving goodbye to offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Courtney Messingham, defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander and linebackers coach Kane Ioane.

As a remedy, Brian Armstrong was promoted to offensive coordinator and DeNarius McGhee was hired as quarterbacks coach in place of Messingham, who left to run the offense at North Dakota State. Josh Taufalele was brought in to assume Armstrong’s duties as offensive line coach.

Meanwhile, Mark Orphey (and Kyle Risinger) took over for Alexander, who was hired away by Cal, and defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak added linebackers coach to his responsibilities when Ioane departed for an analyst job at Washington.

Choate, who is as well-connected as they come, has consistently said he will support any staff member that has an opportunity for personal and professional growth, whenever and wherever that may be.

Choate indicated, though, that he doesn’t foresee any movement (if any) until the “dead period” of the newly integrated early signing process begins on Monday.

But, as Choate also noted, the early signing period — teams can collect letters of intent during a 72-hour window from Dec. 20-22 — won’t be the only factor in a potential staff shakeup.

“Recruiting is about relationships, right? So you’ve got a coach that’s developed a relationship with a young man that you want to sign,” Choate said. “Well, when that (coach) has an opportunity you may say to him, ‘Hey, I understand that that’s what you want to do, but let’s worry about this after the signing day.’ And a lot of guys that I’ve talked to, that’s their mindset.

“I know there’s going to be a ripple effect for two reasons. No. 1, I think this early signing period changes some of the staff movement that may occur in a normal year in terms of maybe delaying it a little bit, and then the other thing that’s going to happen is they’re going to go to 11 full-time coaches at the FBS level. That occurs in January.

“When that happens, then there’s going to be another domino effect. Pac-12 coaches may go into the Mountain West to fill some of those spots, and then the Mountain West may go to the Big Sky to fill some of those spots.”

The potential for financial growth is still another factor.

As head coaching salaries continue to soar in major college football — the three-year contract extension Nick Saban signed at Alabama last spring set his annual compensation at roughly $11.2 million — it creates another natural trickle-down.

Some coordinators at the Power Five FBS level are now making more than $1 million per year. Position coaches, in turn, easily haul in six-figure earnings.

It’s not nearly as lucrative in the FCS. North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman, for example, makes around $400,000 per year, including incentives. Liberty’s Turner Gill, according to one 2016 report, had a base salary hovering around $650,000.

Closer to our neck of the woods, Weber State’s Jay Hill signed a contract extension last week that reportedly bumps his guaranteed salary to $275,000 per year, making him the highest-paid coach in the Big Sky Conference.

By contrast, MSU’s Choate and Montana’s Bobby Hauck have annual earnings that, minus incentives, equal less than $200,000. Coordinators and position coaches for the Bobcats and Grizzlies, consequently, are in the five-figure base range.

Using Alexander as an example, he was perhaps the hottest commodity on the Bobcats’ staff during the 2016 season, and his base salary rocketed to a reported $160,000 when he was hired at Cal by coach Justin Wilcox.

It remains to be seen if there will be similar staff changes at MSU in the coming days and weeks.

“We’ve got some good young coaches (and) when the opportunity presents itself to grow professionally and advance, that’s something that I anticipate,” Choate said.

But, he said, “I think a lot of the men that are coaching here believe in the mission that we’re on and see the direction of the program and are excited to see this thing through.”

​Email Greg Rachac at or follow him on Twitter at @gregrachac