For 14 years, Kane Ioane has been the one constant.
He was there as a freshman safety in 2000, when Montana State’s football program was gutted and rebuilt from scratch.
And he was there as linebackers coach in 2012, when the Bobcats won more games than they had in nearly 30 years while capturing a third straight Big Sky Conference championship.
A legion of players, coaches and administrators have had a hand in turning the tide at Montana State, but Ioane is the only one who’s truly seen it all -- from 11 losses in 2000 to 11 victories in 2012.
“It’s awesome,” Ioane said. “Being able to stand out there last year during those playoff games was amazing. It’s hard to reflect when you’re in the moment like that, but I made sure I did.
“We’ve come a long ways since I first stepped foot on campus in the fall of 2000. And it’s a tribute to all the guys that have come along through those years that have helped build this thing.”
Ioane, a former standout at Skyview High School in Billings, returned to his hometown last week to take part in Rocky Mountain College’s annual Pigskin Classic coaches’ clinic, where he dished out some knowledge.
In Bobcat circles, Ioane is regarded as one of the finest defensive players the program has ever had. He is still the only four-time All-American in school history.
Now as a coach, Ioane is an important piece to Montana State’s defensive puzzle. And with spring practice under way in Bozeman, MSU’s aim is to improve an already stout defense that routinely finishes at or near the top of the Big Sky Conference statistically.
In 2012 the Bobcats ranked No. 1 in the league in both total defense and scoring defense.
“When I was a player here, that, to me, is what helped establish the program,” Ioane said. “We really wanted to set the tone and set the tempo, and that tradition has carried on through these years. Regardless of the coaching staff changeover, it didn’t matter.
“The attitude of defense-first, defense wins games and defense wins championships, that attitude maintained within the program. And we’ve continued that during the past (seven) years under coach (Rob) Ash and coach (Jamie) Marshall, our defensive coordinator. He’s really taken to that, and the sky’s the limit with where we can continue to go.”
The 2013 season will mark Ioane’s fifth as the Bobcats’ linebackers coach. In that time, Ioane has developed guys like Clay Bignell, Na’a Moeakiola, and the incomparable Jody Owens, who was named the Big Sky Conference defensive MVP last season.
One of Ioane’s key tasks for the new season is to find a way to fill the shoes of the graduating Owens.
“Jody … we’re going to miss him tremendously. He was an absolute stud for me for four years,” Ioane said. “Watching (video) though the offseason and trying to get better as a coaching staff and trying to make adjustments, you noticed that guy on film. And you’re going, ‘Wow. We’re going to miss him.’
“So to say we’re going to replace Jody, we’re not. But what we will have is guys step up in that role and develop into great players themselves.”
Part of Ioane’s coaching philosophy is to never be satisfied.
The Bobcats are now one of the top programs in the Football Championship Subdivision, and their goals are bigger than before. MSU no longer is content with simply vying for supremacy in the Big Sky Conference.
They want to go deeper in the playoffs and seriously compete for a national championship.
And Ioane says it’s imperative to get there.
“That is the next step for this program,” he said. “That’s where we have to take this program, or else we’re going to be stuck with the stigma of being a great regular-season team that can’t win the big one.
“We’re competing not only against our conference -- the Eastern Washingtons, the Montanas -- but we’re also competing against Sam Houston State and North Dakota State now. And we’re competing against them every single day. And you have to take that with you every time you step in the weight room or every time you step on the practice field.
“As coaches we have to do the same thing. And hopefully when all is said and done it will correlate on the football field.”