BOZEMAN — Fall football camp gets under way in less than a week, and a familiar face is returning to the practice fields at Montana State.
Kane Ioane, one of the legendary Bobcats in program history, is back on the coaching staff, taking over the reins of the MSU defense.
As a player, Ioane was a four-time all-American and helped lead the Bobcats to back-to-back Big Sky Conference championships in 2002 and 2003. He joined the coaching staff in 2004 and served in some capacity until 2017 when he left the program to further his career at the University of Washington. After he spent two years with the Huskies, Montana State announced Ioane’s return to Bozeman in January.
Ioane, who is now married and has a daughter, sat down with MTN Sports this spring to discuss his coaching development, off-field growth and what it means for him to return to Montana in this week’s Sunday Conversation.
MTN Sports: First, you’re back. What’s it feel like to be back in Bozeman?
Kane Ioane: “It’s been good. It’s been a whirlwind. I’ll tell you this, though: The first couple months, particularly February when it was just dark, snowy, cold, negative degrees, snow everywhere, there was a time where I was like, ‘Ok, what did I do? Why I am here?’ And my wife was looking at me the same way every morning, ‘Really? We came back for this?’ But, no, it’s been awesome. We know that with Montana comes these types of weather situations where you’re going to have those types of week, but in the end, the sun’s going to come out, the snow’s going to melt, it’s going to be beautiful Montana.”
MTN Sports: This community’s growing and changing so much, how different was it when you did get back here in February compared to when you left?
Ioane: “Just the amount of houses that are coming up on a daily basis is unreal to me. There’s a few new restaurants, a few new places. Sidewinders, in particular, is a place I’ve frequented with my wife — they’ve got unbelievable pretzels, really like their atmosphere over there. It was a new spot we hadn’t been since we’d been gone. It’s cool. Just to see how far Bozeman has come since, really, my freshman year in the year 2000 until now, it’s a whole different town. I can remember on my recruiting visit, I stayed at the old Wingate Hotel, which I think is a Holiday Inn Express now. It was the Wingate, I think Costco had just been built, and that was literally the only thing on 19th past, I want to say, Oak. It’s pretty cool to see the size of Bozeman. The community itself is still so welcoming and genuine. It hasn’t lost its local flavor.”
MTN Sports: When it was announced you were coming back, there had been obviously the rumors and stuff, I don’t know if Bobcat fans could’ve been anymore excited than to see Kane Ioane come back — you’re my mom’s favorite player — what’s it mean to you have that type of support with this community, this program?
Ioane: “That’s what makes Bozeman so special, that’s what really makes the state of Montana so special, is just that tight community feel, really that family-type feel. They’re just so genuine, genuinely happy to see myself, my wife, my little baby daughter, and it just makes you feel really good. It’s a special, special place. And I tell people that all the time, you can tell recruits that all the time. Until they actually experience it, they don’t really know. Being out at Seattle — and it was amazing, the University of Washington was an amazing experience — but you still miss that feeling of being able to walk around town and have people come up and say, ‘Hey, welcome back. Welcome home.’ It’s a unique, special feeling.”
MTN Sports: When you left, the rebuild was in progress. Now you’re back and they’re coming off a playoff win. Just as far as the excitement around the program, maybe the focus, the goals, where are they now compared to where they were when you were here previously?
Ioane: “I think that first year when we were all together in 2016, we were starting the process of, ‘How can we get ourselves back to where Montana State football should be?’ Coach (Jeff) Choate was trying to implement what he felt should be the proper culture in which a successful team should have, a successful program should have. Initially it was a struggle, it was tough, because when you’re talking about changing culture, you’re talking about changing habits, you’re talking about changing a lot of things, and it takes time. It’s a process. I step away, I actually going to the University of Washington and kind of see the end result, to a certain extent, of coach (Chris) Petersen and how he had built that culture there at the University of Washington from when had first got there until then. It was kind of cool to kind of go from, here’s the start, here’s really what the end result could be. And then now getting a chance to come back and see how much progress has been made and see how close we are and to have seen, watched the playoff games, and to see the guys and just the way they go about their business, how they handle the locker room, and it’s so different from when I first left in 2016. That has been extremely encouraging, extremely positive. It’s been fun to just watch, ‘Ok, we’re on the verge. We’re on the verge of doing some special things around here.’ And we’ve just got continue on the path and stay disciplined to that path and to that process.”
MTN Sports: How about for you personally? How have you changed, how have you grown in those two years that you were out west?
Ioane: “A lot, a lot. More almost personally than professionally, to be honest. Professionally, there was so much that I was able to take in and absorb as far as just everything that coach Petersen and his staff — coach Jimmy Lake, coach Pete Kwiatkowski, the defensive staff, Ikaika Malloe, Bob Gregory, I could go coach by coach as far as some of the guys that I was able to be around and take things from and just how much they’re so detailed-oriented out there and how to truly have a successful program. So much growth in that regard. But actually in comparison to how much I grew personally, it’s funny. It takes kind of a step behind when you talk about: me getting married, now I have a wife, have a little baby daughter, 10 months old, those two things in itself changes you so much. No matter how much people will tell you, ‘Hey, having a kid’s going to change you, getting married’s going to change you.’ You think, ‘Ah, whatever. I’m always going to be the same person.’ You are, but you’re not, because you understand that priorities change.”
MTN Sports: Did you and Matt Miller and Bobby Daly all plan this? All newly married and kids now? How did you guys all sync up like that?
Ioane: “We did not plan it, by any means. But it kind of makes it fun for all of us to kind of be going through similar processes and similar personal things outside of the football realm. It gives us a lot of things to talk about and a lot of fun conversations, to say the least.”
MTN Sports: What’s your best newlywed, new-father story you can share with us?
Ioane: (Laughs) “There’s so many of them, there’s so many of them. I’m sure if my wife was sitting here she could share all the real goods as far as some of my fatherhood mistakes so far. But I’ll tell you this: This is not really a funny story as much as it just, for me, motivation and inspiration. I watch my daughter and how she progresses and how she goes from, literally in 24 hours how much she changes. Just her unbelievable determination to, ‘Ok, I got to figure out this crawl thing.’ So, one day she’s down on all fours and she’s just kind of rocking back and forth, can’t quite figure it out. Literally 24 hours later, she’s crawling. And now she’s trying to take her first steps, and she’s falling, after fall, after fall. She just bit her tongue today, because she fell and hit the table, and blood everywhere. But guarantee it’s not going to deter her from trying to walk, right? I’m trying to have that same type of mental capacity where it’s like, I don’t care what type of obstacles, adversity you’re facing. If I could just have my 10-month-old daughter’s mentality as far as just that, ‘never satisfied, that I’m going to keep going regardless of what happened, I may fall multiple times,’ if I can just maintain that type of mentality through life, I’m going to be pretty successful, right? If I can share that with my players, we can be pretty dang good. There’s just so much that you wouldn’t think that you would be learning from a 10-month-old daughter, but she’s teaching me something every single day. It’s kind of fun to go through that.”
MTN Sports: So we have a 10-month-old who is basically the defensive coordinator at Montana State?
Ioane: “That’s exactly it. (Laughs) That’s exactly it. So, fans out there, if there’s any issues, take it up with my daughter.”
MTN Sports: Did you ever think that you would be coming back here as the defensive coordinator, joining this staff that you kind of started this rebuild with?
Ioane: “To be honest, I didn’t think I would be back as quickly as it happened. When I stepped away to go to the University of Washington, I anticipated me being away from Bozeman for some time and kind of seeing where the profession would take me. But at the same time, there’s always that little pull. Bozeman has some kind of gravitational pull for all of us former players and alumni and those that have experienced such great experiences that I’ve had here, and the fact that I always felt like coach Choate and I were on the same page in a lot of different ways and we had similar visions as far as where Montana State should be. When that opportunity arose — was not, by any means, anticipating or expecting it — but when the opportunity arose, there’s no way I was going to pass that up.”
MTN Sports: If you can, take us back to December, January when this opportunity did arise, what was the conversation and what was the pull for you to maybe stick it out at Washington versus coming back?
Ioane: “The opportunity arose, I believe, I want to say, actually coming back from the Rose Bowl and having gone through that experience, which an unbelievable experience. Just had kind of a couple brief conversations as far as, ‘Hey, what would you think if this opportunity does come about?’ And, so, it was a conversation between my wife and I, kind of what’s my next step professionally. What’s going to be the best thing for me, both professionally and on a personal level? When coach Choate really extended the opportunity and gave me that option of sorts, there wasn’t much hesitation, to be honest. All it took was one conversation with my wife and a couple conversations with some coaches that I really truly trust as far as what they felt was the best opportunity for me or would be the best thing for me professionally. Again, Bozeman is just such a great place, and I see such great things for this place as far as our football program is concerned. I couldn’t pass it up.”
MTN Sports: You come back, you kick B.J. Robertson out of your house. What have you been doing since then?
Ioane: “I’ve been trying to get my life and feel like I’m as organized as possibly can. It’s been an absolutely whirlwind in that regard. Fortunately my wife has been amazing as far as really trying to handle anything outside of the football realm. She got our house lined up, she got everything kind of lined up and in place in that regard. It’s really just been about me trying to dive into this football thing and trying to get to know the players again, trying to connect with them as much as I possibly can, not only the secondary, but the entire defensive personnel. Really kind of dive in with the staff as far as, ‘All right, here’s my big vision, here’s my big picture of what I want this defense to look like. Give me some input, give me some ideas, give me some thoughts on that, and then let’s really hammer this out as far as all the details that it really is going to take to get us to where we want to get to.’ So that’s what I’ve been trying to spend on, really all my time has been spent on trying to get this vision that I have defensively for us and kind of the path in which I see us going to get to that vision. It’s been a lot of fun, it’s been a heck of a process. But I’m fortunate. Like I said, not only do I have a tremendous, unbelievable wife and my 10-month-old daughter, Eva, that’s really, like I said, inspiring me, but I’ve got an unbelievable defensive staff that’s just been great to work with — starting with the guys that have been here before, coach Kyle Risinger and coach Byron Hout, and then obviously adding Bobby Daly to the mix, who I’m very familiar with, and just the other two guys that don’t get mentioned or won’t be mentioned very often, coach Austin Ybarra, our defensive intern, and then coach Hayden Schuh, who has really been a big factor for us these last couple weeks, as well. So those guys have been unbelievable as far as helping build toward that vision that I have for this defense.”
MTN Sports: We could probably chat all day long, but is there anything else that, specifically, you want to get out there for the public, anything that you want to talk about real quick?
Ioane: “I just really want to emphasize the fact that I’m coming into a really good position in the fact that these guys have done some really good things. Credit goes to coach Choate and his entire staff these last however many years since I’ve been gone, the last couple years since I’ve been gone and the work they’ve done to get us to where we are, get us to the playoffs last year, get a taste for the players as far as what success really is and what it will take to get us to that next level. I’m in a very fortunate position to be able to come into an awesome opportunity with, like I said, a great staff to be around and to work with and an unbelievable head coach that allows me to coach and do my thing, and fortunate to have the players that we have, that have bought into the culture and really all about Montana State, Montana State football and want to be as successful as possible.”