MOSCOW, Idaho – Few defensive coordinators in the northwest have the resume of Mike Breske. A former cornerback at South Dakota State, Breske broke into the coaching world in 1981 at Northern Iowa and has enjoyed a career spanning nearly 40 years at stops all across the country. The references on the bottom of his resume include a who’s who of the coaching world: Joe Glenn, Mike Leach, Craig Bohl and now Paul Petrino.
Breske joined Petrino’s staff after the 2014 season, once again linking his Montana connections in the coaching profession.
“He has a Montana background and I knew of the Petrinos. His dad is in the hall of fame in Butte and so many coaches have come out of that area. I think it’s the Mint Restaurant and Bar, they have that hall of fame coaches room and, boy, you go in there and there are some pictures hanging on the wall,” Breske said.
The Montana Mint is just one of many establishments in the Treasure State where athletics conquer the conversation. But before Breske was standing on the sidelines of Washington-Grizzly Stadium, he was joining forces with a future Montana legend, Joe Glenn.
“He got the head job (at the University of Montana) when we were at Northern Colorado, a Division II program that was very successful. Coach did a good job,” Breske said of the two NCAA Division II titles won by the Bears in 1996 and 1997. “Then he went back to Missoula, he had been there as an assistant, but it was all new for me, not knowing Montana.
“I’ll never forget my first year. We played Hofstra in the first game of the year, a rainy and wet game. … We ended up losing to Hofstra, who was a very talented playoff team, but on Sunday morning there was a ‘For Sale’ sign in Coach Glenn’s yard. That opened me up to what Griz football was all about.”
‘For Sale’ signs and complaints calling for a new staff quickly disappeared in that 2000 season as Glenn, Breske and the Grizzlies rattled off 13 straight wins to qualify for the Division I-AA national championship game. Montana fell 27-25 to Georgia Southern in that title game, but returned to the finale and captured the program’s second national championship the following season with a 13-6 victory over Furman.
Following a quarterfinal appearance in 2002, Glenn accepted a job with the University of Wyoming, bringing Breske and other members of the staff along for the ride. Stops at North Dakota State, Washington State and a second stint in Montana followed for Breske, who joined Robin Pflugrad’s staff in Missoula in 2010.
Though his focus is currently with the Vandals, Breske will always remember and appreciate his times in Montana, mentoring all-Americans Vince Huntsberger and Trey Young.
“This summer, my wife and I were coming back and on our way to Sandpoint (Idaho) and we drove through Montana and you start thinking about (Huntsberger),” said Breske. “I believe he’s a physician now. Trey Young is another one, but the list goes on and on and on. They’re all die-hard Griz.”
Breske played a major role in bringing former Griz defensive backs coach Aric Williams to Moscow, reuniting the pair from their time in Missoula. Though not true Montanans, they join the likes of Petrino, Troy Purcell and Bobby Daly with their Big Sky Country background.
“The Montana backgrounds, the type of kids we’ve worked with over the years, I know Coach Daly and where he played his high school ball,” Breske said of the former Helena Capital standout. “Being in Montana, the type of kids we were able to coach from the state of Montana, that toughness. That’s what Coach Petrino preaches, effort and toughness.”
It’s an attitude Breske has seen from many of his head coaches, from Bohl at North Dakota State to Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars. But standing alongside Petrino gives Breske flashbacks to his days with Joe Glenn.
“Coach Glenn was more of a special teams guy and very outgoing. He would sing the fight song everywhere,” said Breske. “Coach Petrino is all about family, academics and the process, the effort and toughness. They’re all different types of head coaches but all very successful.”
Having Breske along for the ride certainly never hurt their cause.