BUTTE and BOZEMAN — Among the obligations required of the head coach of a Division I football team, there’s at least one phone call per week that Jeff Choate probably appreciates more than the rest.
The third-year Montana State coach circles up each week to talk shop with his younger brother, Jon Choate, who is in his third season on the staff at the College of Idaho.
“We probably debrief every week on that — how the game went, what your frustrations were, what your joys were,” Jeff Choate said. “Then we always talk about our family. He’s got two beautiful girls; I know that’s a super-important thing in his life, and I know he’s proud of his niece and nephew here in Bozeman.”
Jeff and Jon Choate aren’t inseparable brothers — Jeff is six years older — but they’re kindred spirits. Both played linebacker, as did youngest brother Zach, at St. Maries High School in northern Idaho and carried that intensity into the coaching profession.
“My brother Jeff and I are probably more similar in personality (than with Zach), a little more high-strung,” Jon Choate said. “You have to be a little crazy to play linebacker. I think that was part of the deal.”
“When I was in high school and (Jeff) came home from college, he was my coach, my strength coach, my linebacker coach, everything,” Jon added. “We lived out of town a little ways. He ran me through drills all the time. He obviously was a big part of who I am today and kind of the passion that I developed for the game of football, as well.”
“We were small-town boys from north Idaho and we ended up being in a situation where we lived about 20 miles out of town, so sports was like our only outlet,” Jeff said. “We ended up playing as much as we could and sticking around in town, and we were fortunate enough to have some really good high school coaches. Curt Carr, (who was at MSU’s game against Idaho), was our high school football coach, and a guy named Mark Greenleaf was our defensive coordinator. I think those guys probably had a huge impact, not just on me going into education and into coaching, but also on my brother Jon. I’d like to think I mentored him a little bit in the profession, as well, so it’s awesome to have somebody that you can bounce ideas off with. We share in the joy and the pain sometimes. Really proud of Jon and the job that he’s doing.”
The schedules rarely align for the brothers to watch each other’s games. Both teams generally typically kick off on Saturdays in the early afternoon. The College of Idaho, where Jon is a linebackers and special teams coach, started the season with five consecutive losses but have since won three straight in the Frontier Conference, including an overtime thriller at Montana Tech on Oct. 13.
Within minutes of COI’s win going final in Butte, Jon was seeking updates on Jeff’s Bobcats, who were just down the road rallying past Idaho for a one-point win in Bozeman.
“We talk all the time during football season, and it’s, ‘How are you guys doing?’ The great thing is I get to listen to the webcast or the podcast that they do. I commented earlier, like during fall camp they were putting out the daily camp reports. I tell Jeff, ‘It’s like I had you in my truck on my way home hearing about how practice went.’ What the Cats do is very close to my heart, as well,” Jon said.
Close enough that Jon will even lend a helping hand in recruiting if the opportunity arises.
“Not a strong engineering program at the College of Idaho, so when I come across a kid that I think is maybe Big Sky caliber that says, ‘Hey, I want to be an engineer,’ (Jeff’s) the first guy I call,” Jon said. “There might be one or two this year, but obviously the ties to the Boise Valley with recruiting that the Cats have had, they’ll continue to grow, I think. I’ll send guys their way any time I can, but hopefully we’re keeping them at home.”
When, then, will Jon begin recruiting for Montana State in an official capacity?
“It’s a good question. I always say, ‘You can’t pay me enough.’ My wife’s family is from the Boise area. I always say, ‘When my kids are gone, then I can maybe have that type of time commitment with football.’ The job I have right now is the perfect situation for me and my family,” Jon said.
“He’s a smart football coach, really organized guy,” Jeff said. “We’ve had that conversation, but I think he’s pretty locked down there in (Boise). That’s where his wife’s family’s from, and they have a great situation there.”
“I would love to have a chance to work with Jon someday, but you just don’t have that crystal ball,” Jeff added.