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Brent Vigen announces Montana State Bobcats' coaching staff

Brent Vigen
Posted at 5:25 PM, Feb 19, 2021

(Editor's note: Montana State University media release)

BOZEMAN – Brent Vigen reached into his coaching past to forge the future of Bobcat football on Friday, adding three new coaches to Montana State’s coaching staff while announcing the retention of seven others.

Taylor Housewright, who Vigen worked with for a season at Wyoming, takes over as MSU’s offensive coordinator while coaching quarterbacks. Former North Dakota State cornerback Freddie Banks becomes the program’s defensive coordinator. In addition, Shawn Howe takes over coaching duties of Bobcat defensive lineman, an appointment pending completion of a background check.

Rounding out the MSU staff: Brian Armstrong returns to coach the offensive line, Jimmy Beal continues coaching running backs, Nate Potter remains tight ends coach, and Justin Udy slides from quarterbacks to receivers; defensively, Bobby Daly coaches linebackers, and Kyle Risinger assists Banks with the secondary. BJ Robertson returns in his role as special teams coordinator and Director of High School Relations.

While acknowledging changes to MSU’s offensive and defensive schemes, Vigen said the guiding principles remain.

“We’re going to make some subtle tweaks certainly on both sides,” he said, “but the general theme of what we’re going after is to play physical, to run the football, to stop the run, to be explosive on the offensive side of things and stop explosive plays defensively. That general philosophy is the same.”

The work of building MSU’s offensive system begins with the program’s recent success. Vigen finds common ground between his philosophy, Housewright’s, and the way the program’s offense has operated in recent years.

“We see offense being played in a similar fashion – being balanced but spreading the ball to a lot of playmakers, really being able to utilize the quarterback in different ways depending on his skill set, but still being grounded in the run game. What I saw is that what Montana State had a lot of success with in 2019 is very much in the same ballpark as the world (he and Housewright are) both trying to live in," Vigen said.

Housewright comes to Montana State after two seasons in off-the-field roles with Joe Moorhead, 2019 in offensive quality control when Moorhead was the head coach at Mississippi State and 2020 as an offensive analyst at Oregon, where Moorhead is offensive coordinator. Housewright’s coaching career began in 2013-14, when he was graduate assistant at Miami (Ohio) working with quarterbacks the first season and defensive backs the second. He coached receivers at Wittenberg in 2015 before returning to his alma mater, Ashland, to coach receivers in 2016 and the secondary in 2017. In 2018, Housewright joined the Wyoming staff, where he worked with running backs and tight ends under Vigen.

“He came to us with a varied background,” Vigen said. “He played quarterback at a high level from a Division II perspective, was a Harlon Hill finalist (national player of the year) and had the opportunity to sign with the Bengals, so he had a taste of that. I could tell pretty quickly in our time together that he’s very sharp, has a good sense for offense and defense, and after our experience together he worked for Joe Moorhead at both Mississippi State and Oregon.”

Vigen said experience in Moorhead’s system helped Housewright’s development.

“That offense and that style is a very effective way of spreading the ball around, taking pressure off the quarterback at times but also relying on the quarterback’s athleticism,” he said. “We spent a lot of time in particular through Zoom in this past spring and summer, going through different things, which let me see that he could be a coordinator pretty quickly. I thought he had good potential when he was with us, but he took another step (since then), and for Joe Moorhead to take him to Oregon with him to be kind of his right-hand man says something.”

The foundation of MSU’s offensive approach, Vigen said, stems from “some common ground” between he, Housewright, and the Bobcats’ most recent system.

“I think we start from the foundation of the run game. You have to blend your language and how you want to call formations and what you ultimately want to call run plays, so that’s what we’re in the midst of doing," he said. "From a pass game perspective it’s comparable. Again, you’re trying to take schemes that have some overlap and hone in on what our guys here do really well and get that ball spread around. It’s really about taking time to blend those thoughts and give everyone a voice at the table, so to speak, and ultimately come to an finality of where we want to be before we start spring ball.”

While Vigen hasn’t worked with his incoming defensive coordinator as a coach, Banks is a familiar figure. A member of the 2010 NDSU squad that beat the Bobcats in the FCS Playoffs, Banks’ coaching career began one season later across the Red River at Minnesota State-Moorhead. In two seasons he rose to the level of coordinator there, then coached cornerbacks at Nicholls in 2013-14. After one season in the Louisiana prep ranks, Banks coached the secondary at Midwestern State in 2016-17 and cornerbacks at Stephen F. Austin in 2018-19. In 2020, he coached cornerbacks at Nevada.

Throughout the past five years, Vigen and Banks crossed paths several times.

“When he was at Midwestern State he came up to visit with our staff a couple times in Laramie on his own dime,” Vigen said. “So here was a real ambitious guy that’s starting to make an impression on (then-Wyoming coordinator) Scottie Hazelton, who was a coordinator while he played (at NDSU), so he’s getting himself immersed in getting better and better and better. Last fall Nevada beat us, they had a really good year, and Freddie waited to say hi after the game. We had a good conversation, and I could see the continued development, the maturity. Trusting (coaching peers) and their perspective of Freddie, we had a real healthy interview conversation and I felt Freddie was the best direction to go.”

Banks’ perspective as secondary coach offers a “back-forward perspective calling the defense that (reflects what) we’re going to be about. That’s important," Vigen said. "Having that perspective of seeing how everything fits together, how the alignments and the coverages work with the run game fits, will help us.”

A former player at Rocky Mountain College, Howe represents the front end of that defensive equation.

“I think Shawn will appreciate being here, he’s excited about the opportunity, and I think we’ll have that very good back-forward approach with Freddie and a forward-back perspective from Shawn, two guys that will be able to help each other out," Vigen said. "The impact they’ll have on Bobby (Daly) and Kyle (Risinger), teaching them the new system, will be tremendous.”

Howe returns to Montana for the first time since finishing his playing career with the Bears (2002-03) and graduating in spring, 2005. Previously, he played defensive end and linebacker at College of the Redwoods in 2000 and 2001, earning All-Mid-Empire Conference honors in 2000 and 2001. He coached outside linebackers at Rocky Mountain in 2004 and 2005, then worked as a volunteer assistant at North Carolina State in 2006. He worked as a graduate assistant at Memphis (2007-09), coaching on the defensive side the first two seasons before working with tight ends in 2009. In 2010 he was a strength and conditioning coach at Tennessee, then became an administrative assistant at USC in 2011 and a grad assistant working with the defensive line in 2012.

In 2013, Howe became defensive line coach at Humboldt State, and his Lumberjacks defensive line led the nation in sacks in 2014. In 2015 he began a three-year stint as defensive coordinator at Dixie State, then in 2018 he became defensive line coach at Coastal Carolina. In 2019 he began his second stint at USC as a defensive quality control analyst, and he held that position in 2020, as well.

“Shawn will be great on the field for his knowledge and his passion for defensive football,” Vigen said, “and he’ll be very relatable because a while back he was that guy from out of the area that came to Montana and had an enjoyable experience. He and Jimmy overlapped at Rocky Mountain, and it’s interesting how some of those things that you don’t anticipate come together.”

Vigen also announced that defensive line coach Byron Hout was not retained, and that Cole Moore has left his role in operations to pursue other football opportunities.

“I would be remiss not to mention Coach Hout,” Vigen said. “That move wasn’t reflective of his ability to coach, his commitment to this place, or his passion for the players. It was a systematic change more than anything reflective of what I think of Byron as a coach. It’s apparent Cole Moore did a phenomenal job here, and he’s very well respected. I’m excited for his new opportunity. This allows us to restructure our operations and evaluate how things will look when we move into our new space.”

Below are comments from Vigen on the assistant coaches retained from the previous staff:

Vigen on Brian Armstrong, Offensive Line – “The one guy I knew coming in more than anybody on the staff is Brian Armstrong. He came highly recommended by (former MSU and NDSU assistant) Courtney Messingham, in particular, so that led me to get to know Coach Armstrong well enough that I felt really good about him. Your ability on offense, in my opinion and with the offense we want to run, starts up front. He has varied experience, being a head coach, a coordinator and play-caller, coaching tight ends a little bit, but primarily being an O-line coach. He’s a relatively big-picture guy from an O-line perspective, he gets how it all works together, and certainly how the offensive line has played here is what solidified my interest in him when we were looking at filling that position.”

Vigen on Jimmy Beal, Running Backs – “I knew Jimmy Beal a little bit, he was close with (Wyoming’s) Los Angeles are recruiter, so I knew his name from his time at Northern Arizona and the one time we met was when he was at camp when he coached at South Dakota State. I didn’t necessarily know his ties to Montana State and the state of Montana in general, so it makes sense how he ended up here. Jimmy brings a lot of energy to the table from a recruiting perspective. He’s done a great job at different places and his knowledge of that region in particular, southern California to Arizona and into Texas, and his years of experience in this league, makes him the type of coach you certainly want on your staff.”

Vigen on Bobby Daly, Linebackers – “Bobby’s playing career, his lineage here, is one thing, but his growth as a coach and his knowledge and passion for this place are tremendous. As players came through, in the time we spent together last week it was pretty evident that he would be a key component moving forward. At the same time he was very open to what changes to the defense could look like and excited to learn from a different perspective.”

Vigen on Nate Potter, Tight Ends – “I had some colleagues from Boise (State) that know Nate Potter real well, and it’s easy to see that he’s a rising star in this profession. He played in a real good program and his expectations coming from Boise are pretty high. He has NFL experience, and he’s the type of guy who’s wise beyond his years and really communicates with his guys well.”

Vigen on Kyle Risinger, Secondary Assistant – “Kyle has really cut his teeth here. He came as an intern and has continued to earn trust and gain responsibility, and his passion for this place and the players and his knowledge were all very evident in the time we spent together. He’s very eager to learn, still young, and with all the guys we’re retaining there was a continuity piece but there was a real sense that this is where they want to be, they know our players inside and out, and I think they’ve done an excellent job not only on the field coaching but from a recruiting perspective as well.”

Vigen on BJ Robertson, Special Teams Coordinator and High School Relations – “It’s easy to see that BJ is great at building relationships, and his knowledge of the state of Montana and the high school coaches around the state will be valuable. His special teams units have had success, so he’ll be a valuable member of our staff.”

Vigen on Justin Udy, Receivers – “Justin’s situation was unique. I communicated to him that I was going to make a change at coordinator, but I knew when Coach Frazier left that I would have a spot (open) and I could have an open mind to having a spot for him. Reading in his background that he had worked with receivers, what I wanted to gain from him was where would he be at in that kind of transition, how had his year been here minus the fact that he had never called a play in a game, what was his investment in the players. It was apparent that he really relishes the opportunity to be at Montana State and has a great relationship with the offensive players, not just the quarterbacks, so to bridge the gap as we move forward I felt if he could coach receivers it would be good for our program. After sitting down with him a couple times it was apparent that he would be all in and be invested, and not only that but he has experience as a receivers coach and will really do a good job there.”