BY MIKE PRATER
THE IDAHO PRESS
If you’re a college football coach, there are different ways to approach championship week.
The Nick Rolovich way, with your name in headlines after being accused of assaulting a photographer, and an awkward regular season-ending game against Army.
Or the Bryan Harsin way, with your name in headlines after beating Colorado State on Friday to complete a magical November and a historic conference season.
Awards season starts this week, and the time is now for Harsin to claim Mountain West Coach of the Year. For the first time. Ever.
Rolovich is funnier than Harsin, more personable, and despite last week’s on-field incident for which he’s apologized, he seems to enjoy himself more in a business that’s hardcore serious. Rolovich is a breath of fresh air blowing in from the Pacific, and has done a nice job with a team that was supposed to have a nice season.
Mission accomplished: Nice job Hawaii.
Boise State has played better than nice, and now it has a shot at something big in December because of what Harsin, his staff and players have accomplished since beating Florida State in August.
Coach of the Year isn’t a popularity contest — OK, maybe it is — but the speculation that Rolovich deserves the award over Harsin is ridiculous.
Voting by league coaches and media is due Sunday.
The winner will be announced Wednesday.
On Saturday, the coaches will battle head-to-head for the second time in 57 days when Boise State (11-1) and Hawaii (8-4 heading into the late Army game Saturday) play in the Mountain West Championship game at Albertsons Stadium. Boise State won the regular season meeting in Boise, 59-37 on Oct. 12.
In theory, voting should be done after Saturday’s game, when a league champion is determined. That’s the best criteria, right?
In reality, since we’re playing by league rules, Harsin deserves COY honors now — and a $25,000 bonus — for work that started long before the season began.
The success started in January, when he hired defensive position coach Jeff Schmedding, who was promoted to coordinator in March after Andy Avalos suddenly and shockingly left for Oregon.
Avalos’ departure was a brutal blow for Boise State. He is a beloved former player, and his defense gave up an impressive 22.08 points a game last season.
This year, under Schmedding, the Broncos allow an even-better 21.5 points a game.
Credit Harsin, who made the hire from FCS Eastern Washington.
Harsin and his staff also rebuilt the special teams after last year’s disaster. There have been challenges this season, but the season-long improvement is impressive.
Credit Harsin, who in the offseason demanded that a reboot was a priority.
Boise State started the season with junior Robert Mahone as the starting running back. Today, that spot belongs to true freshman George Holani, who is 88 yards from a 1,000-yard season.
Credit Harsin and his staff for making the transition — benching a returning player for a program newcomer at a critical position.
Boise State started with Hank Bachmeier at quarterback — a gutsy move considering that only three other FBS programs opened with a true freshman behind center.
Bachmeier beat Florida State and is 7-0 as a starter — and injury-prone. Enter Chase Cord, who started two games, and third-stringer Jaylon Henderson, who started the final three games and won all three by a combined score of 129-54.
Credit Harsin and staff for keeping secrets. For teasing us with QB curiosities. And for one of the most impressive juggling jobs in all of college football.
Harsin is 11-1 and used three starting QBs — nobody else in America has done that.
Harsin’s team finished 5-0 in November, joining programs such as Notre Dame and Georgia to accomplish that this season. Since becoming head coach in 2014, Harsin is 20-4 in the most important month of the season, including nine straight wins, proving he can coach when stakes are high.
Boise State has seven come-from-behind wins this season.
Boise State has scored on its last 25 trips in the red zone, including 21 touchdowns.
Mountain West coaches Bob Davie (New Mexico) and Tony Sanchez (UNLV) have lost their jobs, and Mike Bobo (Colorado State) could be next. Washington State coach Mike Leach can’t beat Chris Petersen, then barked at a reporter’s question because he lost to Washington. Again.
So much coaching angst out there.
So much noise.
So many distractions.
And Harsin just quietly goes about his business, staying away from negative headlines, making his team better, winning games and preaching to his players.
He’s relentless in his message: Focus. Awareness. Pay attention.
And it works.
Harsin has his haters because he’s not Petersen, his quarterback isn’t Kellen Moore, and he lost bad home games to New Mexico and Air Force (2015) and Virginia (2017).
Since that Virginia loss, Boise State is 30-5.
Credit Harsin, who has won 22 of his past 24 league games, including all eight this season for the first time in the MW. Rolovich lost three league games this season alone, and gave up 156 points in the process.
For all its success, the Mountain West doesn’t always appreciate Boise State.
The expectations are for Boise State to win everything. And when the Broncos succeed, it’s normal, routine, and somebody else wins awards.
Coaches from Colorado State, San Diego State, Wyoming, Fresno State and Utah State have won COY since Harsin joined the league.
In 2014, Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson won Offensive Player of the Year over Boise State running back Jay Ajayi. Seriously.
It wouldn’t be shocking if Rolovich won the award Wednesday.
It would be shocking if Harsin lost the game Saturday.
The man deserves the award now because he’s been the smartest and best coach in the Mountain West for the entire calendar year.
By the way, here’s a question for Mr. Secret Smart Guy as Boise State prepares for Saturday’s final game on The Blue: Who’s going to start at quarterback?
Can’t wait to see Harsin’s next move.
Mike Prater is the Idaho Press sports columnist and co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk on KTIK 93.1 FM every Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. and Bronco Game Night after every Boise State football game on KTIK and KBOI 670 AM. He can be found on Twitter @MikeFPrater and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.