BILLINGS — When he departed Montana State in the spring of 2017 to become a defensive quality control analyst at Pac-12 Washington, Kane Ioane described it as an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. But it wasn’t long-lived.
Now Ioane is returning to his roots.
In a news release, MSU coach Jeff Choate announced Wednesday that Ioane will return to the Bobcats as defensive coordinator, a position he held previously in Bozeman during the 2015 season under then-coach Rob Ash. Ioane will also take on the role of safeties coach.
Ioane, a Billings native and a former standout athlete at Skyview High School, spent 17 seasons at Montana State (from 2000-16) as both a star player and an assistant coach before hitching his wagon to Washington to work under coach Chris Petersen.
In MSU’s release, Choate said Ioane’s two seasons with the Huskies make him an ideal candidate to call the shots on defense for the Bobcats.
“Part of what made his opportunity at Washington so attractive was his exposure to great teachers and new ideas, but what Washington does aligns perfectly with what we do,” Choate said.
“We’ve made progress at affecting the quarterback and creating turnovers, but there’s room for growth in getting teams off the field on third down. Kane brings answers to some of our issues while providing continuity.”
Ioane returned a phone message to 406mtsports.com Wednesday night from Seattle, but declined to officially comment until a later date.
Ioane, 36, replaces outgoing defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak. Choate announced Tuesday night that Gregorak, along with defensive backs coach Mark Orphey, had resigned their positions to pursue other professional opportunities.
Specifically, Gregorak — a household name as a veteran defensive coach at both MSU and the University of Montana over the course of 15 seasons — did not provide an explanation for his sudden departure, but did offer a statement that read, in part:
“I have tremendous respect for coach Choate, his staff, the young men in the Bobcat football program, and Montana State University.”
Choate on Wednesday also announced the addition of new receivers coach Erik Frazier, who was a part of the offensive staff at Western Illinois last year.
“Erik is a really sharp young coach,” Choate said in the MSU release. “Throughout the process we kept coming back to him as a really good fit for our program.
“He has good experience coaching receivers and a very detailed approach to receiver play. He’ll bring a lot of ideas to the table and will be a good asset in helping Matt move our offensive forward.”
Frazier was a graduate assistant at Northwestern, and previously was an offensive assistant at both Dayton (2016) and Delaware Valley (2014-15). A native of Philadelphia, Frazier held NFL internships with the Vikings and Chiefs, and was a Division II All-American at Kutztown in 2011.
MSU’s previous receivers coach, Matt Miller, now holds dual roles as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Meanwhile, Choate announced that Kyle Risinger, who spent two seasons assisting Orphey in the defensive backfield, is moving from safeties coach to cornerbacks coach.
Choate indicated in Wednesday’s announcement that he remains in search of a linebackers coach.
Ioane was a four-time All-American safety with the Bobcats from 2000-03 under coach Mike Kramer, and was named the 2003 Big Sky Conference defensive player of the year. He is considered one of the program’s all-time greatest players, and is a member of the MSU athletic hall of fame.
Ioane joined the MSU coaching staff for the 2004 season when NFL playing opportunities didn’t work out, and was as an assistant in various roles under Kramer, Ash and then Choate until moving on to Washington following the 2016 season, where he served as an apprentice under ex-Montana State assistants Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake.
“This opportunity at Washington presented itself and there was no way I was not going to jump on it,” Ioane told 406mtsports.com during a phone interview in January 2018. “This thing has been about as close to perfect as it could be, as far as making that jump from my home base and from the deep roots I have in Bozeman.”
In 2015, in an effort to fix what had become a porous and maligned defense, Ash promoted Ioane to the coordinator role, giving him the play-calling reins from fellow assistant coach Jamie Marshall. But the Bobcats continued to struggle, giving up 34 points per game while finishing in the bottom half of the Big Sky in rushing, passing, scoring and total defense.
Under Choate and Gregorak, who each came to the Bobcats prior to the 2016 season, MSU rekindled a form of dominance, and ranked in the top five in total defense in each of the past three seasons.
“Kane was here for a long time with a high degree of success,” Choate said in Wednesday's release. “He has tremendous experience at this level, and clearly he’s been deeply involved in every aspect of defensive game planning at the best defensive program in the Pac-12.”