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Bart Andrus
Montana Grizzly quarterback looks to elude a tackler during his stint at UM. Andrus now is head coach of the CFL Toronto Argonauts.

Given the right opportunity, Bart Andrus would prefer to be coaching in the United States. But until such an opportunity comes along Andrus is enjoying his run as head coach of the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe.

He took over the head job in Amsterdam in 2007 after a year as offensive coordinator for the Rhein Fire.

"At some point I'm going to look to make a move back," Andrus said. "To me it has to be the right situation with the right people."

He said he's had opportunities - his name was mentioned most recently when the Atlanta Falcons were looking for an offensive coordinator - but they didn't feel right to him.

"I'm sure that time will come at some point," Andrus said, "and I look forward to maybe a change somewhere down the road."

Andrus played quarterback in 1978-79 during coach Gene Carlson's final two years at the University of Montana. He knew at the time he wanted to be a coach himself, so he majored in health and physical education with a coaching emphasis.

The Sepulveda, Calif., native went back to his home state following graduation to become an assistant coach at Solano Community College in Fairfield. The Solano head coach took Andrus to some area high schools to look for teaching work to supplement his income.

An administrator at St. Patrick High School in Vallejo asked Andrus if he'd be interested in interviewing for the head coaching job there. He did, and he got the job, fresh out of college.

"It wasn't something that I was expecting to do," Andrus recalled. "Just blind luck on that one."

It ended up being a good job. Andrus was there for three years, winning a few more games each season. And it fit nicely into his plan of taking things as they came in the coaching profession.

"There were a lot of things I liked about coaching at the high school level, and there were a lot of things I didn't like," Andrus said. "That job … prompted me to go back to the college level."

Andrus knew if he was going to advance in coaching he would need a graduate degree, so he spent two years at Brigham Young University getting a master's while coaching under the legendary LaVelle Edwards.

Andrus got an added bonus at BYU because now-Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren was the quarterback coach and Norm Chow - now the offensive coordinator for the NFL Tennessee Titans - was the receivers coach.

"That's really the place that I … learned the ins and outs of the passing game and how to play aggressive, attacking-type offense," Andrus noted.

After the BYU experience Andrus coached at Humboldt State, Montana State and Southern Utah State. He then became the head coach at Rocky Mountain College, but that assignment lasted just one year before the NFL came calling.

Andrus had known Jeff Fisher, then head coach of the Houston Oilers, for many years. Fisher offered him a position as offensive quality control coach, meaning Andrus not only worked with Houston quarterbacks but also broke down opposing defenses.

It was another year, as Andrus put it, of "learning more and more about football" because of the increase in schemes used at the pro level. To top it off Andrus was on the staff when the team moved to Tennessee and when the Titans played in Super Bowl XXXIV.

That led to the opportunity in Europe, where the teams basically play under NFL rules "with a couple of exceptions."

What surprised Andrus most there was the size and flavor of the crowds that turned out to watch American football. As for the fans, Andrus generally compared them with those you would see rooting on the Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers or Philadelphia Eagles.

"They're just really supportive and they go crazy for the teams," Andrus said, also expressing surprise that during his year with the Rhein Fire attendance averaged more than 40,000.

He called European football fans "fairly knowledgeable," and said they appreciate good play from both teams on the field, something he believes is tied to the way they watch and appreciate soccer.

For Andrus and other NFL Europe coaches a big challenge is dealing with nearly a whole new roster each season.

"For the most part these guys were stars in college," Andrus explained. "One of the biggest challenges that we have is to get them to play together as a team. The best teams in this league are the ones that can do that quickly."

This year's NFL-E players found out April 1 who made the six European rosters. They flew overseas April 3. Andrus said one of the first things he'd do with his players in Amsterdam was take them bowling to get them socializing a bit.

On the practice field it's a matter of re-teaching things every year. But despite the challenges Andrus called coaching in Europe "really enjoyable, really rewarding" because of the way he can help players.

"They're at a time in their career where they're looking to take that next step," Andrus said. "With that in mind they're really willing to do anything and try anything that you're asking them to do. It's kind of refreshing."

The job includes sending weekly e-mail reports to NFL personnel directors, general managers, position coaches and head coaches regarding how each player practices and plays. The NFL teams also receive game tapes to review weekly.

Andrus said he and his colleagues also get to coach some outstanding players. For example, as Rhein's offensive coordinator in 2000 Andrus coached Florida Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerrfel.

"There's a lot of players that have come through this league that go into the NFL relatively unknown and then emerge as a superior player," Andrus said. "It's always interesting to see the progression."

Now that he's coached at all levels from high school to the pros Andrus said the biggest difference as you move up is the speed of the game and players.

"You had to adjust more so what you do from a schematic point of view than anything else," he said. "But the game is pretty much the same (fundamentally). If you're not a good tackling team or a very good blocking team at the high school level you're not going to do very well.

"That's the same at the college level and into the pros, also," Andrus added, saying that's something he emphasizes to his players constantly.

One thing that might surprise the average fan is that, from Andrus' point of view, acceptance of coaching improves as you go up the ladder.

"The (NFL) players that are the best players are the ones (that) want to be coached," Andrus said. "They want to know, 'what am I doing? What can I get better at? How can I keep my job?'"

Andrus and his wife, Karen, live in Bigfork and have two kids - daughter Brooke and son Travis - both involved in athletics. In fact Brooke is a runner for the UM track team.

Her dad said he didn't pressure her to attend his alma mater. He went along when she made official visits to Texas and Texas Christian, but actually was in Europe coaching when she made her decision to go to UM.

"I just kept telling her to go … where they want you the most and where you feel the most comfortable," Andrus remembered. "She made a great decision, I think, and … she's been really happy with the situation that she has there."

Travis is more team-sports oriented, playing football and basketball along with competing in track. Andrus' son decided to play at Flathead High School rather than Bigfork because he believes it provides more and better opportunities.

Travis' first love is football. So far he's played quarterback, receiver and safety for the Braves. He'll be a junior next fall.

"What I've done with him is try to let him find his own way," Andrus said of Travis. "I'd have been just as happy if he'd decided to play tennis or golf."

Father and son had a great bonding experience in 2005 when Amsterdam won the World Bowl. Travis, in middle school at the time, went to Europe to watch the Admirals' first game and ended up staying for the season.

"We home schooled him through those few months that he was in Europe," Andrus recalled. "He got quite an education. It was really a good deal for him plus he got to see first hand what it takes to be successful at this level of football."

So Andrus will continue working in Europe, solidifying his reputation as a high-level offensive coach, waiting for the right situation and the right people to present themselves.

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