Football has been an important part of Jeff Choate’s life for a long time. He graduated from University of Montana-Western in Dillon in 1993, where he played football. In December 2015 he was hired as MSU’s 32nd head football coach following the firing of former head coach Rob Ash. In the past, Choate coached at the high school and collegiate levels and held positions at universities including Utah State University, Eastern Illinois University, the University of Idaho and Washington State University.
According to Choate, he has always wanted to lead a college football program. On top of that, he wanted to coach in the Big Sky Conference due to the strong ties he has to Montana.
“I’ve wanted to be a head coach at the Big Sky level for a while, and I’ve had a chance to coach at some unbelievable locations. All it really did was galvanize the idea that what I wanted to do was be a head coach at a place like Montana State,” Choate said.
Choate’s interest led him to reach out to MSU when they began the process of hiring a new head coach.
“I certainly didn’t know Peter Fields or Dr. Cruzado or anybody in the athletic department. I knew some of the football coaches because football coaches get around each other and it’s a big fraternity, but I didn’t know any of the decision-makers,” he said. “What I tried to do was use what I had, which was a lot of connections mostly in the high school ranks in the state of Montana, to reach out to people that did know folks in the athletic administration here. You push your resume out there and sometimes it falls on deaf ears, and in this particular case it got put high enough on the stack that I got a call for the interview.”
Since taking the position, Choate has hired several new members for his coaching staff including ex-NFL safety Gerald Alexander as a defensive backs coach and former head coach of UM-Western BJ Roberts as an assistant coach.
“I feel extremely fortunate when I sit in that staff room and I look around and I look at the experience and the character of the people in there, and I think ‘This is a place I’d want my son to play’ because I know the kind of guys that are in the room and how they’re going to treat these kids and how hard they’re going to work to help them achieve their goals,” Choate said.
“This isn’t Jeff Choate’s football program, this is Montana State University’s football program, and it belongs to our players, and my job is to do everything I can to make their experience here really good. That starts with hiring good people to work with them every day. I think we have accomplished that, and I am really proud of that.”
Acknowledging that there would be differences between his approach and that of Ash, Choate said, “I think there was a good culture here. It’s not good or bad, right or wrong, it’s just different. I have a very different style than Coach Ash, my background is very different than Coach Ash, and so I am going to create the culture that we as a staff feel like we are comfortable with. So that’s been a big part of what we’re doing. It’s not changing work habits so much as how we do things.”
Choate expressed his appreciation for the work Ash did to keep keep athletes in the football program out of trouble, saying that the recruiting process is key to ensuring that athletes who are brought into the program are “young men that have values that are reflected by this program: character, accountability, toughness, pride in MSU, those are things that we gotta really hone in on in the recruiting process. The education they get across campus is an unbelievably first-class education, but they’re going to get another one here in this building in terms of how to be a real man, how to treat women, how to conduct yourself in public and in private, how to establish a set of values you want to live your life by. Those are the things that are really important to me and our program, and I know were important to Coach Ash too.”