A close look at Jonathan Smith's OSU football staff
CORVALLIS — Musings with and about the assistant coaches who are part of Jonathan Smith's first staff at Oregon State …
• BRIAN LINDGREN, 37, offensive coordinator.
Has been an O-coordinator or co-coordinator for nine years (2009-11, Northern Arizona; 2012, San Jose State; 2013-17, Colorado) and has called plays over that duration. He coached Sefo Liufau, one of the Buffaloes' greatest quarterbacks, for four years. He's a native of Walla Walla, Washington, and was a three-year starting QB at Idaho. As a sophomore, he threw for a school-record 637 yards and five TDs in a game versus Middle Tennessee State.
Lindgren was quarterback at Idaho from 2001-03. Smith was hired as quarterbacks coach by the Vandals in 2004. The two first met in Moscow.
"I was finishing up my senior year," Lindgren said. "He came in January, and I hosted a couple of recruits for him (the Vandals) ended up signing."
Lindgren is probably the closest personal friend Smith has on his current staff. Since both were O-coordinators in the Pac-12, they were often in contact and "we shared a lot of ideas on defenses we were facing, and we talked (offensive) schemes in the offseason," Lindgren says.
Last summer, the Smith and Lindgren families — each is married with three children — vacationed together at Lake Coeur d' Alene, Idaho.
Smith and Lindgren "have a mutual friend who got us together there," Lindgren says. "We get out on the boat, enjoy a few beverages and talk some shop. It was a lot of fun."
Why Lindgren made the move to Oregon State: "The opportunity to work with Coach Smith, to get back to the Northwest, to get closer to home for my wife (Bradee) and me. I talked to Coach Smith a couple of weeks before he officially took the job. He gauged my interest in it, explained his vision for this place and where he saw it going. I bought into it. I respect him as a person and a coach. There's a good deal I can learn under him."
Smith has plenty of respect for Lindgren, too.
"We were calling plays against each other in the Pac-12 championship game last year," Smith says. "He's a good schematic coach. I feel like with Brian's capabilities and his ability to teach and develop quarterbacks, it's going to be a really good situation."
On what kind of offense Lindgren will employ at OSU: "In general, we strive to be balanced. We want to be able to run the ball. It starts with the physicality element up front. I'm thrilled to have Jim (Michalczik, the offensive line coach) with me. I have a great deal of respect for him and the offensive lines he has had. If you establish the run game, that opens up everything for you. You have to tweak your offense to fit the personnel you have. We'll start with some general concepts Coach Smith and I are comfortable with. Then, as we get to know the personnel better as we go through the spring, the offense will take a turn to fit their strengths."
Lindgren expects plenty of input from Smith in terms of offensive system, play-calling and overseeing the overall program.
"He has had access to (Washington coach) Chris Petersen, who is one of the best in the business in terms of program philosophy and an overall approach to how you run a program in terms of discipline, managing coaches and so on," Lindgren says. "That's unbelievable access. Also, there's a lot to be said for how (Smith) approached his offenses and game-planning at Washington and Boise State."
On what Lindgren prefers in his quarterback: "I like a guy who can run, but the first thing is, they have to be able to throw. The mental makeup is somebody who has a moxie about the way he carries himself. A good leader. Doing the right things off the field. If you set the standards for the offense, that's a huge thing. I want a guy who can throw the ball accurately, has good touch. And if you can find someone who can run the ball and do some things with their legs when things break down, that's a bonus."
On having Mike Riley as assistant head coach: "I called my wife last week and said, 'I got to do a home visit with Mike Riley last night.' Pretty cool. Coach Riley has head coaching experience, has had success offensively here at Oregon State. There's a tremendous amount we can learn from him on this place and how we can be successful in Corvallis. I've learned a ton from him already."
On his record-setting performance as a QB at Idaho against Middle Tennessee State: "We lost that game 70-58 — in regulation."
• TIM TIBESAR, 45, defensive coordinator.
He was linebackers coach at Wisconsin the last three years. Among his other coaching experience: Northwestern (2014), Chicago Bears (2013), Purdue (2009-11), Kansas State (2001-05) under Bill Snyder. He is a former All-America linebacker at North Dakota. He has not yet been made available to Oregon media. Tibesar will stay with Wisconsin through its Jan. 1 Orange Bowl matchup with Miami, then be in Corvallis in time for the start of winter term on Jan. 8.
Smith: "Allowing him to finish (at Wisconsin) was important for me. I wasn't able to finish my situation (at Washington, which faces Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl). For him, the right move was to allow him to finish over there, and then he'll head this way."
Two or three years ago, Petersen's Washington staff, including Smith, visited Wisconsin to learn from coach Paul Chryst's Badger staff. Chryst had been O-coordinator during Smith's first two years as a player at OSU. "Our (Washington) staff made some wholesale changes to our schemes on both sides of the ball," Smith says. "Tim was part of that. He's an outstanding coach who is ready to be a coordinator. I feel awesome he'll join us."
• JIM MICHALCZIK, 51, offensive line. He was an offensive guard at Washington State (1984-88) under Jim Walden and Dennis Erickson. He later coached for Erickson at Miami (1990 and '91, winning a national championship the second year) and Oregon State (1999-2001, winning a Fiesta Bowl the middle year). He also coached at California (2002-08 and 2011-13), with the Oakland Raiders (2009 and '10) and at Arizona (2013-17). Has 25 years experience coaching the O-line. Smith quarterbacked at Oregon State during Michalczik's time coaching there.
Why Michalczik left Arizona for Oregon State: "The first thing was Coach Smith. He's a good person, a good coach. It's a chance to build something. It's a good (coaching) crew. We have some work to do, but we're going to have fun doing it, and doing it the right way."
What else he likes about Smith: "He's competitive. He's down-to-earth, but he has a competitive streak in him that is going to filter through the staff and to the players. He's smart. He knows how to put things together. He has a great vision for how he wants to do things. All that stuff is going to come through. The head coach sets the personality for the whole program. I'm a true believer that through the head coach to the assistants to the players, you develop an attitude with your team."
What Michalczik looks for in an O-lineman: "The No. 1 characteristic is who the person is. Is he competitive? Is he a worker? Offensive line play is tough. You get out there and after the second play you're tired. Something's hurting. Who are the guys who have the competitive nature to press through that and want to win? Athletic ability and size are a big part. I'll generally err on the side of a more athletic guy. I can go find 300-pound guys anywhere. Sometimes, you'll take a smaller guy if you can see the growth potential. Competitive, tough, winners. Then you go to the next steps."
On his time coaching under Erickson at OSU: "I owe Dennis a ton. Great memories. We had a great staff. A lot of good times. Worked hard. The staff got along really great. I was the young guy. Now I'm the old guy."
• KEFENSE HYNSON, 36, wide receivers.
An Oakland native, he played as a defensive back at Willamette from 1999-2002. Hynson has coached collegiately for 15 years, all but one on the offensive side of the ball. He was co-offensive coordinator at Yale (2009-11) and Montana (2013 and '14). He coached receivers at Hawaii the past two seasons.
On his playing career at Willamette: "I loved it. I played for a great man in Mark Speckman. He's a huge mentor of mine. He got me thinking about the coaching profession, and that I could do it for a living. He was the guy who got me coaching offense, which he said would make me a better (all-around) coach. I have him to thank for that."
On coaching at Oregon State: "I know what this place is, what it has been and what it can be. The Pac-12 is everything to me. The opportunity to work with Coach Smith and the staff he put together was a no-brainer."
On his recruiting philosophy: "It's the same as living life. Be honest, be humble, be genuine. People respect that universally. I don't know that there are gimmicks to recruiting. When you have a great product to sell, it helps. But just be transparent with people through the whole process. I've learned how the flow goes in the Northwest, how people are. That helps. But being a good person goes a very long way. I don't know if there's any magic to it. You just have to be who you are."
On his first name: "My mother wanted something different. It means 'One who conquers' in Botswanan language."
• LEGI SUIANOA, 39, defensive line.
He played linebacker at Nevada (1998-2001). He coached at Eastern Oregon (2009) and at Portland State (2010) during the first year of the Nigel Burton regime. He also coached at Montana (2011-15) during the time Smith coached on the Grizzlies' staff. Suianoa oached the last two years at Hawaii, serving as defensive coordinator last season.
On his move to Oregon State: "I've spent most of coaching career in the Northwest. My first full-time coaching job was at Western Washington. My wife's parents and brothers live in Tacoma. (The Northwest) is a home away from home for me. My oldest son was born in Oregon. We've enjoyed living here. There are a lot of ties to me, and this place that makes this job special."
On his mission as a coach: "Trying to develop men and win football games. We're all in the profession of developing players, but we want them to become good men, too. I know that's what Coach Smith is about. I'm excited to be around that."
On the defensive front he prefers: "We used the 4-3 the last two years at Hawaii, but I've used 3-4 in the past. Much of it depends on personnel."
On recruiting Polynesian players: "We're in the profession of trying to recruit the best players we can to Corvallis. We've had a rich tradition of recruiting Polynesians here. We want to recruit the best players we can. If they happen to be Polynesian, that's awesome."
• TRENT BRAY, 35, linebackers.
Bray was a standout linebacker at OSU from 2002-05, a team co-captain and first-team all-Pac-10 selection as a senior. He coached at Arizona State in 2010 and '11, then returned to OSU, working as a grad assistant for two seasons before joining the full-time staff in 2014. Bray went with Mike Riley to Nebraska and coached linebackers there the past three seasons. He missed playing with Smith at OSU by one season.
On his decision to return to OSU: "When Jonathan first called me, I knew pretty much if the job was offered, I was going to come back. That wasn't a hard decision."
On the advantage he has having played at Oregon State: "I have a connection with the kids, having played here and in this conference. I can relate to what they'll go through and the things they need to do to be successful here."
On Smith's pedigree and recruiting philosophy: "Jonathan has had a great experience through the years with Coach Petersen at places like Boise State and Washington. He has learned how to recruit and who to recruit. It's about getting the type of kid who fits what you're trying to do — not only from a physical but a mental standpoint. When you look back at the history of when this place has been successful — the Jordan Poyers, the Scott Crichtons — they weren't the most sought-after recruits, but they were evaluated well and they had the right mind-set, which helped make them great players.
On coaching Jonathan Willis and Bright Ugwoegbu, who were at OSU when Bray was coaching here: "It will be fun to come back and help them finish their career. From the little I've seen, there are some young guys with talent (at linebacker), with the ability to run and do some things. There's a talent level we can win with."
• JAKE COOKUS, 38, special teams.
Cookus is the lone holdover from the previous staff (so far). He was quality control analyst the past two years and helped with special teams last season. He was a safety at OSU during the same years as Smith (1998-2001), and is best remembered for his three interceptions in a Civil War victory his junior season. He coached at Weber State (2005-11), Montana (2013 and '14) and at Hawaii (2015) before returning to his alma mater.
On his relationship with Smith: "We started our coaching careers at the same time — he was a (grad assistant) here and I was at Kentucky — and we always kept in touch, talking about football, offense, defense, our careers."
On Smith taking over at Oregon State: "He's been here. He's done it. Everything he was around was successful as a player. He has been successful as a coach, too. I feel like he's been grooming his whole career for this job. It's his time."
MIKE RILEY, 64, assistant head coach.
He's a Corvallis native whose father, Bud Riley, was secondary coach at Oregon State in the 1960s and '70s. Riley is a veteran of 43 years coaching at the college and professional level, including three seasons as head coach of the San Diego Chargers. He is the winningest head coach in Oregon State history (93-80). He returns to OSU for a third time after three seasons as head coach at Nebraska. Riley recruited Smith to OSU and coached him there for two seasons.
On returning to Corvallis: "I feel like I'm a Pac-8/Pac-10/Pac-12 gym rat. I missed living in Corvallis. We loved it. We made the most of the move (to Nebraska) and enjoyed it. There were lots of parts that were really good — good people, for sure. But this is home for me. We all felt like that, especially (wife) Dee."
It was Riley's idea to serve on Smith's staff. He was mulling two other job offers from Power Five schools when Smith — who initially had called him to get an opinion on whether he should go for the OSU job — hired him.
"Jonathan had called to ask me about some coaches' recommendations," Riley says. "The next time I talked to him, I brought up the idea (of Riley serving on his staff), but I said, 'Don't tell me right now. Don't worry about my feelings. Make a decision based on what's best for you and your program.'
"He called back 24 hours later. I was pleased with that. I'm really proud to be a part of Jonathan's new deal. To be reunited with him is special."
Smith, on hiring Riley: "The more I put my head around the idea, I thought it was going to be of unbelievable value in many ways. It starts with the recruiting end — especially on the West Coast, with the ties he brings. But also in the recruiting piece is evaluation. He has been an unbelievable evaluator of talent. He has such an expertise on both sides of the ball. We all know about the offensive side, but the guy coached secondary in the NFL for a couple of years, and he started his career coaching defense. As a first-time head coach, I like having a guy who sat in that seat before, being able to talk about situations as they arise. Mike is low ego, high reward. You can't find a guy who will be a better team player. I'm ecstatic to have him."
Riley, on Smith's coaching philosophy: "The first thing he wanted to do — which is right on the spot — is to get the right people here. These things are triggered by a combination of good people, evaluation, recruitment and coaching. You have to have all those things to make it work at any place."
On his orange and black wardrobe: "I saved all of my old stuff from Oregon State. In my closet, I have five sweatsuits I've been saving. Everybody is impressed I have all my Beaver stuff still ready to go."
Except 'Lightning' (equipment manager Steve McCoy). Says Riley: "He said, 'That old stuff's not gonna work. We have to get you some new gear,'"