BOZEMAN — There were moments during Kane Ioane’s long career as an assistant football coach at Montana State when he thought to himself, “Is this it?”
Ioane has been a loyal Bobcat dating to his days as a four-time All-American safety at MSU from 2000-03. But he’s not without ambition. Spending nearly 17 years in one place can leave a guy itching for something more.
Still, it had to be the right fit. Ioane, now 35 years old, engaged to be married and inching closer to his 20-year Billings Skyview High School reunion, was never going to leave Montana State just because he felt like he had to.
Ioane admittedly shirked prior coaching opportunities to remain with the Bobcats — until the University of Washington came calling last year and hired him as a quality control analyst.
Ioane’s well-earned shot at the big time had arrived.
“You start thinking after Year 5, 6, 7 and 8 and as the seasons are going faster and are flying by, ‘Is this the only place?’” the Bobcat hall of famer said during a phone interview last week. “I’m really big on trusting my instincts, trusting my gut. There were a few years where I thought, ‘(MSU) might just be the spot.’
“But this opportunity at Washington presented itself and there was no way I was not going to jump on it. 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.”
Ioane’s first season as part of a Pac-12 coaching staff was as much about education as career placement.
As a quality control analyst, Ioane’s new role took him off the football field and into film and meeting rooms. As an advance scout, Ioane briefed Washington’s defensive coaches about each week’s opponent, and also looked for flaws or holes in the Huskies’ own schemes.
On game day he was in the booth serving as a second set of eyes for defensive coordinator and longtime confidante Pete Kwiatkowski.
Ioane’s contributions helped UW — under fourth-year coach Chris Petersen — to a 10-3 record, which included a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. But earlier losses to conference foes Arizona State and Stanford cost the Huskies a shot at making the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year.
“We felt like we very well could have been in that final four,” Ioane said. “It was a lack of execution in those two losses. We could have had an opportunity at a Pac-12 championship first and foremost, which could have put us in a great position for the playoffs.
“Part of my job now is to find out what went wrong.”
Ioane spent the 2017 season behind the scenes, which removed him from his true passion — coaching and instructing players on the field. But Ioane realizes the significance of his job.
And you can’t put a price on the apprenticeship he attained.
“It was the experience I was hoping for when I made the move last March,” Ioane said. “Just talking amongst the circle of coaches and friends that I know and what they told me about this place and about this coaching staff, everything was true.
“This a great program, it’s got an amazing culture, and there’s just a wealth of knowledge that I am able to gain on a daily basis. I couldn’t ask for a better situation as far as continuing my development as a coach.”
Ioane’s final game as a member of Montana State’s staff was a 24-17 victory over rival Montana on Nov. 19, 2016, at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula — though indications were that Ioane would be back for his 18th year with the program.
But midway through spring practice he was plucked away by Washington.
At the time, MSU coach Jeff Choate said Ioane had the chance to make the jump to a Power 5 program the year prior. Instead, Ioane agreed to take on the role of Choate’s top assistant in addition to his duties as linebackers coach.
Choate, who was hired at Montana State following the 2015 season, wanted Ioane to be his right-hand man.
“Selfishly, I wanted Kane here (in 2016) just from the standpoint of him being able to guide me through some of the minefields that there are in an organization that he was very familiar with, and the value that he brought as a member of this staff,” Choate said last spring.
“This year, it was a similar type of situation, but I think for him the timing was right. I was very supportive of it.”
The dots were easily connectable for Ioane. For one, Choate had come to MSU after spending three seasons on Chris Petersen’s staff at Washington (and several others with Petersen at Boise State). Also, Kwiatkowski was Ioane’s defensive coach during his Bobcat playing career.
But that’s not where the linkage stopped: Ioane coached with Washington secondary coach Jimmy Lake at Montana State in 2005; he coached against (now former) UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith when Smith was the OC at Montana from 2010-11; and he coached Huskies graduate assistant Jody Owens during Owens’ time as a star linebacker with the Bobcats.
Also, Washington assistants Matt Lubick and Ikaika Malloe, as well as administration officer Rich Rasmussen, either have connections with Montana State or spent time in the Big Sky Conference.
Ioane points to his close relationship with Kwiatkowksi as beneficial.
“He was instrumental in helping me get here, obviously having played for him and coached with him at MSU,” Ioane said. “Along my career path he’s always been a guy that I could count on. To be here and work with him, it’s been awesome.
“You talk about a guy that is extremely sharp as far as far as the defensive side of the ball is concerned. He’s a guy that’s been very successful in this profession. What I love about Pete is that he’s been very loyal in this profession as well. I really think that’s a big part of why he’s been successful.”
Ioane spent much of his time at Montana State trying to beat the Grizzlies. He did it twice in four tries as a player in 2002 and 2003 and was a part of four wins as a coach (2005, 2010, 2012, and 2016).
When Ioane first saw that UM was Washington’s Week 2 opponent this past season, the irony wasn’t lost on him.
“It was a chance to again go against the Griz and not miss out,” Ioane said. “Granted, I was wearing different colors, but the intensity was still there for me leading into that week. That part was really fun.”
Ioane said he had a greater depth of insight to provide UW’s coaches that week. He was also afforded to the chance to address the offense about Montana’s defensive tendencies and what he knew.
Not that Washington was in much danger of being upset, but a 63-7 win was a greater margin of victory than many expected.
“To have the guys go out there and win the way we did, I definitely enjoyed that,” Ioane said.
Ioane’s first season at the highest level was an exercise in growth. Now that the Huskies have begun the offseason — they lost 35-28 to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl — his duties are to self-scout the year gone by, to watch recruiting film and evaluate potential recruits ... things of that nature.
He’ll press on, although he does hope to parlay his current job into an opportunity to return to the field again as a hands-on instructor.’
That is his next objective.
“I knew that I loved football. I loved being around the guys. That’s what drew me into this profession initially,” Ioane said. “As I started teaching and coaching I realized I loved that aspect just as much.
“I love the role that I’m in, but I’m never satisfied. I’m going to do the best that I can possibly do, and hopefully that will expand my role back into position coaching and handling my own group.”