Every day, Matt Linehan, a receivers coach in Idaho, gets up, goes to work and walks through the same doors of the Kibbie Dome that his father, Scott Linehan, entered as a full-scale coach for the Vandals more than 30 years ago.
Before beginning his NFL coaching career that included stops at Vikings, Dolphins, Rams, Lions and Cowboys, the elder Linehan began coaching in Moscow in the late 1980s.
Now, his son is doing the same.
It can’t be full circle for me,” Matt Linehan said.
Like his father, Matt Linehan also played a quarterback on the Vandals. He became a local folk champion after leading Idaho State to the famous 61-50 win of the Idaho Potatoes in 2016 against Colorado State in a game that marked the most-recorded second game in the history of an NCAA ball game.
Now, he hopes to help lead the current group of the Vandals to similar football glory at the Big Sky Conference. He said he was grateful that Idaho coach Jason Eck chose him to help with that trip.
The Daily News recently spoke with Linehan about his time as a player, his father’s influence on him and what he hopes to bring as a coach at his alma mater.
“For me to come back here is special, because this university has done so much for me to allow me to come here and live the dream of my life to play in the middle at university level,” Linehan said.
If you had told him two or three years ago if he thought he was going back to Idaho, Linehan said he probably wouldn’t have believed you.
Although he last played in 2017, there are still a few players on the roster who have matched Linehan as the quarterback. Men who love running back Rochon Johnson, linebacker Nate DeGraw and linebacker Warrior Noel, were familiar faces to Linhan on his return.
“There are two players I played with last year who are still on the team, and some of the people in the building I know very well,” Linehan said. “…kind of a unique experience for these kids to have a chance to play with and I’m now one of their coaches.”
Linehan fit the bill for the many coaches Aek chose to add to his new team when he took charge of the program in December. Eck’s crew is full of energetic young coaches who have brought renewed energy to Moscow.
The new feeling was evident during spring camp.
“It’s an exciting period, but it’s an unfamiliar area for many of us,” Linehan said. “Even though I’m coming back, it’s a new coaching staff, it’s a different feeling in the building.
“So I think the players are excited about the change and what’s going to happen.”
son of a coach
Every chance he got, young Matt Linehan would go out to NFL rehearsals or meetings with POPs.
Linehan said his parents didn’t pressure or direct him one way or the other, but he knew at a young age that he wanted to be involved in soccer coaching when he was older.
“I was fortunate enough to have my dad in the NFL for 17 years and any chance I could get into high school and middle school, whenever I was going to work I would,” Linehan said. “I would just sit there and be a sponge and absorb as much information as possible for as long as possible.”
He is so grateful to his father that he rarely says no.
“With his busy schedule as it was, to make time to make sure I could come in — and try to get out of the way, but let me out on rehearsals and meetings — I was always grateful for that,” Linehan said.
One of the things that impressed him most was his father’s ability to connect with his players – something that isn’t always easy in the pros, where stars make a lot more money than the players they coach.
“The best way to learn the game is to learn how to teach it,” he said.
Growing up, his father was a football coach and his mother was Christine Linehan, a basketball coach.
Linehan’s parents met at UI, and his uncles played with the Vandals as well, so it was fitting when Linehan accepted a scholarship offer to go to Idaho in 2014.
leave his mark
Linehan has seen individual success since his freshman season in 2014, when he started 10 of 11 games, threw for 2,540 yards and made four games for 300 yards.
But it was also a rocky start in the college ranks as Idaho advanced 1-10 and Linehan threw 18 interceptions in 11 touchdowns.
It wasn’t until the junior season in 2016 that everything finally came together.
The Vandals finished the year 9-4 with a bowl victory at Boise and a banner taking them back to the rafters at Kibbie Dome.
Linehan completed 62% of his passes that season, collected 3,184 passing yards and threw 19 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions.
His 7-yard run and 54-yard touchdown run to Jordan Frisinger in the Potato Bowl are still highlights that Vandal fans rewatch over and over years later.
“There were moments, there were spikes[that]we had some bright spots, but we couldn’t put them together, and that year we had a bunch of games where we finally got them together,” Linehan recalls. “I think (winning the ball) was the last turning point to show what we were talking about.
“I was just happy to be a part of that. Being the midfielder in that offense was really special.”
Back where it all began
After ending his football career at UI in 2017, Linehan spent a brief stint with the Alliance of American Football (AAF).
He “played about half” of football for the Salt Lake Stallion before the Startup League went bankrupt and the season ended.
From there, his next major stop was as a graduate assistant with the Missouri in the Southeast Conference, where he learned what the game was like in the “cream of the crop” for college football.
This is where he was when he received a phone call from Eck about returning to Moscow.
Linhan’s football journey has not been easy. There were countless losses, injuries and other setbacks, such as living in a hotel room in Salt Lake City when the USAF went down.
But there have also been successes, such as raising the cup of a potato pot on the blue lawn of Boise and setting records in the UI history books.
Now, he can use everything he’s learned to help shape the current Vandals – a task he doesn’t take lightly.
“Coach Aik is doing a great job at the moment and he’s really bringing back a feeling in this building that we haven’t seen in a long time,” Linehan said. “For him to come in with the mindset he has and bring in the staff he has brought in, I am just happy to be a part of it right now… and I want to make sure I do the job they did ask me to do and do it every day to the best of my ability.”