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Levenseller makes smooth transition at UI

Mike Levenseller is in his first year with Idaho after 19 years coaching Washington State. (The Spokesman-Review)
Mike Levenseller is in his first year with Idaho after 19 years coaching Washington State. (The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Every night Mike Levenseller makes his way from the Idaho football offices to his home in Pullman. The drive is only 10 miles, but it gives him time to reflect – on his first season with the Vandals, on his 19 years coaching at Washington State, on how he almost ended his college coaching career after last fall.

“I don’t know if I would have gone anywhere else,” Levenseller said this week. “I may have wrapped it up.”

The longtime Cougars assistant and WSU Hall of Fame receiver acknowledged it “wasn’t a real good parting” with his alma mater after new coach Mike Leach decided to not retain him or anyone else from Paul Wulff’s staff.

Still, Levenseller is happy at Idaho, working alongside Robb Akey, Jason Gesser and other former Cougars. He officially joined the program in April as receivers coach and passing-game coordinator.

“The staffs I was with at Washington State,” he said, “all of them were really good staffs and good guys. Then all the sudden here’s another good-guy staff. And when you get involved in that, gosh, it’s not that tough to come to work.”

Levenseller, 56, said he questioned whether he would coach again in December. But then he heard about the opportunity to stay in college football – and stay on the Palouse – with Idaho.

After working with Levenseller at WSU from 1999 to 2006, Akey was thrilled to add him to his staff. The Vandals’ sixth-year head coach has called Levenseller one of the best receivers coaches in the nation.

Yet it takes time, Levenseller said, to familiarize players with his detail-oriented, disciplined approach.

The growing pains were evident in Week 1, when Idaho managed three points against FCS foe Eastern Washington at home. Afterward, Akey pointed to would-be big catches from Vandals receivers “that fell on the floor.”

Levenseller refused to publicly criticize his wideouts – or even grade their effort. Instead, he said the receivers’ performance was part of a process, one that he sees as working.

“If the effort’s good and they play physical football, I’m a lot happier,” he said. “…We’re trying to reach a consistent level, and it’s a process. So we pointed out the positives, corrected the negatives. We just move forward.”

Since starting with the Vandals during spring camp, Levenseller has looked at ease on the practice field. He rarely gets agitated – at least not loud enough for those within earshot to hear – and his usual attire is shorts and a T-shirt with a floppy Vandals golf hat.

Before coming to UI he was encouraged by coaches from other staffs to “just keep working with kids,” an admonition that meant a lot, he said.

Senior receiver Mike Scott, the Vandals’ offensive captain, has felt the difference that Levenseller made through spring and fall camp. It’s all about the seemingly small things, like setting up on the line and coming out of breaks.

“It felt weird at first, and then we watch it on film and see exactly what he’s talking about,” Scott said. “And over time, we pick up those little things to where they become habits and then we figure out this kind of works. This guy, he might know what he’s talking about.”

Idaho is in the last year of playing in the WAC and has struggled for much of its FBS existence. But Levenseller said coaching here involves hammering the same fundamentals he did at WSU and in the Canadian Football League.

As for any other differences between Idaho and WSU, he wouldn’t go there.

“I’ve been to two Rose Bowls and I’ve been beaten by Idaho twice – when they were a better football team than us,” he said. “…I’ve been humbled in that rivalry. Football in its own right will humble you.

“And the key is you get up the next day, come back. It’s what we have to do this week (at Bowling Green).”

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