Chris Fisk can distinctly recall a family photo taken more than 30 years ago: He and his kin were lined up, each sporting old-school “Idaho State, 1981 national champions” sweaters.
“I grew up watching a lot of Big Sky football, that’s for sure,” said Fisk, a Pocatello native and the first-year head coach at Division II Central Washington, which will travel to Moscow for a 6 p.m. game Saturday with Idaho. “I got to coach and be coached by a number of former Bengals, and also gotta coach with former Vandals.”
It all started close to home, with an ISU icon: Jim Koetter, a longtime Bengals coach in the 1980s and the father of Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
Jim Koetter, known by many for his decades-long stint at Highland High School, led rival Pocatello to two state titles when Fisk was a student — in 1992 and ’94. It helped prompt Fisk’s decision to coach, which he did for a year at his alma mater before playing college ball at Southwestern College (Kansas) and Jamestown in North Dakota.
Immediately after, it was onto his vocation.
“I was fortunate enough to coach in two state championships too,” Fisk said.
As fate would have it, it was at Highland. From 2000-01, Fisk assisted alongside boss Brent Koetter — Jim’s son and an ISU grad — and Chris Frost, a former Idaho safety in the late 1970s whose Vandal teams were the first to play in the Kibbie Dome.
It just so happens the last time Fisk stepped foot in the Dome was in 2000, when Highland upended Lewiston to claim the state title. In ’01, his Rams lost to Eagle in the championship.
The coaching world isn’t as broad as one might think. A year later, Fisk took a graduate-assistant opening at the University of Mary (N.D.). After five years grinding with the offensive line, he was promoted to offensive coordinator, a position he held for four more seasons.
His defensive counterpart? Jason Petrino, the cousin of UI coach Paul Petrino who was at Mary from 2005-07. He’s entering his first year as Southern Illinois’ defensive coordinator.
“Jason’s still a close friend of mine,” Fisk said. “I really got tied into knowing a number of those (Idaho) guys through him.”
Including Paul Petrino — to a slight extent — and Tony Spencer, UI’s receivers coach and a Carroll alum, like both Petrinos.
But before, he’d known now-UI offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich. At Mary, Fisk oftentimes recruited players from Las Vegas High, where Cinkovich was head coach from 1995-02.
In the mid 2000s, Fisk associated with Vandals defensive coordinator Mike Breske at summer recruiting camps in Wyoming — Breske led the Cowboys’ defense then.
“(Football coaching) is a fraternity, that’s for sure,” Fisk laughed. “I have a lot of respect for that staff.”
The Big Sky as well, apparently. Fisk was hired as CWU’s offensive coordinator in ’16 after five years in the same job at NAIA Southern Oregon, which he guided to a national title in 2014 by way of the country’s best offense.
At Ellensburg, Wash. — the home of Central — Fisk and Co. began landing Big Sky talent, and many who had “dreams, aspirations of playing in the Big Sky,” he said.
The Wildcats, a consistently top-25 Division II team and reigning back-to-back Great Northwest Athletic Conference champs, boast seven former Big Sky players, and one — linebacker Hamilton Hunt — from the Pac-12’s Oregon State.
Of note is quarterback Braden Miles, previously of Weber State. But Fisk pumped the brakes.
“We have five guys battling for that position, and they’ll battle up until about 5:59 on Saturday,” he said.
Under Fisk, CWU’s offense steadily landed in the upper echelons of D-II. Although, his task in Year 1 as boss is ferreting out an M.O.
CWU’s had to replace a handful of assistants this offseason, including Fisk’s old spot, which was vacated when he took the place of former coach Ian Shoemaker, now Eastern Washington’s offensive coordinator.
“There’s a lot of new (aspects to the team) and we’re young, so we’ll figure it out,” he said. “We’re breaking in a lot of new alignments, a new QB, we’re breaking in a new special teams coordinator, a new OC. We’ll find out if we’re balanced and what style of football we play.”
It’s the first meeting between Central and UI, and it’s CWU’s season opener. Yet the place and tune-up-style of game won’t daunt the Idahoan, whose teams are accustomed to the Big Sky — they’ve played Portland State, and last year, EWU.
Furthermore, Fisk’s Gem State ties aren’t just southern.
His uncle, Phil Adamek, partnered in the past with Tony Copeland on numerous L-C Valley business ventures. They co-founded AdCope Athletic Club.
“I spent a lot of holidays over in Lewiston,” Fisk said. “My roots definitely run deep (in Idaho).”
Colton Clark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.