Following whirlwind job change, OL coach Armstrong providing boost for Bobcats

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MSU football, Brian Armstrong (copy)

Brian Armstrong has dealt with multiple job changes in his tenure but is now making a positive impact coaching offensive linemen.

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Brian Armstrong waited a few seconds, pondering.

He thought about how he handled himself last year. After Montana State’s offense sputtered in the first few weeks of the 2018 season, head coach Jeff Choate moved Armstrong from offensive coordinator and play caller to simply a position coach. Then Armstrong took over as MSU’s offensive line coach and run-game coordinator this offseason.

Finally, after a few seconds, Armstrong answered.

“I mean, my job is to do what they tell me my job is,” he said. “So that’s what I did. I hope I’ve always been that kind of guy.”

With Division I coordinator experience and having been a head coach at Rocky Mountain College, Armstrong could’ve left for another job. But he remained, determined to fulfill the responsibilities put in front of him.

And his impact on the No. 6-ranked Bobcats (4-1, 1-0 Big Sky) is clear. Thanks in part to their offensive line, they lead the Big Sky in rushing with 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns. They also have allowed a conference-low two sacks.

MSU players and coaches credit Armstrong for how he conducted himself through the whirlwind of last season. By remaining at MSU, he displayed dedication to the responsibilities assigned to him, whatever they may be.

“I’ve never really focused on where I want to do it, just what I’m doing,” Armstrong said. “Just focused on what you can control and that’s your position group and having your guys play well and doing the best job that you can do.”

Choate’s known Armstrong since the early 1990s when Choate was a student coach and Armstrong was an all-American offensive lineman at Montana Western. They also coached together for two seasons at Utah State in the early 2000s. Still, Choate felt 28-year-old Matt Miller, previously MSU’s wide receivers coach, would be better off leading the offense and calling plays.

While passing game coordinator Bob Cole left the team when Miller was promoted, Armstrong was retained. Choate’s not sure anybody but Armstrong could’ve managed it all.

“I just got a ton of respect for the way he handled it,” Choate said. “Was not an easy thing for me, for him. He’s a lifelong friend of mine, but I knew I wanted him here, and we needed him here.”

Growing up in East Helena, Armstrong never thought he would be a coach at MSU. Working himself up to OC required diligence. Choate called him a football junkie because he’s constantly watching film, not just of games but of clinics and drills as well.

And almost instantly, that job was ripped away. On top of that, he was in a position to help his replacement thrive.

And that’s what Miller did. The Bobcats averaged 38 points per contest in their last three games of the 2018 regular season.

But Armstrong cared about Miller and his success because it benefited the team. Armstrong offered Miller advice and whatever assistance he could.

Armstrong knew the scrutiny Miller would face. He was under that same pressure. He knew Miller would receive plenty of the credit or blame depending on what happened.

Miller called him his right-hand man. He leans on Armstrong for game planning and reminding him of organizational tasks, little things like drawing play cards for the scout team Miller hadn’t previously thought of when he was a position coach.

In fact, Miller trusts Armstrong with anything.

“He’s a first-class human being,” Miller said. “There’s not a lot of guys I could find that are better than Brian Armstrong. I just think he does it the right way, how he handles his business, how he handles his life.”

Armstrong (copy)

Montana State's Brian Armstrong, center, garnered respect from his players and fellow coaches when he was reassigned to a strictly a position coach in 2018.

Armstrong, who coached MSU’s offensive line for a season before taking over at OC in 2017, was clearly embracing his current job from the first day of fall camp.

With less responsibility, the Montana Western athletics hall of fame inductee roamed Dyche Field, smiling as often as he was calling out commands to his linemen.

He was comfortable with players he had built a rapport with.

“You’re looking through a straw rather than a scope,” Armstrong said about his job compared to being offensive coordinator. “It’s a big position group, and it takes a lot of details to get it good.”

MSU guard Lewis Kidd felt Armstrong never changed in attitude or demeanor last season. And he hasn’t changed much compared to former O-line coach Joshua Taufalele.

Armstrong is intense, honest and holds his players accountable, Kidd said.

Kidd compared the situation to when his playing time was slashed earlier in his career. He was taught, no matter how badly he wanted to be on the field, to embrace his role, whether it was 50 snaps or 10.

“(Armstrong) handles everything like all the coaches preach to us,” Kidd said. “He’s taken it in stride and has kept going, kept working. He never let up. He never stopped. So it’s kind of a good example to live by.”

Choate commended Armstrong for his intelligence, specifically when it comes to in-game adjustments in the run game. That was clear last week when the Bobcats rushed for 340 yards, 244 after intermission, leading to 35 unanswered points in the second half and a 49-31 comeback victory over Northern Arizona.

Choate said Armstrong is the one who recognizes defensive schemes and exploits them.

Kidd recognized Armstrong as a reason the Bobcats excelled after halftime. And MSU players like running back Logan Jones recognize Armstrong’s resilience as he continues to focus on his job.

“That’s just something we talk about on this team is owning your role and being your role,” Jones said. “That goes with coaches too. He’s found his role, and he’s owning it.”

Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.

This article originally ran on bozemandailychronicle.com.

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