Santoro: Did Pack hire Mark III of the same coaching model?

Former Nevada coach Ken Wilson was 4-20 in his two seasons leading the Wolf Pack.

Former Nevada coach Ken Wilson was 4-20 in his two seasons leading the Wolf Pack.
Gary Kazanjian | AP

Sports Fodder:

Jeff Choate has a lot of huge challenges ahead of him as the Nevada Wolf Pack football head coach. His biggest challenge, whether he knows it or not, is proving to Wolf Pack fans that he isn't just a younger version of Chris Tormey and Ken Wilson.

The striking similarities between Wilson, Tormey and Choate are too frightening for Pack supporters, especially those of a certain age, to ignore. Whether it becomes a nightmare that just won't go away, or a pleasant situation of the third time is finally the charm remains to be seen. But the three of them are basically the same guy, with incredibly similar pedigrees, hired three times in a span of just 24 years.

That, in and of itself, is not foreign to the Pack. The Wolf Pack historically has been an organization that typically takes less time to hire a head football coach than it does for most of us to pick out a brand of paper towels at the grocery store. They just hire what is quick, easy, convenient and familiar.

Hiring the same guy three separate times, of course, has certainly been done before up on N. Virginia Street. See Chris Ault, hired in 1976, 1994 and 2004. It's just that this new three-man, seemingly never-ending loop of head coaches comes with three heads and three different wives and not just one of each (like Ault).

Tormey, Wilson and now Choate will forever be joined at the Wolf Pack hip. Pack fans will likely always confuse them. All three, of course, were and are defensive-minded coaches, specializing in the art of linebacker play. Choate, so far, seems to have twice as much personality and vigor as Tormey and Wilson, two guys who had a public persona as forgettable and uninspiring as a roll of those paper towels. But all we've seen so far is introductory-press-conference Choate. Regular-season Choate, once the losses start to pile up, might also put us and his football team to sleep like Tormey and Wilson.

How joined at the Pack hip are Tormey, Wilson and Choate? Well, Tormey was Washington State’s linebackers coach in 2011, Choate replaced him in 2012 and Wilson replaced Choate in 2013. They are basically the Ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

All three of them cut their college football teeth in the Big Sky Conference. Wilson was hired as an Ault assistant when the Pack was a Big Sky team, Tormey was a standout linebacker at Idaho when the Vandals were in the Big Sky and was hired as a head coach for the first time in 1995 when Idaho was still in the Division I-AA conference. And Choate's first head coaching gig was at Montana State in the Big Sky from 2016-19.

Why is separating himself from Tormey and Wilson so important for Choate? Well, as Pack fans of a certain age can tell you, Tormey and Wilson were a combined 20-51 over six painful seasons as Pack head coaches with zero winning seasons. They both left the Wolf Pack barren, busted and broken when they were mercifully relieved of their duties.

It is imperative that Choate wakes the Pack up from this familiar nightmare, or else the Pack will no doubt repeat it once again.


The Tormey-Choate similarities are especially deep, starting with their profound connections to the Pacific Northwest (Tormey in Idaho and Choate in Montana).

Big Sky teams gave Tormey (Idaho in 1995) and Choate (Montana State in 2016) their first head coaching jobs. Wilson was never a head coach before outgoing Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth hurriedly gave him the Pack job after the 2021 season. Tormey and Choate both coached at Washington State and Washington. Both were former high school coaches, and both replaced long-time Ault assistants at Nevada when they got the Pack job (Tormey supplanted Jeff Tisdel while Choate took over from Wilson).

Tormey also replaced former Ault assistant John L. Smith as Idaho head coach. Tormey also was an assistant at Washington under head coach Keith Gilbertson. Choate just hired Gilbertson's son, David Gilbertson, as his quarterback coach. We're still investigating whether Choate and Tormey are the same guy.

Yes, Pack fans, the Wolf Pack has a clear and distinct type as far as football head coaches are concerned. For the past 50 years or so, for the most part, the Pack has either hired Ault I, II or III or some version of the Tormey-Wilson-Choate linebackers coach Frankenstein creation, a creation that was started and formed by Ault, Dr. Frankenstein himself. 


Choate being compared to Tormey is not as frightening for current Pack fans as a first and quick glance at Tormey's 16-31 record as Pack head coach might suggest. Tormey, a solid and respected football coach throughout his 40-year career, has always been criticized and denigrated for his Pack years more than he deserved.

First of all, Ault (as athletic director) fired him and took his job after the 2003 season despite Tormey's teams improving throughout his Pack career. Yes, they only went from 2-10 to 3-8 to 5-7 and 6-6. But it was an improvement just the same and he was doing it in a conference (Western Athletic Conference) the Pack was simply not ready to compete in at the time. Tormey's Pack teams were also a respectable 8-8 over his final two seasons in WAC games.

That was just Ault being King Ault.

True, Tormey never did beat UNLV or Boise State, a fact Ault would tell anybody who would listen. But Tormey's firing was simply a matter of Ault itching to get back into coaching and he still was in his Wolf Pack King era of doing whatever he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it. So, the change was made. It must be noted that Ault, in his first year in Tormey's seat in 2004, took Tormey's 6-6, 4-4 team of 2003 and went 5-7, 3-5 and also didn’t beat UNLV or Boise State.

Tormey's Pack teams, despite only moderate success on the scoreboard, were always exciting and unpredictable. They also had an abundance of individual, dynamic talent with the likes of (among others) Nate Burleson, David Neill, Derek Kennard Jr., Chance Kretschmer, Damon Fine, J.J. Milan, B.J. Mitchell, Jeff Rowe, Jorge Cordova, Tony Moll, Cody Johnson, Zack Threadgill, Harvey Dahl, Chris Barry, Chris Hines and Logan Carter.

Tormey's Pack teams beat Washington and BYU. He hired outstanding assistant coaches (such as Jim Mastro and Barry Sacks, two guys Ault couldn't live without in his third version as Pack head coach) and saw his defenses score eight touchdowns in his four seasons. His offenses were also explosive and had a ton of huge (50 yards or longer) plays for scores.

If Choate's Wolf Pack this year gives us a little bit of that Tormey explosiveness and fun (an upset win or two, a big-play offense and defense), his first year will be a success. 


Bronny James, in case you haven't heard, clearly did not deserve to be drafted in the second round (55th overall) by the Los Angeles Lakers last week. He's 19 years old and played just 483 minutes over his 25 games at USC last year as a freshman, averaging just 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists.

To put all that in Wolf Pack terms, he's Daniel Foster — you know, without the basketball experience or savvy.

But Bronny has nearly 10 million followers on Instagram, he's already a multi-millionaire and, in case you haven't heard, his father is LeBron James. Yes, of course, the Lakers didn't actually have to draft Bronny because nobody else wanted him, but LeBron insisted. Bronny has lived in a sheltered, privileged and royal family existence his entire life and that will continue in professional basketball as long as LeBron is his father.

But don't blame Bronny. It's not his fault. He could have told his dad that he wasn't ready for the NBA and wanted to stay at USC and play for former Pack coach Eric Musselman this coming season. He could have told his father to move on to more pressing Laker needs, but nobody tells LeBron anything. It's why J.J. Redick, a podcaster, is now the Lakers’ coach.

Just don't hate Bronny because he's famous, rich and privileged. He's just the male basketball version of Kim, Kylie and Kendall Jenner trying to find his path in life. Blame it on social media.

LeBron is simply bored with playing for the Lakers and just needed a reason to come to practice. He also likely can't wait to send a photo of him and Bronny in their Lakers' uniforms this year to Michael Jordan, whose sons Marcus and Jeffrey (much better college basketball players than Bronny) never played in the NBA, let alone with their famous dad.

Take that, GOAT.

Bronny, who stands 6-foot-4, can play. Forget those USC stats. He's physically gifted and athletic and, while he's not ready for the NBA right now, could develop into a decent player someday. Maybe someday soon. LeBron, one of the smartest players in history, is not going to allow his son to embarrass himself. Bronny will carve out an NBA career eventually. We'll find out if that proves to be true when LeBron fires Redick and takes his job in three years and plays Bronny 35 minutes a night.


Are the Golden State Warriors giving up? Why did they allow Klay Thompson to agree to sign with the Dallas Mavericks this week?

There have been reports that the Warriors tried to get Paul George before the Los Angeles Clippers' star agreed to a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers this week. And there are other reports the Lakers have looked into a trade for Zack LaVine of the Chicago Bulls and might be exploring a trade for Lauri Markkanen of the Utah Jazz.

So, the Lakers haven't exactly given up just yet. Not officially. But if you are Steph Curry — a 36-year-old Steph Curry, by the way — and you look around you right now at your teammates, are you thrilled? Curry will see Draymond Green, who fluctuates between being a podcaster and an overrated, past-his-prime NBA player from one moment to the next. He'll also see a group that includes Jonathan Kuminga, Kevon Looney, Andrew Wiggins, Moses Moody and Gary Payton II. He might be better off with a 55-year-old Gary Payton I as his backcourt mate this year.

It's over, Warrior fans. Go watch your NBA championship videos and wear your title hats and T-shirts and relive the glory years. There aren't more coming anytime soon.

The Warriors, though, owe it to Curry (and head coach Steve Kerr) to beef up this roster before Curry looks like a 41-year-old Willie Mays in 1972 with a roster that includes Al Gallagher, Ken Henderson, Ed Goodson and Chris Speier. Yes, Mays also had a young Garry Maddox, Barry Bonds and Dave Kingman that year but they, too, would also leave the Bay Area soon. And young doesn't win a World Series just like it doesn't win an NBA title.

Curry and Klay were Mays and Willie McCovey. They were Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. They were and always will be Bay Area royalty. And now it's over. This current Warriors roster, sans Klay, might not make the playoffs, let alone win a championship. Curry is now just playing for money and stats and waiting for the Hall of Fame to come calling.


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