Return of the Champions
Fall 2011 Issue | By Steve Schaack
Dave Kragthorpe was only the head football coach at Idaho State for three years. But his three years were magical as he guided the Bengals to the 1981 National Championship in his second season.
It's hard to believe it has been 30 years, but this year fans can relive the glory of the 1981 season as the team will celebrate winning the title once again the weekend of homecoming on Oct. 1. The team will be honored at halftime of the game.
Kragthorpe, who is a Utah State alum who earned all-conference honors in 1953-54, currently lives in Logan, Utah, where he is retired after spending 10 years volunteering in the Utah State University alumni office and athletic department. Now Kragthorpe spends his time watching his grandsons play sports, attending Utah State games and making trips up to Pocatello to watch Idaho State games.
Last year, Kragthorpe and his wife Barbara were able to see three ISU football games, and they make a trip up to Pocatello for basketball games once or twice a year.
"I enjoyed living in Pocatello," Kragthorpe said. "It was just a special place. I had as good as people at Idaho State as I had anywhere else."
Kragthorpe attributes the success he had at Idaho State, especially during his National Championship run, to several factors.
"We had players despite the fact we had lost 17 straight games," Kragthorpe said. "We got several junior college players including quarterback Mike Machurek. We got six to 10 junior college players that were good players."
Kragthorpe said another factor to his success was the opportunity to get players from the United States International University when it dropped its football program. An assistant coach, Mike Shepherd, had coached there previously, and was easily able to recruit players.
"When I hired Mike we did not know they were going to drop football," Kragthorpe said. "Two weeks later they dropped it and we went and got six guys who all contributed. Everything meshed so well together."
Kragthorpe said one memory he has of the 1981 season was beating Boise State 21-10 in Boise.
"Going there early and beating them gave us momentum," Kragthorpe said. "We knew we would be pretty good because we won six games the previous year. That win was big and it got us started."
After three years at Idaho State University, Kragthorpe left to become the athletic director at his alma mater, Utah State University.
"I thought that would be a lifetime commitment," he said. "How many opportunities do you get to be an athletic director at your alma mater? Then I realized I missed coaching."
After two years, he took a job as head coach at Oregon State University, where he was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 1989.
"The opportunity to coach at a Pac 10 school was good," Kragthorpe said. "To be honest, I was spoiled by the Idaho State experience. I thought I could do the same thing. We had to play money games, and at that level you shouldn't have to."
Kragthorpe left Oregon State in 1990 and the last year he did any coaching was 1994. During that span, he spent time helping friends coach a season at a time. In 1993, Kragthorpe was also named to the Utah State All-Century team.
Kragthorpe will follow the Bengals even more keenly over the next four years as his grandson Brad Kragthorpe joined the ISU football program this year.