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The Sully Side of Sports: Ex-Sailor Coyle's journey leads to Boise State

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Mark Coyle walked the halls of Waterloo Columbus High School 25 years ago.

Next week, Coyle will step into an office at Boise State University. On Jan. 5, his term as the Broncos' new director of athletics begins.

Before Coyle makes another move, he'll put a long journey, a trip that's taken him all over the United States, on hold for just a brief moment.

"The first thing I'm gonna do is take a deep breath," said Coyle, chuckling. "It's funny you should ask that. A lot of people have asked that question."

That's not the only question the 43-year-old Coyle has been asked. There are others, such as: How does a 1987 graduate of Columbus go from hoping to be a high school teacher to running an athletic department at a university that's become nationally known over the past 20 years?

Coyle has some answers. You move, you prepare, you learn, you strive to be honest with yourself and the people around you.

Then - voila! There's Mark Coyle, ready to go at Boise State, and not especially startled to be there.

"It's not a surprise," said Coyle. "I've been doing this for 20 years."

He added, "I've tried to position myself and give myself the background to be an athletic director. When Boise State happened, I was pretty excited about it."

During his high school days, Coyle was part of an exciting time at Columbus. He played wide receiver for the 1986 Sailors, who won a state football championship.

From there, Coyle played college football at Drake. Knowing his days on the field were drawing to a close, he thought about his future.

Early on, he didn't quite see himself taking a deep breath at Boise State University.

"I had every intention of being a high school teacher," said Coyle.

But, as he worked on his master's degree in English at Drake, Coyle began to consider a career in athletic administration. Yes, he did some student teaching. Yes, he worked as a volunteer coach at Des Moines Lincoln for two familiar faces - former Columbus head coach Rick Hendryx and Tim Miller, who had been on the Sailor staff with Hendryx.

Yet, an opportunity came at Florida State to pursue another path. Coyle went to Tallahassee and picked up an advanced degree in athletic administration.

"Everything fell into place," said Coyle. "I got down there, saw things at that level and I was fortunate to get into the college side of it."

He stayed at FSU briefly. The road trip had barely begun. Coyle went to the University of Miami in Florida. He took a four-year detour (1997-2001) with a company called Host Communications as a vice president in its Collegiate Sports Division.

Then came a stint at the University of Minnesota that lasted from 2001 to 2005. After that came a six-year stay at Kentucky. Among other things, Coyle worked closely with one of the highest-profile programs in college athletics - men's basketball.

Finally, after Boise State fired athletic director Gene Bleymeier last August in the wake of NCAA violations, Coyle was interested. His boss at Kentucky, Mitch Barnhart, made some calls. Rich Brooks, a former football coach with the Wildcats and Oregon, offered help.

Coyle went through the process. A few weeks ago, Boise State hired him.

"It happened very quickly," said Coyle. "It was a quick process and an exciting process."

In a press release issued when Coyle's hiring was announced, Boise State president Bob Kustra said, "Mark brings senior-level experience from two nationally recognized programs, and we believe he is the ideal choice for this important position ... Mark is a rising star in this profession."

Coyle's been aided by experienced mentors. He learned from Joel Maturi, the athletic director at Minnesota. There was Kentucky's Barnhart, who has helped several of his assistants move on to bigger jobs.

Then there's Gary Schnieders, who was one of Coyle's teachers and coaches at Columbus.

"He made an unbelievable impression on me," said Coyle. "His hard work and discipline and focus on education - I always remember that. Every time I get back to Waterloo - and it's not as often as I would like - I spend time with coach Schnieders. He was a big influence."

Now, he's got a big job at Boise State. Coyle is undeterred by the NCAA penalties that include the loss of football scholarships and three years of probation. A new compliance staff is in place.

He plans to run an "inclusive" and aggressive athletic department.

At the same time, Coyle will remember the lessons he learned in the stops from Tallahassee to Miami to Minneapolis to Lexington. He also won't forget where it all began for him - as a kid growing up in Iowa.

"I just think Iowa fed the passion I have for sports," said Coyle. "What I really enjoy is how grounded people in Iowa are. People are who they are. That's had a tremendous impact on me.

"In Iowa, I think it's actions, not words. I learned that actions speak volumes."

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