Ex-Montana State coach vying for LU football job

Published 11:40 pm Monday, December 12, 2016

Lamar has not released any names of candidates for the head football coaching position, but a well-known coach in the Football Championship Subdivision with family ties to Texas and plenty of experience in the NCAA Division I playoffs has confirmed he applied.

Former Montana State head coach Rob Ash threw his name in the hat after Lamar fired Ray Woodard on Nov. 21. Ash, 65, spent nine seasons with the Bobcats, of the Big Sky Conference, winning at least a share of the league championship three straight years (2010-12) and coaching in six playoff games, most recently in 2014.

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“I’m interested in obtaining a head coaching job again,” said Ash, who is now an offensive analyst at Arkansas. “I ventured out and had a great experience. It’s been exciting. It’s been great for me to be here, but I’m ready to move on.”

Ash was fired from Montana State after a 5-6 season in 2015, his only losing record at the university. He finished as the Bobcats’ all-time leader in victories (70-38 record), a feat he achieved at two other institutions, Pennsylvania’s Juniata College (51-36-3 from 1980-88) and Iowa’s Drake University (125-63-2 from 1989-2006).

At Arkansas, Ash holds a position that is different from a regular coaching position in that he works with coaches and uses analytics to help the staff develop their game plans. Unlike coach Bret Bielema and his assistants, Ash does not interact with the players but he stands on the sideline during games and consults with coaches.

Ash said he is a client of Championship Analytics Inc., which prepares for him a “Game Book” that includes color-coded charts that suggest whether team should go for a first down, punt or kick a field goal based on remaining time, margin of the score and “team-related factors.” In a USA Today article about Arkansas’ analytics approach, Bielema called it “the ‘Moneyball’ approach to football,” in reference to the 2011 Brad Pitt movie.

“It’s a unique angle of looking at statistics with analytics,” Ash said. Championship Analytics, founded in 2011, received a patent this past Aug. 23.

Ash has used an analytics approach since 2014, when he helped Montana State reach the NCAA playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons and finish 8-5.

He’s won a combined eight shared or outright conference championships with his three schools and owns a 2-4 playoff record. Montana State beat New Hampshire in 2012 and was seeded No. 3 when it defeated Stony Brook in 2013, but lost to eventual runner-up Sam Houston State both years.

One advantage possibly working in Ash’s favor is his experience recruiting in the Lone Star State.

“I recruited Texas extensively,” Ash said. “A large number of good players from Texas have come to our program.”

Ash’s wife is from Houston and his son Scott, Championship Analytics’ director of football strategy, played baseball at TCU.

Lamar athletic director Jason Henderson told The News he has not met with any candidates about the vacant position and hoped to have an update on the search this week. The university’s open records office is reviewing a Freedom of Information request from The News for applications and resumes of coaching candidates.

Ash declined to comment on whether he’s been contacted about an interview, citing that he did not want to compromise the search process.

Woodard was fired after going 34-48 in the seven seasons since Lamar relaunched its football program. His only winning season was 8-4 in 2014.

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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