Bruce Barnum bought 2,064 beers for this story
He may have the hardest job in college football, but Portland State's head coach has no time to talk about problems.
PORTLAND — Don’t tell Bruce Barnum about his problems.
He knows them. His players know them and so does the fanbase.
The Portland State Vikings have no home stadium. They lack the funding to compete financially with the top-level teams in the Big Sky Conference and currently recruit to a downtown campus in a city that’s been through the wringer. His athletic director quit in July, and after 11 months away from campus during the pandemic the Vikings begin conference play today against a fine-tuned Montana State machine.
The seventh-year coach is also missing a fence.
“We had one up here because we’re having trouble with guys not involved with our program coming and taking my balls,” Barnum said after practice Tuesday. “We found some down at Pioneer Square — but then my fence got stolen. I’m guessing it’s somewhere downtown.”
“No bitching,” he said. “That’s our rule. Don’t bring me the problems, help me out with the solutions.”
So what if Montana has more local boosters to sweeten the pockets of athletes through NIL deals?
Barnum just had 6-foot-10, 395-pound offensive lineman John Krahn sign a deal with the WWE.1
So what if Montana State has a front-seven that’s going to give the Vikings trouble this afternoon?
“It’s just a new puzzle,” he said. “I’m sure they’re going to blitz everything in the book, which is good if you can pick it up.”
And so what if Portland State’s home stadium is in Hillsboro, 13 miles from campus and not exactly the easiest sell for the ticketing office?
That solution turned Barnum’s grin into an all-out smile.
“How’d you like that?” he asked.
The way Barnum tells it, the athletic department hit him up early last week asking if he could help promote Portland State’s first “home” game in 22 months.
“Watch this,” Barnum told them, before going on John Canzano’s local radio show and promising to buy beer for everyone who attended the Sept. 18 game against Western Oregon at Hillsboro Stadium.
The multipurpose facility has been the Vikings home since 2019, ever since the university flew the white flag in its scheduling fight with the Timbers and Thorns to secure time at Providence Park downtown. The stadium shares a concourse with Ron Tonkin Field, the home of the minor league baseball Hillsboro Hops, and ball players from the Vancouver Canadians, co-tenants of the ballpark for the summer thanks to Covid, roamed the stands.
Barny’s Beer Garden, which served 1,260 free Coors Lights and 786 Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPAs, sat just past the left field wall. It was a weird scene. It was a fun scene. It was a mostly-full stadium, and with minutes ticking down in the third quarter, concession employees encouraged double fisting before they had to halt sales. Portland State beat Western Oregon 21-7 and Barnum and the Vikings have been in the headlines since.
“That was so smart of him,” said freshman receiver Darien Chase. “That got us national attention. That’s my first game in that stadium and I had people asking me for tickets.”
Chase grew up in Vancouver, just north of Portland, and was a three-star prospect at Union High before signing with Nebraska. He played four games for the Cornhuskers in 2019, retained his redshirt status and transferred back to the Northwest in May of 2020.
“I’ve lost a lot of family members and I have struggled with mental health and depression for the past six or seven years,” Chase wrote on Twitter at the time, “and these events put me in a place I can never fall to again, and it is the best decision for me and my family for me to transfer closer to home.”
In Aug. 2020, the Big Sky Conference canceled its fall season. And when the Vikings met for offseason workouts in late Jan. 2021, it was the first time the team had formally been together in 11 months. Chase lives in an apartment close to campus, said he’s enjoying city life and has 20 catches for 237 yards for a Portland State offense that hung around FBS opponents Hawaii (45-35 loss) and Washington State (44-24 loss) in the season’s opening two weeks.
“Coach is one of the funniest people I’ve ever been around and he takes care of everyone around him,” Chase said. “I love him.”
On Tuesday, Barnum was still figuring out the tab. A sponsor was going to chip in for the first 150 to 200 beers, but he said he still had to pay a $3 tax for every donated beer. Then it went up to $7 a pop.
“It was a bill, but screw it,” he said. “Even the president was happy. This was nationwide. My brother lives in Tokyo and he’s sending me stuff.
Ideally, Barnum wouldn’t have to play promoter. The Big Sky Conference is hard enough and the Vikings haven’t had a winning season since Barnum’s first year in 2015. “There’s just so much stuff he has to do behind the scenes,” said quarterback Davis Alexander.
He’s had opportunities elsewhere.
“But there are things I want to do here,” he said. “But that’s an issue of how much I can do and how long I have to do it.
“I want to put a stadium right here,” he said from Portland State’s practice field in southwest downtown. “I think it would be perfect right there. A 7,500-9,000 seat stadium would change this place. But is it going to get done? I don’t know. That would take the mighty Phil and other guys to pony up.”
A stadium may be too big for the pockets of Barnum’s $195,708 salary, but a few beers here and there have gone a long way.
“It cost me a few thousand dollars,” he said. “But I think it turned out alright.”
— Tyson Alger
“From what I understand Vince McMahon did it with 10 football players across the country. And John Krahn, he must have saw an article about him being the biggest player in the country. So he’s taking those 10 and they’ll get names and they’re going to bring them out to four or five events this year and throw them to the crowd. And whoever catches on of those 10, they’re going to sign as a wrestler.”