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Bruce Barnum on Tomahawk Steaks, a stellar recruiting class and the best play he's ever called
Portland State's head coach got to celebrate the No. 3 recruiting class in all of FCS last week.
Portland State surprised quite a few people last week by landing the No. 3 class in all of the FCS, only behind Campbell and Jackson State. The Vikings added depth in the trenches on both sides of the ball, took in some FBS refugees and turned in the No. 1 class in the Big Sky Conference — all the while coming off a 4-7 season.
I caught up with PSU coach Bruce Barnum late last week to talk about how the Vikings turned the corner this offseason, how they’ve benefitted from the transfer portal era and, finally, the best play he’s ever called.
Alger: So, I know Oregon had their big celebration over at Nike on signing day. What did you guys do last night?
Barnum: There was a combined Happy Holidays, Happy New Year and Thank You For What You Do For Me Dinner. I took every one of my staff members, the 14 of us, to River Pig Saloon. We saddled up and I got them a, what’s it called when the bone thing is sticking out?
Alger: A Tomahawk?
Barnum: Yeah. They all had Tomahawk steaks. They lived like a king for about an hour — 69 minutes. I opened up the bar as long as I could afford it. I saw they started slugging and toasting and having races, so I cut that off. It was fun. The steak was outstanding. Anyway, that’s what we did.
Alger: Just penning through that press release you guys put out yesterday, it’s not often you guys get to send something like that. I mean, I know you like to joke, but that had to be pretty rewarding.
Barnum: It was. And you know what Alger? We have a chance. I think I finally made a masterful move as a head coach. I hired a guy — Director of Player Personnel Terry Davis — and all he does is recruit. And I re-hired AC Patterson. Alger, what he was here before, he was nails. But his eye for talent, his relationships with kids, his organization — he shouldn’t be with me. Do I love him? I do. But you know what, he’s an NFL guy, he’s a Pac-12/SEC recruiting guy. I don’t care what anybody says, he’ll knock it out of the park on anyone’s staff.
Alger: How did you guys end up back with him? He was with the Vikings for a bit wasn’t he?
Barnum: He had a couple of those analyst gigs. But I know his wife is from here and they just had their son, so I called him the moment he got released. I didn’t even have a job for him, but I said listen, I have a job for you let me know. I waited and waited and waited. Then I broke the piggy bank and scraped and scrounged, didn’t buy coffee for a month, and was able to hire him. He won’t be here long. If he is, every FCS school in America is messing up.
Alger: Well we don’t have to mention him in here.
Barnum: Oh no, I don’t mind. I want to help him. I love him. I’ve known his dad — 14-year NFL coach Andre Patterson — for a long time. He’s different. He’s the reason. He has me watching 20 films a day, he’s organizing and running everything on the social media side of recruiting. He’s locked in. And the rest of my staff did a nice job. We’re all wiped out right now. They did a good job.
Alger: How much has the portal changed things for you guys at an FCS level?
Barnum: For that early signing day, anybody that we want doesn’t want us back. They’re going Pac-12, they’re not touching Portland State. Then all of a sudden everybody is in the portal. That’s the biggest thing I saw this year. I was watching it, figuring out how to take advantage, and this year, all the big boys were trade partners. They’re using the waiver wire and it’s allowed me to get a higher caliber of high school player. It surprised me at first because we had six in that first group. I lost one late to UNLV and, those kids, they’re talented. There’s more talent there than I’ve gotten in the past. High School coaches right now, when a high school kid gets an offer it used to be, “Oh Portland State, let’s see what else comes in.” Now they’re saying take it and run with it. Go.
Alger: Stupid, question: Did the whole Coach Prime thing and GameDay going to Montana/Montana State help the FCS and you guys at all in terms of legitimacy and exposure?
Barnum: Here’s what I see: A kid from Oregon isn’t coming to Portland State. I’m not his first choice. But a kid from out of state, a scholarship for Division 1 football is what they see. That hasn’t really changed. The exposure is great. It’s more for the conference than anything. When we have a team in the national championship that helps, and ESPN has been spitting out more viewership, and kids can see that.
You never have a stupid question, though.
Alger: I don’t know, man. You’re not the one who has to go back through and listen to these things when I transcribe them. Last thing, for a story I’m working on down the road: What’s the best play you’ve ever drawn up/called in the middle of a game.
Barnum: There’s a lot of fun ones. I was coordinator, not head coach yet, and it was the most boring game in America, 14-14 in the fourth quarter. Our hash, going left to right, I was on the field and it was a timeout by the opponent. It was 4th-and-inches. It was two great defenses, Eastern Washington vs. Idaho State. It was on my hash and in my headphone it sounded like the opening day of the stock market. I got people making suggestions, there’s bells ringing, “REMEMBER THIS” “LETS DO THIS” “POUND THEM HERE” “QUARTERBACK SNEAK HERE”, and I called, out of nowhere, Flea Flicker, and the headphones went silent. I mean, you could have heard a pin drop. And we motioned in from our sideline and he popped and he was wide open and it was a touchdown and we won the game. Then all of a sudden, it was Barnum is masterful. But everybody on that sideline and on the headphones were ready to call me every name in the book. That was a fun one.
— Tyson Alger
Patterson was previously on Portland State’s staff as a recruiting coordinator. He’s now back in his previous role and coaching the running backs after three years with the Minnesota Vikings.