BLACKFOOT and REXBURG — Mitch and Stan Buck are east Idaho coaching legends. No matter what narrative you use to describe them, or who you ask, the brothers have impacted the region’s football scene like few others have.
For the past 20-plus years you’ve seen them on the sidelines. Year in and year out, the brothers have coached two of eastern Idaho’s most recognizable programs.
They, at times, can be reserved (you got about a 1-4,500,000 chance of reaching them by phone on the same day). Local coaches have noted how reserved they are off the field, not involving themselves much with other coaching circles. Even with the local hype surrounding the annual “Buck Bowl” — a matchup pitting the two brother’s teams against the other — the Bucks don’t get too excited. Last fall, the two just shook hands and walked away after Madison won 50-7.
But regardless of your own personal opinions, or mythos, of the two coaches, the two have been eastern Idaho’s most influential.
“He probably downplayed it a little bit of,” former Blackfoot player and assistant Trae Pilster said of Stan when preparing for the annual “Buck Bowl”. “Obviously, he had that brother verses brother competitiveness that a lot of people have with their brother.”
Birth order is an underlying factor for many. The youngest child tends to be free spirited thanks to a more hands off parenting style. The first child’s are the “Guinea pigs” — experimental and pressured to be perfectionists, studies have shown.
It certainly affects Stan and Mitch.
“I’m not a great public speaker, or into those types of things,” Stan admitted this past summer. “I’m not super inspirational or motivator. I think kids get that understanding from my attitude and my persona in practice and on the field and they appreciate that. And that kids that have been really good players have that perspective, I’m not saying that you have to have that perspective to always be successful, but that’s the type of person I am.”
It’s the last day of school for Blackfoot. Stan’s office, which was once a locker room when he took the job in 1992, is a reflection of the legendary east Idaho coach from Othello, Wash.
Gritty (the gloomy office with dim lighting anchors Blackfoot High School, a school built in the 50s). Historical (Stan keeps photos from every previous team with their record, quarterback and defensive schemes. He also has photos of his cousin, Jason Buck, who played for the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins). Straight-forward (a sign hangs over the back of the front door, reading: “Hay is never in the barn until the game is over). Hospitable (two couches push up against the left-side wall, running parallel with a large white board).
Stan said he never expected to stay in the same, heart-of-darkness type of office for so long. But it would be hard to imagine Blackfoot athletics without Stan’s dual personality — rigorous and competitive on the field; soft-spoken off it.
“His football persona and off the field persona are not the same,” Blackfoot soccer coach Liam Pope said. “Off the field and athletics, he’s generous, funny, quiet. Every Friday, you see that he’s intense and screaming and then you go and sit in a meeting with him and he’s one of the quietest, respectful people ever.”
A self-proclaimed farm boy from eastern Washington, Stan has built his legacy on simplistic, smash mouth football. He said he respects Penn State’s uniforms — simple. The weight room, which shares a wall with Stan’s office, also shares this characteristic: simple, despite being scuffed up and a bit moldy. Most of the mirrors are cracked and splintered.
“It’s not about how much of you have,” said Thunder Ridge football coach Jeff Marshall, who’s known Stan for over 20 years. “It’s what you do with it, and that’s Stan. That’s the nature of the beast, and you build the tradition first and then it starts to roll when you start to win. It doesn’t matter what the weight room looks like.”
“It’s old school here at Blackfoot and there’s nothing wrong with that,” added Stan, when asked about his program. “You can still be successful and can still achieve that you need. The weight room is not the most aesthetic but all you gotta do is get in there and work.”
Marshall was an offensive coordinator for Stan during a Blackfoot championship run that saw the Broncos play in six state championships in seven years. Since 1998, Stan has coached the Broncos to a 152-61 record, including five 10-win seasons between 2007 to 2014.
Marshall said Stan’s run-first offense, and hard hitting defenses, are staples of eastern Idaho. Marshall still uses many of the same looks and packages from those years at Blackfoot — Iso, power, speed options — today.
“We were together for so long, our offense we use are almost similar,” Marshall said. “We ran a lot of the same stuff, as far as the X’s and O’s goes. The way we name our play calls is similar.”
Spending time as a graduation assistant in Portales, New Mexico — a community bordering Texas — Stan said his football persona was built from his family disposition. He’s the youngest of five boys.
He is a natural competitor, peers and other coaches have said. Why? Well, that’s what happens when you’re the baby in the family.
‘How I grew up, I had to compete for stuff,” Stan said. “Getting into school and sports, that’s one thing I always did. I competed hard.”
“I get intense, but not like that,” Skyline coach Scott Berger said of Stan’s energy on the sidelines. “He takes it too another level. Stan is a no nonsense guy. I think the world of him as a coach.”
From the get-go, Stan has competed — whether on a farm in Othello, on a golf course against his four brothers or in Blackfoot.
After a 3-6 season, and missing the postseason for the first time since 2013, Stan will try and coach the Broncos back with that same bulldog mentality this fall.
“We were farmers and it was convenient for us as kids because we would spend all day there,” Stan said. “There’s some day where I would hit 54 holes, walking at 10, 11, 12 years old. We played all the sports, because at Othello, that’s what the families did.”
While Mitch, sandwiched right in between the five Bucks boys, may not use the intense language Stan uses (and is known for on the sidelines), he’s made his own mark on the eastern Idaho football universe.
“He’s like the Bill Walsh of high school football,” said Travis Schwab, who worked with Mitch as a coordinator in the mid-to-late 2000s.
If Stan is gonna kick your teeth in with a run-first approach, Mitch is gonna finesse your defense with speed and a dual threat quarterback.
Peers and coaches alike say Mitch’s offense has always utilized a running quarterback, atleast in some capacity. Marshall said Mitch was one of the first coaches to ever use a spread offense in eastern Idaho back in the early 90’s.
And that trust in spread offenses and running quarterbacks showed last fall. On Sept. 29, Madison was playing its Upper Valley rival, Rigby. Down one with 4:34 left in the fourth quarter, quarterback Jordan Porter said Mitch trusted him to go for two and take the lead.
The gamble paid off.
Out of the shotgun formation, Porter rolled right and found tight end Joe Dougherty to take a one point lead. The Bobcats went onto win, 22-21. Afterwards, Mitch, choking up, hugged his quarterback.
“I think it depends,” said Mitch when asked about his traditional relationships with his quarterbacks. “If they’re playing as good as Jordan does, I’m like, ‘What do I have to do?’ He’s very verbal. He says what’s on his mind without fear. You don’t get that often.”
Personality-wise, Mitch is lenient and can occasionally come across as placid. He's just enjoying his time. Heading into his 23rd season, he said he’ll coach in Rexburg as long as people want him there, he said.
“They make summers more fun than they’ve been,” said Mitch as local Madison players work out in the high school’s weight room overlooking the fields of Rexburg. “They used to be grrrr (rough, rigorous), and you’d get mad if they weren’t doing it. But now, it’s more play and it brings more energy, more fun. We try coach that way. We’re serious but it’s like, I’m not a college coach and I can accept that really easy. Kids can work if they want to and they can take a break if they want to.”
That juxtaposition, in comparison to Stan, makes sense. Just because someone is your relative, that doesn’t mean you live the same life.
“Stan doesn’t talk much. I’m a little bit more verbal than Stan. Even in the family, he’s always done his own thing and didn’t interfere,” Mitch said growing up. “He was a quarterback, I was a fullback/linebacker in high school. And right now, he’s more of a fullback/linebacker guy and I’m a cheerleader, second team or third teamer.”
While Stan has moved around the western region of the United States, Mitch has mostly stayed within eastern Idaho. He spent some time in Helper, Utah before working in Rigby, Firth and Bonneville.
But it’s hard to imagine him leaving Rexburg. He’ll almost always will be synonymous with Bobcats.
He’s coached Madison to a 121-78 since 1998. The Bobcats have made the 5A playoffs five of the previous six years including winning the 5A title in 2012.
“He’s a legend,” Madison quarterback Jordan Porter said over the summer.
Correction: They’re both legends in their own right.
Every fall, when talking about the two brothers, the elephant in the room is always the same elephant: “How much longer will the Buck brothers coach?”
Stan, 58, still has a "few more years" before retirement comes. Mitch said Stan has always loved the Texas region, as Stan mentioned he would like to travel once he’s done.
Mitch, 61, has already retired. His wife is still teaching, as he teaches just two classes during the middle of the day. Schwab said he doesn’t think Mitch will leave soon, suggesting the Madison’s new stadium will keep Mitch around. Madison’s new football stadium, built from a nearly $27 million bond, is slated for 2019.
“Especially in the coaching world, even if you’re successful, even if you win games, there will come a time where they want you gone,” said Mitch before saying goodbye to two Madison athlete’s walking out of the gym.
People in both communities say the brothers seem to have some time left.
But who knows. And, really, who cares.
However long either Buck has left on the sidelines, their competitiveness will always remain.
Their legacies will remain the same.
“I feel like they are the two best football coaches in eastern coaches,” former Madison coach Bill Hawkins said. “Their record speaks for themselves.”