Mark Iddins walked along Newport Beach in California with his former high school football coach as the sun was beginning to set over the water – a beautiful day to enjoy the scenery and the people.
Iddins, a quarterback at nearby Santa Ana College at the time, could only focus on football, asking his coach about the Cover 2 and Cover 4.
“I say, ‘Mark, these girls are all looking at you,’ And he’s just like, ‘What? What?’ ” said a chuckling Kamiak coach Dan Mack, who was with his wife visiting his former player. “I’m like, ‘Well, they aren’t looking at me.’ … The sun is going down, people all over and all he can think about is football.”
Iddins, 28, has since married. But he’s just as focused as he transitions from standout quarterback at Kamiak, Santa Ana and Montana State to up-and-coming coach. In his first year at Bethel, Iddins has orchestrated the Braves to a 4-0 record, including a pair of 4A South Puget Sound League South wins.
Bethel has won more games through its first four played under Iddins than it did either of the previous two seasons. The Braves are alone atop the SPSL South.
Not a bad start for a backup plan.
Iddins’ first planned to be an NFL quarterback. He holds the single-season records for passing yards and completion percentage at Kamiak when he threw for 2,265 yards and completed 68 percent of his passes his senior year in 2004. It was the last year Kamiak reached the state tournament and the only year the basketball team has made it. His picture sits in the school’s trophy case.
“Mark was just very cerebral. A very smart kid,” Mack said. “And he was so great at the line of scrimmage. We put a lot of checks in with Mark just because he was so great at the line. And you could see that the moment was never too big for him.”
So great, Mack expected Iddins to make up for some of his play calls.
Kamiak faced fourth-and-3 trying to tie the game with about two minutes left in the 2004 state quarterfinals against Skyline, and Mack called for a fullback dive.
“I’m thinking, ‘Dive? We have our backup fullback in,’ ” Iddins recalled. “I still think he blames me for not checking the play. I didn’t do it, but I blame him because he picked the play call.”
College coaches liked Iddins … not his size. Iddins was 6-foot-3, but weighed about 190 pounds and didn’t have the arm strength of his predecessor at Kamiak, Gary Rogers, who went to Washington State.
“I was telling (coaches), ‘This Mark Iddins kid: don’t overlook him,” Mack said. “He was on everybody’s lists, but he was a few notches down.
Iddins went to Santa Ana and threw for a school single-game record 407 yards against Pasadena City in 2007. Not long after, Montana State hired Rob Ash, who made Iddins his first recruit.
Ash named Iddins the starter for the 2009 season-opener against Michigan State – led by current Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“He was very savvy. Good athlete,” Ash said. “And he loved to be the guy in a close game or in the competition for a position battle. He was just unflappable. Very poised. You could see some of those characteristics would apply to coaching.”
But Iddins lost his starting job after developing esophagus ulcers.
It forced him into a hospital midway through the season, and he had to be attached to IVs.
“I probably lost about 10 pounds, and I’m naturally a pretty light guy,” Iddins said.
Oregon transfer Cody Kempt started the next game against South Dakota and threw a 36-yard touchdown pass in overtime to win it. It was quarterback-by-committee from there.
“I now realize I might not have had quite the size or the arm strength to play in the NFL,” Iddins said. “But I always went in competing, I always wanted to get better.”
On to the next goal: coaching.
He got a job as a history teacher at Broadview-Lavina near Billings in 2011 and was asked if he’d also coach – in Class C 8-man football.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Iddins said. “I had never seen an 8-man game until I coached one. But I said, ‘You know, I’m going to see what I can do.”
The team was on the brink of folding and was coming off back-to-back one-win seasons.
But Broadview-Lavina won more games that first year under Iddins than the previous two combined. It reached the divisional playoffs the next year, losing to eventual champion Superior, and made it again the next year (again losing to Superior).
“Nobody really cared about football there,” Iddins said. “But they had some really good kids and we went in there right away and started a weightlifting program and summer program and it just kind of took off.”
Not that he had much help from Ash.
“I always end up calling for guys when they have an interview,” Ash said, “Of course, I couldn’t help him with the strategy because I don’t have the slightest idea about 8-man football.”
Iddins’ wife got a job in human resources at the Target in Lacey, so he began looking for teaching jobs in the area in February and discovered the coaching opening at Bethel.
“I talked with the athletic director (Al Barnes), and he said, ‘Well, (Iddins) is coming from a C school …’ ” Mack said. “But I said, ‘Take my word for it – this is my 37th year coaching and I’ve coached a lot of players and Mark Iddins ranks right up there with the best I’ve ever had.’ ”
Iddins got the job.
Then he had to get to work.
“The toughest thing I had to bring at both Broadview and here is getting that mindset changed,” Iddins said. “I knew coming in that we needed to have the mindset that we are supposed to win. In both places I stressed that from day one: whether you are down or up, you’re supposed to win games.”
Players have noticed the intensity level change. Practices are tough. Every position is a competition. Every snap brings a chance to fly to the football.
“He has brought the intensity back – something we haven’t had the past couple years,” said Bethel senior Jamon Jones. “The excitement is back.”
And the players can relate to him. He still looks like he could be the starting quarterback.
“Sometimes he will sling the ball around, show off his arm a little bit,” said senior Donny Fejerang. “He’s still got it.”
Iddins said he has 21 wins for his coaching career and hopes to reach 30 before he turns 30.
That shouldn’t be difficult if Bethel continues at its current pace.
“I love competition and that’s why it has been nice for me coaching because I get that feeling back a little bit,” Iddins said. “I love the feeling of competing at practice.
“A lot of coaching is just getting kids to buy in. I attribute a lot of the success we’ve had to that, and getting kids to compete at a high level every practice.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677