BOISE — It was around Christmas when Spencer Danielson laid the reality of the situation on his wife, Raechel.
“Get ready to help me with my papers again,” Danielson told her.
Despite already having a Master’s degree and three years as a position coach under his belt at a different school, Danielson was fully prepared and eager to start his second season as a Graduate Assistant with the Boise State football team in 2018.
They were getting by financially thanks to Raechel’s job at ESI Construction and he was doing OK in school thanks to her occasional help proofreading his papers. Life as a GA — long hours, little pay and no promise that it will lead to anything better — is a risk, but one Danielson was committed and ready to continue taking for a second season.
It turns out the gamble had already paid off. Danielson was summoned by coach Bryan Harsin to the football facility a few days later and offered a full-time position working with the STUDs (outside linebacker/defensive end) as the 10th assistant coach.
“I about flipped the table we were talking at over,” Danielson said of his excitement.
The hire says a lot about what Harsin and the Broncos think of Danielson given the fact that he still would have been around for another year as a GA, anyway. Instead he’ll make a full salary, be allowed to go on the road to recruit and be on equal footing with the rest of the assistant coaches.
Not bad for someone that had no ties to Boise State until he arrived last January.
Danielson played at Azusa Pacific and then spent four seasons there as a coach. He was the linebackers coach from 2014-16 and also took on the title of recruiting coordinator his final year.
He met Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos on the recruiting trail and accepted his invitation to help coach linebackers at the Broncos’ summer camps in both 2015 and 2016. He impressed Avalos enough that he was offered a GA position on defense prior to the 2017 season.
Danielson had a decent job at the D-2 level and was getting paid to coach at his alma mater, but knew the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“I didn’t know what I’d be making or doing,” Danielson said. “…but I said ‘I’m going to learn and grow. How do you win like Boise? I want to know that. How do you deal with discipline? How do you recruit, teach’…I said ‘I have to know.’”
But Danielson wasn’t just brought in to watch and help run a few drills. Avalos told Danielson that he wanted him to lead the STUDs, a very important position on Boise State’s defense. And that meant plenty of growing pains.
Danielson said there were some drills in the early going where the players knew more than him.
“If they asked me a question, I’d say ‘I have to go talk to Andy and I’ll get back to you,’” Danielson said. “But they were open. They didn’t lose respect for me, they didn’t lose motivation, which is easy when it’s ‘hey I know more than this guy’. They let me get my feet wet, and the productive year they had and the growth they had, I just love those dudes and I can’t be more excited about where we’re going with all of them returning.”
It’s somewhat rare for a graduate assistant to basically have control of a position group like a coach, but that’s what Danielson had in his first year with the Broncos in 2017. And under his guidance, the STUDs had one of their most productive seasons in years.
Curtis Weaver became the first freshman in Mountain West history to land on the first-team defense, while Jabril Frazier was a second-team selection. Weaver had 11 sacks, the most on the team and the sixth-most nationally, while Frazier finished with six. The 17 combined sacks were half of the team total of 34.
His work didn’t go unnoticed. When Boise State looked to hire a 10th full-time assistant that NCAA rules allowed teams to add starting in January, they elected to promote Danielson from within instead of poaching someone off a different coaching staff.
“He’s very eager to learn and a guy that is accountable and you can trust,” Avalos said. “The players love him. He’s got the ability to teach, motivate, recruit and he’s a guy that sacrificed some things where he was at before to come here and be a GA. That tells a lot about a person.
“He did an exceptionable job last year as a GA, he basically ran the game day operations on the field from the communication to the field and the sideline adjustments. He’s a talented young coach.”
Danielson credits Avalos for everything he’s done at Boise State. The chance to work a summer camp, the experience of being a graduate assistant, even getting to coach his own position group as a GA, wouldn’t have happened without Avalos giving him a shot.
“I say this from the bottom of my heart, but I’m indebted to him forever,” Danielson said. “He gave me a shot. He gave me rope. And it was one of those things where he didn’t need to. He didn’t owe me anything.”
Avalos and the other coaches may not have been as high on Danielson during the Nevada game last season when he was penalized for making contact with a referee while celebrating a good play by Frazier.
“I’ll run you through my nightmare,” Danielson joked while recalling the event. “Jabril makes the play and I just straight smoked the guy. I don’t think he fell but I gave it to him. I looked at him and he looked at me and I was kind of like, ‘I would (throw the flag), and I’m not going to hate you for it.’
“Everybody on the headsets said ‘what just happened? Who was it?’ I said guys, don’t get it twisted, it was me. … I went up to Harsin and said it was me and whatever punishment I need or whatever, it was me.”
Danielson was somewhat saved when his own guy, Weaver, intercepted a pass two plays later to erase the 15-yard penalty.
“I said I’m not going to say this a lot but I appreciate you,” Danielson said. “You took care of your boy more than you know.”
Danielson said he told his wife prior to a staff meeting the next day that she might want to start looking for jobs back home, but “coach was great. He said you owned up to it, you just can’t do that.”
That was maybe the only negative on Danielson’s resume from 2017. The 29-year-old is on the coaching fast track. He no longer has to take class on Monday nights, and he no longer has to rely on his wife to help them get by.
He’s a full-time assistant coach for the Mountain West champs, and appears to have a bright future ahead of him.
“From day one when I got here as a GA nobody knew me from Adam, I didn’t play here, I’m not from here, but people just opened their arms for me,” Danielson said. “It’s obviously something I’m very humbled by. I joke with them all the time that I fooled you guys.
“In our business there’s so much turnover and stuff happens, and to get an affirmation stamp like that, it’s huge. It motivates me even more to keep proving them right.”