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KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS



TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Portland State football coach Bruce Barnum is winning over fans with his team's style of play, success -- and the prospect of a free beer after a home game.Bruce Barnum trudged into the Kingston Bar & Grill more than an hour after his Portland State Vikings had disposed of opening-day opponent Central Washington 43-26 across the street Saturday at Providence Park.

Barnum’s late arrival was due in part to fulfilling a last-minute interview request from KOIN-TV’s Stan Brock, who evidently didn’t know the second-year PSU coach had a place to be — if nothing more than to check on his bar tab.

Barnum, you see, buys Viking fans a beer at the Kingston after every home victory, though there is a limit to his generosity.

“Started out with $250 (after a win over Western Oregon) last year,” said last year’s FCS National Coach of the Year. “But after we beat Montana last year, I told (Kingston owner) Gary Jondahl, ‘Let’s kick it up to $500.’ So we’ll do $500 a game this year.”

Barnum figures he wrote checks totaling about $1,600 last year. It will be $2,500 this season if the Vikings can sweep the final four home games against Idaho State, Cal Poly, Northern Colorado and Eastern Washington — though he may get some help from former PSU coach Tim Walsh, now at Cal Poly, after their Oct. 15 matchup.

“Bruce and Tim say win or lose, they’ll both come over here and we’ll do something,” said Jondahl, who has owned the Kingston for 35 years. “I don’t know what, but it’s going to be a big deal.”

Barnum has to be the only coach in the country to dig into his own pocket to pay for fans’ post-game libations after home victories, and also take part in the revelry. Or do you think Nick Saban pungles up for Alabama supporters at the local bar in Tuscaloosa after Crimson Tide wins? I’m pretty sure Chip Kelly used to buy the house a round at The Cooler after Oregon wins at Autzen Stadium, and then showed up to schmooze with Duck fans.

The idea for “Beers with Barney” came a year ago when, before his first game as PSU coach, Barnum was brainstorming for ways to drum up interest in his program. He knew of a long-standing relationship between Viking football and the Kingston from years past.

“I remember coming here coming for breakfast when (ex-PSU coaches) Pokey Allen and Tom Mason recruited me” out of Vancouver’s Columbia River High, Barnum said.

Barnum thought it might be a good idea to show his appreciation for his team’s followers after home victories at the fabled local watering hole. He ran the idea by members of the PSU administration, who weren’t sure about it but ultimately gave their approval. Then he approached Jondahl, who was all for the plan, of course. And it was an immediate hit with Viking fans, of course.

I’m not sure Barnum will have a $500 bill from the Kingston on Saturday. The scene was lively shortly after the game, but things were pretty quiet by the time he came onto the scene, and there were no “Barney Ball!” chants that normally greet his arrival.

“I may get off easy tonight,” Barnum said as he sipped a cold one.

Before he set foot in the Kingston, though, there were dozens of PSU fans who had already taken advantage of the coach’s largesse.

“It’s a genius marketing promotion,” said Jeff Kafoury, who has been involved in sports promotions himself, most recently with the Arena Football League Portland Steel. “It made me come over to the Kingston after the game. ‘Barney Beers?’ I’m down for that.

“I had a blast at the game. Portland State football is coming back. It’s been a long time. Barney is the type of guy who can bring it back. He has the excitement going. I know I’m going to be coming every week.”

That the promotion came about organically makes it even better, said Tygue Howland, a PSU associate athletic director and former Viking quarterback.

“It works best when it comes from something genuine, like Barney coming up with it himself,” Howland said. “A lot of times, you’ll tell the coach to say something and he does it. This is one of those things that is real.

“I like to spin it that it’s Portland — it’s different and unique and weird. Who knows if Barney ever pays the tab or not, but it’s pretty cool.”

Yes, Barnum does cover the bar bill, though he has gotten help from PSU supporters after some games, Jondahl said.

“It’s a way to say thanks to the people who are embracing his program, and it’s fun,” Jondahl said. “It works so well with Barney, who is so low-key, such a nice guy. He probably deals with his players the same way.”

Barnum was too late on the scene to enjoy a chant from members of the “Viking Belchers,” a group of 25 to 30 fans who have sat together at games for nearly three decades.

“We have all kinds of yells, some of them you can’t print in the newspaper,” said Brad Gorman, 61, wearing a “Barney Ball” T-shirt. “It’s great to come here and have him buy everyone a beer. It’s got to be a pretty good bill for him.”

Among those who were at the game and also at the Kingston afterward was Channing Frye, the former Trail Blazer who won an NBA championship ring with the Cleveland Cavaliers in June. Frye married a Portland girl and has made the city his home for several years. His brother- and sister-in-laws are members of the PSU faculty.

“I just want to support the local team,” Frye said. “Being a part of this community, you should support your local team. I don’t live in Eugene or Corvallis. I live here. Why not support the Vikings?

“This is (Barnum’s) way of saying, ‘Not only am I going to do my job putting a good product out there, but I’m going to show the people some love for supporting my program.’”

Barnum spent a few minutes at the bar rehashing his team’s performance in the opener against a Division II Central Washington team that gave the Vikings all they could handle. The Wildcats led 26-21 after three quarters before the FCS Vikings closed strong to pull out the victory.

“I didn’t want to schedule Central Washington,” Barnum said. “I knew how good they would be. We tried to (recruit) some of their defensive players. We beat them on our depth. Glad we came out of it undefeated, but we have a lot of work to do.”

Portland State was one of the surprise teams of the FCS ranks a year ago, rebounding from a 3-9 season in 2014 to go 9-3 and make the playoffs for the first time since 2000. The Vikings lost two starters in the secondary and three linebackers, and it showed on Saturday. PSU got little pressure on Wildcats quarterback Justin Lane, who threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings had trouble covering 5-8, 160-pound Jesse Zalk, a preseason All-American who caught nine passes for 181 yards and three scores.

“We weren’t getting any pressure on (Lane), and that little guy (Zalk) did a heck of a job,” Barnum said. “We didn’t cover him at all, but good for him. I saw what I expected from some of the young people we had out there.

“Right now, we’re simple as ducks lined up in a row defensively. We said we’ll get good at the base to start. By the time we get to Southern Utah (in the Big Sky opener on Sept. 24), we’ll have our whole defensive package in.”

The Vikings may have taken it for granted they would dominate the lower-classification Wildcats, which didn’t happen.

“We came out flat on defense as a whole,” said junior safety Tyler Foreman, who is taking over for Patrick Onwuasor, the runner-up for FCS National Player of the Year last season and now a rookie with the Baltimore Ravens. “We really underestimated our opponent. In the fourth quarter, we cleaned it up and picked up the intensity level.”

Barnum is mulling a few changes. He has called PSU plays for the past six seasons — five as offensive coordinator under Nigel Burton — but may relinquish it to offensive coordinator Steve Cooper, who incorporated some of those duties on Saturday.

“There’s so much for a head coach to take account of, it just makes some sense,” Barnum said.

Chris Seisay dressed and wore No. 9 but didn’t play Saturday for the Vikings, only days after joining the program following a transfer from Oregon. The 6-1, 175-pound junior, who saw plenty of playing time as a cornerback for the Ducks, is playing receiver now, though the Vikings look like they could use his help in the secondary.

“We may want to use him some on both sides of the ball,” Barnum said.

Finished with his adult beverage, the coach turned to his cell phone to call his wife, Shawna, about dinner plans. Sunday begins preparation for next Saturday’s visit to San Jose State, which will be followed by a date with Washington at Seattle.

There will be no bar tabs for a while. Just back-to-back FBS opponents, which the Vikings handled quite well a year ago. “Barney Ball II” got off to a successful start Saturday, and PSU fans got to drink to that, courtesy of their coach.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers