By Bill Foley
The Father’s Day present could not have been more perfect.
Rileigh McGree, the youngest of Dan and Lisa’s four daughters, put together a book of her father’s track coaching years at Butte Central.
Inside the book, Dan McGree found photos of him coaching the Maroons over the last 31 years. Those pictures include shots with his young daughters on the track, posed photos with his fellow BC coaches and some of him offering one-on-one instruction to athletes.
The book also includes personal letters written by so many of the athletes McGree has coached, mostly from Butte Central but some from Butte High, too.
“That was the best present I ever got,” McGree said. “We always told the kids, once you’re in the Butte Central track family, you’re in it forever.”
So, Dan McGree is not leaving the BC track family. After this past season, however, McGree will no longer be the leader of the Maroons or an official member of its coaching staff.
He is retiring so he can have more free time to follow Rileigh, who will begin her career on the University of Montana track team this upcoming school year.
The exact opposite of a self-promotor, McGree planned to slip out the door without any fanfare.
“I just wanted to fade away and hope nobody would notice I was gone,” he said with a laugh. “I just wanted to do that Irish goodbye.”
So, McGree kept his retirement a secret from his athletes during this past season. He figured he was just doing what he has for his entire run with the Maroons. He was making it about his athletes.
“It’s never been about me, and I don’t want it to be about me,” McGree said, after family members tipped off Butte Sports about his retirement. “I definitely didn’t want to say anything during the season to throw those kids off.”
Rileigh is following the footsteps of her three older sisters by taking her track talent to the collegiate level. Whitney competed at Carroll College, while Rachael and Lindsay ran and jumped at Montana State.
The amount of time McGee got to see his older three daughters compete was limited because he was usually busy coaching the Maroons while they were competing for the Saints and Bobcats.
“The plan all along was to finish it up with Rileigh,” McGree said. “I didn’t get to see my older girls in college much. I want to follow Rileigh around.”
Coaching his daughters was just a perk of the job.
“It was great,” McGree said. “I enjoyed every second of it. I enjoyed coaching every kid I coached. I was lucky enough to coach other people’s kids first to get it figured out. Some people say, ‘Don’t coach your own kids,’ but I was lucky. I had a blast.
“I never had a bad day,” he said. “That’s what I always told the kids. I never had a bad day.”
(Story contunies below these courtesy photos of Dan McGree coaching the Maroons over the past 31 years.)
McGree started coaching at Butte Central in 1991. He started as an assistant under Fred Bull. Then he coached under Tom Berg.
McGree became the head coach, stepped away for several years to serve as an assistant under head coach Zach Stajcar, and then became the head coach again in 2020.
Every year, though, McGree was coaching the Maroons.
“I was always just the jump coach,” McGree said, explaining his role at Butte Central. “Sometimes I did more paperwork, sometimes I did less paper work.”
Chad Petersen, Butte Central’s activities director, said that the school will begin the search for its next track head coach once the school year begins. He said the next coach will have some giant shoes to fill.
“To match the passion that Dan had for not only the sport but for his athletes that he coached … it’s just a true passion that will be hard to replace,” Petersen said. “Aside from being a great mentor and coach from our athletes, he is just a fantastic human being. The entire McGree family is.”
Dan McGree’s coaching career began less than a year after he graduated from Gonzaga University, where he set the school triple jump record with a mark of 50 feet, ¼ inch. He earned his way to Gonzaga by winning a pair of triple jump state titles before graduating from Butte Central in 1986.
He started three seasons on the Butte Central varsity football team and played two seasons of basketball. McGree was a sophomore in the BC program when the Maroons captured the Class A state boys’ basketball title in 1984.
After that, McGree started to focus on track during the basketball season, competing in indoor meets.
“I could jump out of the gym,” he said. “I just couldn’t get it in the basketball.”
Transitioning to a coach was easy for McGree because he just always loved being around a track — especially the jumping pit. That is a family tradition. It is nearly impossible to watch the long jump or triple jump in Butte without seeing a McGree with a clipboard, broom or rake.
That is also, not surprisingly, where a lot of Butte Central’s track success has come over the past three decades.
During Dan McGree’s years coaching, Butte Central racked up 27 individual state championships. Of those, 13 were boys’ titles and 14 were girls’ crowns. Of the 14 girls’ championships, 12 were won by McGrees. And, 10 of those were won by Dan’s daughters.
Of course, Dan McGree deflects the credit for any of those titles.
“This is team effort. This has nothing to do with me,” he said. “It has everything to do with great athletes, great assistants and great bosses.”
McGree points to the many assistants who have coached with him along the way.
“I can’t name them because I’ll miss some,” McGree said. “There are almost 28 or 30 coaches that helped me. I’m thankful for all those kids. It was such a joy.”
One of the highlights of McGree’s tenure was the “McGreelay.” That was Butte Central’s 400-meter relay team made up of Dan’s daughters Whitney, Lindsay and Rachael and their cousin Lacey.
The nickname came form Libby coach Jim May, and the team was fast. It placed second at state and set the BC school record.
Again, according to Dan, it had nothing to do with him.
“Zach (Stajcar) was the relay coach and he did an amazing job with them,” McGree said.
At one point, Lindsay, Rachael and Rileigh put together the “McGree Streak.” The sisters won five straight Class A state long jump titles. It was ended this year when Dillon star Ainsley Shipman, a future teammate of Rileigh at UM, pulled off the jump of her life at the Class A meet in Butte.
As much excitement as Dan McGree gets watching his daughters, though, he seems to enjoy the success of other Maroons just as much. When sophomore Ella Moodry and junior Kyle Holter had a breakout meet in the triple jump and high jump, respectively, at this year’s John Tomich Invitational — a meet named after McGree’s late father-in-law — McGree could hardly contain his excitement.
“I just loved every of minute it,” McGree said. “I loved them kids.”
McGree has also been known to help athletes from other schools, offering encouragement and tips to anyone interested. He was instrumental in helping Erika McLeod develop into a superstar at Butte High and then the University of Montana.
To McGree, that is all just part of being on the track. He sees that as something special and unlike other sports.
“Track is a different animal,” he said. “You can spend more time with kids. It’s more laid back. It just has a different feel. You can help with real-life stuff, not just sports. I learned that from Charlie.”
McGree was talking about Butte High coach Charlie Merrifield, a Butte coaching legend who still spends as much time on the track even after his “retirement” in 2013.
“Charlie is the first coach I saw walk up to a kid and say, ‘How you doing in school? How you doing at home?”
The lessons learned in track, McGree said, are ones that can be used down the road, at home or at work.
“We’ve got kids who graduated who are lawyers, cops and doctors,” he said. “Hopefully we helped a little bit.”
Like with Merrifield, McGree said he cannot see himself staying away from the track. When he is not watching his daughter compete for the Grizzlies, he will watch the Maroons and Bulldogs, helping out where he can.
“I’ll go down and run the long jump for them,” McGree said with a laugh. “I’ll rake. I’m a good raker.”
So far, nothing has changed for McGree. He is still helping out with the Butte Track Club when they hold their workouts two days a week at the Charlie Merrifield Track.
“This retirement is not all the way retirement,” McGree said. “Charlie and I still go every Tuesday and Thursday and help anybody who needs help. I want to do that and I want to help anyone who needs help. I just don’t want to miss anything with Rileigh.”
In the winter time, the track workouts move inside West Elementary school.
“I can’t quit that,” McGree said. “Standing in the hallway and listening to Charlie is just a joy. He’s just amazing. Hopefully I can still help kids like he does.”
McGree said finding his replacement will be easy. The Maroons have a large group of assistant coaches who are more than qualified to fill his shoes, McGree said.
“All of my assistants are young, smart and talent,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything, but I’m sure somebody will jump on it and it will continue to go on.”
So, McGree has no worries as he transitions to a backseat role in the Butte Central track family.
And now, he has no problem looking back on so many great memories that have been made over the past 31 years. Thanks to Rileigh, many of them are put together nicely in a book.
“It was just amazing. She worked so hard,” McGree said. “It’s the best gift I ever got. It is absolutely amazing.”