Luedtke takes Bulldog job with family in mind

Luedtke takes Bulldog job with family in mind
Choteau coach Matt Luedtke gives instructions to Collin Achenbach during the first round of the Class B State Basketball Tournament in the Pacific Steel and Recycling Four Seasons Arena in 2015. (Great Falls Tribune photo)

By Bill Foley

Matt Luedtke had a good thing going in Choteau.

That is where he won a pair of Class B state titles coaching the Bulldogs. It is where he has a successful business and a crop of players who continually buy into his program year after year.

Luedtke, though, had one really big reason to come to Butte. His family.

With that family in mind, Luedtke accepted the job to be the next head coach of the Butte High boys’ basketball team. He will replace Luke Powers, who stepped down after four seasons in March.

Luedtke, 36, confirmed to Butte Sports last week that he was offered and accepted the job. Butte Sports honored his request hold off publishing a story until the coach had to time to break the news to his former players in person.

“We made a family decision,” Luedtke said. “Any time you’re making your decisions based on your family and kids, you can’t go wrong.”

The hire must be approved by the school board when it meets May 20, but that is a move seen mostly as a formality.

Luedtke’s daughter Maddie is in middle school in Butte. His son Hudson will be a seventh grader next year. Hudson planned to play basketball for his father in high school, even if that meant leaving Butte to do it. Luedtke said he didn’t want to separate his children.

Luedtke’s former wife is Kristen (Tuttle) Chambers. The daughter of Mickey Tuttle, the star of the Butte High’s last state championship team in 1984, lives and works in Butte.

“I really wanted the chance to coach him,” Luedtke said of his son. “If he would have come up to Choteau and she stayed in Butte, that would have been pretty terrible thing to do to my daughter.”

Next to family, Luedtke said he truly values the relationships he has built with his former players, seven of whom have gone on to play or will play college basketball.

“The relationships you build with the kids are what it’s all about,” he said. “I’m really proud of those relationships.”

In fact, Luedtke said the relationship he built with his high school coach in Ronan helped send him on his way to a coaching career. That coach is Anaconda native Jim Stergar, who won his first state title with Billings Central in March.

“He was a great mentor,” Luedtke said. “He still is. I talk to him more than anyone. He was one of the first people I called when I was deciding to put in for the Butte High job.”

Meeting Stergar for the first time left an impression with Luedtke. The former Copperhead was known for his shooting and jumping ability. Stergar’s victory in the dunk contest during the Wayne Estes tournament is still the stuff of legends in the Smelter City.

“I wanted to be like him when I was playing,” Luedtke said.

Luedtke went on to a great career in Ronan. He set state records with 13 3-pointers in one game and 100 treys in a season. In 2000, Luedtke was named the Montana Gatorade Player of the Year.

He signed with the University of Montana and spent two years with the Grizzlies, including a redshirt year, before transferring to Colorado School of Mines for two seasons. He transferred to Montana Western and averaged 22.4 points per game for coach Mark Durham’s Bulldogs.

Luedtke played two years in the ABA, the first in San Jose, where the team was owned by the same group that owned the Butte Daredevils CBA team. Luedtke was the first player signed by the Daredevils, but he eventually opted to play one more year in the ABA in Jacksonville, Florida.

Butte High Activities Director Chuck Merrifield pointed to the players who went on to play in college under Luedtke’s tutelage.

“The wins and losses is one thing, but the player development is another,” Merrifield said. “To come from Choteau and have seven guys (go to college) in eight years? That’s incredible. Hopefully we found a diamond in the rough.”

In addition to Stergar, Luedtke has a long list of coaches he credits for developing him into the coach who won two state titles.

The list of coaches he played for also includes Don Holst with the Griz, Pryor Orser at the Colorado School of Mines and Kermit Young at San Jose.

“I took something good from every coach I played for,” Luedtke said, adding that his moving around as a player turned out to be a good thing.

“It didn’t make for a good playing career, but it made for a good coaching foundation to build a philosophy,” he said.

Spending three years coaching the Western junior varsity team under head coach Steve Keller was beneficial for Luedtke, too. So was coaching under head coach Larry Lucero at Choteau.

After two years as Lucero’s assistant, Luedtke took the head job. This past season was his sixth as the top man.

Choteau won back-to-back state titles in 2015 and 2016. The 2016’s win in the championship game was its 52nd in a row. The 2016-17 team opened with two wins before an overtime loss in Townsend stopped the winning streak at 54 — two games shy of Missoula Sentinel’s boys’ state record.

Luedtke said the dribble-drive offense that he learned under Keller and his good friend Nate Harris, a former Montana Tech assistant who is now the head women’s coach at Angelo State, worked well in Choteau.

He said he isn’t sure if that will be the offense he uses in Butte. That, he said, depends on the players.

“You have to adjust to the kind of players you have,” he said. “This isn’t college where you get to recruit players to run your system.”

Of the seven players Luedtke has helped send to college, three of them started three years together, closing with the 2016 title. One is Montana Tech junior Dylan Pannabecker. The other two are Collin Achenbach and Derrek Durocher of Montana Western.

Sayer Patton, currently a senior at Choteau, recently signed to play basketball at Carroll College.

“I was fortunate to get there when there was a lot of talented kids coming through,” Luedtke said of coaching in Choteau. “I’ve been lucky to have kids who work hard. The kids who went on to play in college weren’t an accident. They were guys who were always in the gym. They were always calling and asking me to unlock the gym. Hopefully we have some kids like that at Butte High.”

Luedtke has hit the ground running in building his coaching staff.

Former Butte High Bulldogs Noah Thatcher and Chad Jonart are on board to help. Jonart served as interim head coach for Butte High during the 2015-16 season. Shane Sutton, a Dillon native who coached the Butte High freshman this past season, will also coach.

“I think I’ve got a great staff,” Luedtke said, adding he plans to hire a couple of more freshmen coaches. “These guys all have a high basketball IQ, and each one of them brings something really great to the program.”

Sutton was one of six finalists who interviewed for the job. Scott Ferguson, Tony Trudnowski, John Mike Hollow and Levi Dawes were the others.

“We had some great candidates,” Merrifield said. “They were all fun to listen to.”

Ferguson, who won the Montana Gatorade Award while playing for the Bulldogs in 1986, served as the JV coach for Butte High the last four seasons.

Trudnowski, a former Montana Tech player, was a starter on Butte High’s 2004 team that played in the Class AA state championship game against Great Falls Russell in Missoula.

Hollow is a Butte Central graduate who had successful stints as head coach at Ronan, Belgrade and Helena High.

Dawes, a recent Montana Tech football player, was a multi-sport standout at Helena Capital.

Luedtke will still run his two Farmers Union Insurance offices in Choteau for the next year. That, he said, will be possible because of his reliable staff and a lot of driving back and forth. He plans to transition to working full-time in Butte.

He will move to town with his fiancé Stacie Bierie. Luedtke also has three younger children, Aubrey, 9, Danni, 7, and Dawson, 3.

Luedtke plans to be in town this week to meet with his new players at Butte High.

“I’m excited to get moved down and get to work,” he said. “I’m thrilled. I’ve always loved Butte, and I have a lot of ties there. Hopefully we’ll do something exciting.”



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