By Bill Foley
Butte High is once again in the market for a new basketball coach.
Luke Powers turned in a resignation letter Tuesday, stepping down as head coach of the Butte High boys’ basketball team after a four-year run.
The resignation comes less than two weeks after Butte High bowed out of the Eastern AA Divisional tournament in Great Falls, failing to advance to the state tournament for the sixth straight season.
“We didn’t produce in the win column,” Powers, a 2002 Butte High graduate, said. “We were close and we competed all year, but we didn’t win. It was just a tough year.”
Powers was the 24th head coach to lead Butte High’s basketball program, which dates back to 1910. The next coach will be the Bulldogs’ fifth since John Thatcher retired following the 2010 season.
In four seasons with the Bulldogs, Powers’ Bulldogs compiled a 21-62 record. This season, Butte High went 4-14 overall and 1-11 in the Eastern AA.
“He’s a great guy,” Butte High Activities Director Chuck Merrifield said of Powers. “I’m glad I got the chance to work with him.”
Butte High appeared to be putting things together with a late-season win over Butte Central — Powers’ third in four years against the Maroons — and a season-ending win at Billings Senior.
The Bulldogs, though, ran into Bozeman and Billings West and went 0-2 at the divisional tournament. Bozeman went on to win the Class AA state title, while West placed third at state.
“I thought the whole way that we could get it going. We just never could,” the 34-year-old Powers said. “The last game of the season we went to Billings and beat Senior, which beat Bozeman the next night., Then we just didn’t get it done at the divisional tournament.”
Coincidentally, Powers’ resignation comes on the four-year anniversary of the day he was named the Class B North Dakota State Coach of the Year. He also received the Region 7 North Dakota Coach of the Year honor after leading the New England High School boys’ basketball team to the state tournament for the first time since 1996.
Powers posted an 87-35 record in five seasons with the Tigers.
He accepted the Butte High job on April 29, 2015. He made the decision the day before, but delayed the announcement because he wanted to tell his New England players first.
On Tuesday, Powers notified his Bulldog players that he was moving on.
“What I’ll miss the most isn’t basketball,” Powers said. “It’s the relationships I have with the kids.”
Powers said dealing with a losing season has hard.
“The wheels fell off so quickly, and I have never been a part of something like that,” he said. “I knew coming here that it would be a challenge, but it was a challenge I accepted.”
Powers said he takes some solace in the thought that the Bulldog program is pointing up. He had 46 players go out for the team for the 2015-16 season, and Butte High had to make two cuts.
This season, 65 players went out for the team, requiring 21 cuts.
Before the season, Powers said the Bulldogs had a “healthy program,” meaning that they had solid turnouts in all four classes.
“The first year in open gym we would have like four kids,” Powers said. “This year, the least amount we had was 25. It’s going in the right direction. There’s some talent in the cupboard, but someone else will have to continue to work with it.”
Last fall, Powers began “Sunday Skills and Drills,” a free program for boys and girls kindergarten through eighth grade to work on developing fundamentals and having fun playing basketball.
Powers was a multi-sport athlete at Butte High school. He won the prestigious Swede Dahlberg Award for the best male athlete in 2002. He also won the Best Defensive Basketball Player Award, Most Inspirational Athlete, Most Valued Defensive Athlete and the Block B Award for receiving eight or more letters at Butte High.
After high school, Powers spent two years on the Montana Tech men’s basketball team before transferring to Dickinson State in North Dakota to run track.
Powers said he will not rule out coaching again. His next job, however, won’t be anytime soon. He’s going to focus on teaching at the Alternative School and furthering his own education.
More importantly, Powers is going to focus on his girlfriend Jaci Hanley and their 10-month-old daughter Hayden.
“This will be the first time in my life that I don’t have an upcoming basketball season,” Powers said. “I don’t see myself being away from it, but I have an amazing little girl and I have Jaci. They deserve to be a priority.”
Merrifield said the school board will have to approve the resignation at a meeting on Monday. Then, the Bulldogs will get to work quickly looking to find their 25th head coach.
“I wouldn’t think we’ll wait too long,” Merrifield said. “If we want to get a good pool of candidates, we better get after it.” 1 comment