The benefit of the doubt can really go a long way

The benefit of the doubt can really go a long way

The Billings Gazette tweeted out its story about former Butte High coach Luke Powers taking over the Miles City boys’ basketball program last week, and one Cowboys fan took notice.

“I like the hire,” the fan wrote.

Those four little words made me smile because it appears Powers is going to get the benefit of the doubt as he moves onto the next chapter in his life.

That is something he did not necessarily get in his hometown.

Moving back to coach in a town the size of Butte cannot be easy for anybody. So many people know, or thought they knew, Powers, and they judged him before he even signed his contract.

Throw in the most ill-timed butt dial since the invention of the telephone, and Powers immediately had a third of the town against him before his Bulldog team played its first game.

The Mining City definitely has a special way to rally around our own when one of us is down. For that, we all are and should be very proud.

We also have a way of eating them, too.

By the time his first season in Butte was over, a large percentage of Bulldog fans were rooting for Powers to fail.

During a game before the Christmas break that season, I had a long-time Bulldog fan go out of his way to tell me that Powers was a disgrace because he did not shake hands with opposing players during introductions.

How dare he have his assistant take on that job.

Of course, so much handshaking before a basketball game was silly even before the coronavirus struck, but that was not the reason Powers sent out an assistant.

Rather, he was coaching his team, giving his players last-minute instruction before the game.

If they criticize you for the pregame introductions, imagine what they might say about you at halftime.

That critical fan, however, certainly was not the guy who threw a rock through a window at Powers’ house. Somebody else did that.

Butte fans can be tough to please. I will never forget hearing from the parent of a football player in September of 2013 — when Butte High was just beginning its Class AA state title defense.

The football dad said head coach Arie Grey had no idea what he was doing, and he needed to be canned immediately.

Sometimes, Butte fans do not even care about what you have done for us lately. And we wonder why coaches in the Mining City age in dog years.

Powers made some mistakes in his four years with the Bulldogs. He would tell you that. For one thing, he spent way too much time harassing the officials.

Even though he was really funny if you listened to what he was saying, those antics certainly did not win him any fans within the referee community. It also did not help endear him to Bulldog fans who were on the fence about him.

Hopefully, that is a lesson that he learned and he will take with him to Miles City.

Powers also did not win over fans with his win-loss record.

While he certainly built up the program in numbers, leaving it in better shape than when he found it, his teams did not win enough basketball games.

When you enter a job without the benefit of the doubt, you have to win and win quickly.

By the time the 2018-19 season rolled around, the Bulldogs had some pretty high expectations for themselves. They failed to live up to those prospects, and things became very frustrating for the Bulldog players, coaches and fans.

Shortly after the season, Powers, whose personal and social life was taking a hit from the pressures of coaching his alma matter, decided it was time to step down for the good of himself and for the program.

He stepped aside after four seasons.

Matt Luedtke then came to town with something Powers did not. He had the benefit of the doubt.

Fans know only of Luedtke’s outstanding playing days and the two state titles he won for Class B Choteau. Bulldog fans were on board from the jump.

They realized how lucky they were to have such an accomplished coach leading their Bulldogs.

You have to wonder if that would have been the case if Luedtke had grown up in Butte. You would hope so, but you cannot be sure.

Powers came back to town with some pretty solid credentials, too. He took a team in New England, North Dakota to its first trip to the state tournament in 19 years.

That was a really big deal to that community, which hated to lose its celebrated coach to his much larger hometown.

Powers, now 36, heads out into the coaching world five years older and five years wiser. He learned a lot about himself as a person and as a coach in his years back home.

Those years were not easy, but Powers will prove to be better because of them.

Maybe someday down the road, we will be lucky enough to call him home one more time.

Without question, that Miles City fan on Twitter said it best.

I, too, like the hire for the Cowboys, who will certainly have a coach who will give everything he has to the team and players. They are getting a coach who really knows the game of basketball, and he will not be outworked by the opposing coach.

They are getting a coach who truly cares about his players, on and off the court.

Powers might still yell at the refs a little too much, and he might not lead the Cowboys to a state title.

It is nice to see, however, that at least one Cowboys fan is giving him the benefit of the doubt that he just might.

— Bill Foley, who yells at refs when he sees them at the grocery store, writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on He plans to write more frequently during the coronavirus lockdown. Email him at Follow him at

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