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We’re better at exporting coaches than importing coaches

Early last week we learned that Butte High is now in the market for three new coaches.

Girls’ basketball coach Liza Dennehy and wrestling coach Jim Bob Humphrey resigned on Monday. Also, the school board confirmed that the boys’ head coaching position will be up for grabs because Chad Jonart was hired only on an interim basis at the beginning of the season.

The plan is for the school district to recruit the state and the country for coaches to apply for the job, hoping to bring the best and the brightest to the Mining City.

That is a nice thought from our school board, and I hope it pays off for the sake of our young athletes and those who love to go watch our Bulldogs win basketball games and wrestling matches.

However, it wouldn’t be wise to get your expectations set too high when it comes to bringing in a wiz coach from out of town.

For one thing, the outside coach hasn’t been a model that has worked well for Butte High. Who can forget when Ken Edwards came to town as the savior of Bulldog basketball in the late 1990s?

This was a guy who bragged about coaching with the great Jerry Tarkanian as he rode into town for a disastrous half season on the bench.

The great coaches in Butte High history have typically been insiders. We didn’t have to do a nation-wide search to find the likes of Sam Jankovich, Jon McElroy or Jim Street.

Granted, Arie Grey and John Thatcher — two coaches with recent success — were brought in from out of town. Thatcher, though, is a Butte guy who won a state title with Butte Central in 1978 before heading out of town to find more success.

Grey grew up just down the street in Deer Lodge, and he was a student teacher at Butte High before heading to be an assistant for Grady Bennett.

We also brought Larry Ferguson to town from Poplar, and that worked out pretty well in more ways than one.

For the most part, though, the thought of bringing in a savior coach from out of town is a bit of a pipe dream.

Think about it for a second. Do you really expect a successful coach to leave a position with seniority as a teacher to move to Butte and start at the bottom of the totem pole? Most of these men and women are teachers first and coaches second.

Plus, half the town is going to want the new coaches fired in two years anyway.

Maybe you can get Butte guys like Luke Powers, who has been crushing it as head coach in New England, North Dakota, or John Mike Hollow, who has found success at several schools, most recently Helena High. Both would be a great choice as head coach of either basketball program at Butte High.

Luring a coach with a state championship on his résumé to town, however, is very unlikely. Butte High isn’t in the South Eastern Conference, after all. We don’t pay our teachers more than other towns, and most taxpayers want to keep it that way.

It is more realistic to think that we will find some young candidates with limited or no head coaching experience, and that didn’t work out so well last time.

I hate to say it, but Laurel’s Pat Hansen isn’t walking through that door. Bill Pilgeram of Helena Capital isn’t walking through that door. John Thatcher isn’t walking through that door.

Actually, Thatcher is walking through the door, but that is as the color man for the KBOW radio team. His days as a head coach are over.

One coach who could be walking through that door is Chad Jonart. He’s the guy who coached the Bulldog boys this past season.

Sure, Butte High went 4-17 and didn’t qualify for the Class AA State tournament, which was held at the Butte Civic Center.

When you judge Jonart this year, however, you have to consider that he took the job literally hours before the team held tryouts because Terry Hauser, a coach who was brought in from out of town, resigned on the eve of the season.

Jonart, who is still in his 20s, didn’t panic. He confidently took over the team, implemented his own system and got his team to compete night in and night out.

The Butte High players played hard, they played together, they showed respect to the officials and they represented the Mining City very well. They were also fun to watch. A 4-17 record might not indicate that, but the Bulldogs were in almost every game this season.

That includes a playoff loss at Billings West, which ended up playing in the state championship game.

The 2014-15 Bulldog team reminded me a bit of the 2002-03 Butte High team. The Bulldogs that season finished seventh in the seven-team Western AA. They lost a playoff game at Missoula Hellgate on a controversial call.

During that season, though, opposing coaches didn’t talk about the Bulldogs losing so many games, like their fans did. Instead, opposing coaches talked about how hard it was to beat the Bulldogs, who went down to the wire almost every game.

Still, the school board nearly fired Thatcher after the season. Some players literally went door to door to the homes of school board trustees to ask them to keep their coach.

The next season, the Bulldogs finally figured out how to win those close games, and they made a run that ended in the state championship game in Missoula.

You don’t have to look hard to see a link from those seasons to the current situation at Butte High.

Like the 2003 team, the 2014 Bulldogs have a post player on the verge of greatness. Back then it was Casey Briggs. Now it is Dylan Cook. Those Bulldogs had a cerebral point guard named Cole Salo. These Bulldogs have Tucker Thatcher, a point guard with a high basketball IQ.

Of course, the 2004 team also had a sharpshooter named Chad Jonart, whose 27 points in the 40-35 semifinal win over Billings West ranks as one of the best performances in Butte sports history.

Now as a coach, Jonart doesn’t have a state title on his résumé, which really isn’t very long. He also has the “disadvantage” that comes with his mother, Judy, being the superintendent of School District No. 1, which has had more nepotism allegations than Alex Rodriguez has had steroid charges.

What Jonart does have, though, is a 2014-15 season that looks a lot more impressive to the Bulldog fans who were actually paying attention to what was going on.

Maybe we should give Jonart a real chance to hold down the job before we lose another potentially great coach to a school from out of town.

Yes, if you study Mining City history, you might notice we are way better at sending coaches out the door than we are at bring them in.

— Bill Foley, who paid way too much attention to Rick Pitino press conferences when he coached the Celtics, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 5 comments



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5 Comments

  • Pat Lynch
    March 24, 2015, 6:37 am

    GREAT ARTICLE! I’m not involved in the Butte carousel, but this same situation exists in way too many towns. My theory; a lot of people think they know a lot about coaching; most of those people know nothing of being a coach.

    REPLY
  • Mike Parent
    March 24, 2015, 9:37 am

    Great that others also see Chad Jonart’s potential, Bill. He’s our man.  His all-around performance his varsity rookie season  graded A+!!!!!

    REPLY
  • Guy Perkins
    March 24, 2015, 1:54 pm

    Chad was phenomenal. It would be an absolute travesty if he didn’t get a chance: not a year, but a chance to BUILD a program. Which takes years. His kids played hard, were respectful to the officials with very few exceptions, and very candidly were in games they probably should not have been. It’s been fun to see a guy that put in his time as an assistant with freshmen and soph get a shot to coach varsity.

    REPLY
  • Alan Dale
    March 26, 2015, 8:23 pm

    This is as good a column as you have ever written.

    REPLY
  • Dan Laughlin
    March 29, 2015, 12:30 pm

    Butte parents are notorious for hanging coaches out to dry, heck in made your front page. That Gransberry guy should put his money where his mouth is and put in for wrestling job. Butte goes through more coaches and teachers than Hugh Grant goes through prostitutes!

    REPLY

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