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COLUMN: Mining City stop leads Holsinger to Lady Griz

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | April 14, 2021 9:46 PM

Brian Holsinger’s first interview for a head coaching job in Montana came at the end of a steep descent into Butte.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” Holsinger said Wednesday during his first press conference as coach of the Montana Lady Griz. “We fly in there, I interviewed and we leave Butte and my wife says, ‘There’s no way we’re going there.’ That was our first thought.

“Then we got back to Los Angeles and we’re thinking and praying about it and we’re like: We’ve got to go. We’ve got to go.”

So they went, Brian and Stacey, for his first head coaching job, leading Montana Tech women’s basketball. It was 2005, the legendary Bob Green hired him and Hulsinger noted that the first year was rough (three wins)..

“Second year we win 16 games and get ranked in the Top 25 for the first time,” he added. “Butte honestly — I look back and I was supposed to go there, and it has led me here.”

From Butte, Holsinger took assistant jobs at rebuilding Washington State and then at rebuilt Oregon State — the Beavers were coming off their first Women’s Final Four appearance, in 2016.

Yet before Scott Rueck took over, the Beavers had two winning seasons out of six and no better than seventh place in the Pac-12. That was 2010, while Holsinger was at WSU.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, man, this guy. He’s a sucker for punishment,’ “ Bolsinger said. “What Scott did was truly unbelievable.”

All of this is all to say, with apologies to Flathead High graduate Mike Petrino, that Montana found a pretty great candidate to take over its proud program. Montana athletic director Kent Haslam was mindful of the job Petrino and his staff — Nate Covill, Jordan Sullivan and Jace Henderson — did between Shannon Schweyen’s dismissal and Holsinger’s hire.

“A year ago they were certainly put.in a difficult situation, and then you put a pandemic on top of that,” Haslam said. “Mike worked tirelessly and his staff worked tirelessly and they had a great year.”

The Lady Griz went 12-11 last season, bringing their record since Robin Selvig’s last campaign (20-11 in 2015-16) to 64-80. It is the Selvig Era that Holsinger figures he most has to reckon with.

“One of my first — he had to call me back — calls was to Robin Selvig,” he said. “We had a few laughs…I asked permission to bug him.”

Holsinger recalled how in his time at Tech, two really good players, Allison Hurley and Torry Hill, were right up the road in Anaconda. Selvig snapped them up. There was no question who they were going to play for, and Holsinger wants those days back along with the days when the Lady Griz drew as many fans as Oregon State averaged (5,902) in 2019-20.

The reality is that Montana made hay — won NCAA Tournament games — because players like Shannon Cate and Doris Deden and Marti Leibenguth stayed home. As Montana’s best — Karen Deden, Loree Payne, the Tinkle girls — left for the Pac-12, the Lady Griz began to lose big.

The talent gap was so wide even Mandy Morales, who transferred to UM from Arizona State, couldn’t bridge it.

Into this breach steps Holsinger, the grandson of a Lewistown native who spent 23 years coaching and teaching in Montana. He can look up and see dozens of Lady Griz banners hanging in Dahlberg Arena. He’s intense and enthusiastic. He’s spent his entire coaching career in women’s basketball, and every year he spent in the Pac-12 he was his program’s recruiting coordinator.

He’ll meet his new team face-to-face Friday, and that will officially start a new era. He’ll recruit Montana and all over, and try to meld his program’s proud past with the transfer portal-heavy future.

Bolsinger covered a lot of ground Wednesday, but among the things that stuck out was his talk with Krista Redpath Pyron, a Lady Griz alum that served on the search committee.

“She told me, ‘We always knew Robin had our back. Always,’” Holsinger remembered. “That allowed him to coach them hard and push them hard. I have the exact same philosophy.”

Sports reporter Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or fneighbor@dailyinterlake.com.