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Rex, Pete and that elusive playing time

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | June 22, 2023 12:00 AM

My iPhone, like many out there, is stock full of podcasts, and as I scrolled through the other day I found one I hadn’t finished.

Rich Eisen’s episode from March 2 of this year looked to be about half-done, which happens, but then I noticed the guest: Craig Kilborn, the former host of SportsCenter and The Daily Show who, in the early 80s, was a Montana State basketball player.

The subject of his college career came up, of course.

“I was recruited to play 2-guard,” Kilborn said. “I was like Pistol Pete. … The reason I didn’t play as much at Montana State — I had a full-ride — was because this guy, a friend of mine, Jeff Epperly, who was from Kalispell, Montana.

“He was supposed to go to the University of Montana, the Grizzlies, not the Bobcats in Bozeman. But he comes down there so now we have these two 2-guards. They had to go with the Montana guy” — he pauses — “more athletic than me.”

Forty years later Epperly, one of the better players Flathead High School produced, wanted to coach the Braves this coming boys basketball season. He didn’t get the job. He thought he had the job — count me among many who thought he had the job — but it is now up to Dan Trageser to turn around the Braves, who won one game in 2022-23.

Which is fine. I can’t say the passionate Flathead graduate getting a shot at this is more compelling than the Stillwater Christian alum who had impressive success coaching girls basketball in Arizona.

How it happened, though, is a head-scratcher. It’s clear Micah Hill, in one of his last acts as Kalispell superintendent before taking over in Missoula (July 1), stepped in at the 11th hour and threw the process in a different direction.

On May 22, Trageser was named the next coach, except then he wasn’t, because the school board tabled the hiring, which gave Hill the distinction of having two coaches twist in the wind at once. This seems suboptimal to me, but who knows — if I was a short-timer, perhaps I’d feel different.

To be sure, as school board chair Heather Asher noted, this particular hire ”happened to be a hot topic.” I don’t know that Epperly working one-on-one with Flathead players after being dismissed from Dirk Johnsrud’s staff is a great look. I also don’t know that Johnsrud’s resume, which included one season (2018-19) as Ross Gustafson’s junior varsity coach before he also was replaced, sparkled.

Both men obviously felt they should be head coach. The difference is that Johnsrud got his shot for three seasons.

Oh, well. There is that axiom that one way you know you’ve done your job is that both sides are teed off. Another: Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

Where was I? Oh yeah — Kilborn was talking about how Epperly was more athletic.

“Kind of like a Rex Chapman,” he said. “But who’s better, Pistol Pete Maravich or Rex Chapman? I should have played more!”

The hosts roasted him at that point. Still holding onto this, huh?

“This is kind of pathetic,” Kilborn agreed. “Anyway, cut this part out.”

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