Keller opts to stay as UMW men’s basketball coach

 

It’s a good thing the embers of recent area forest fires got thoroughly doused by rain this past weekend, or they might have been reignited by the huge sigh of relief gusting out of Dillon on Monday with news that Montana Western men’s basketball Head Coach Steve Keller was staying with the Bulldogs.

A finalist for the head coaching job at Frontier Conference rival Carroll College, where he served as an assistant for three years before taking over at Western in March 2007, Keller was passed over for the Saints job this week.

And he and the rest of Western’s athletic community couldn’t be happier about it.

“I didn’t get offered the Carroll job and, to be honest, I think this is where I belong,” Keller told the Tribune on Monday morning.

“I didn’t want to leave this school and these players,” said Keller, who choked up when asked what it would be like to depart Western during a public forum that was part of the Carroll interview process in Helena last week.

“This is where I am finishing my career. I’m not going anywhere,” said Keller, a Montana Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee in 2005.

“I just hope everyone in Dillon forgives me for going brain dead the last few weeks over this,” laughed Keller.

Instead of hiring Keller, the most accomplished and experienced candidate of their four finalists, Carroll chose the least experienced person on their shortlist, Carson Cunningham, a high school coach from Indiana.

“Obviously, we are very happy that Coach Keller will be staying at Western, where he has had a lot of success on the court and added a number of outstanding student athletes to our campus,” said Janelle Handlos, Western’s interim athletic director.

“We are very excited that is going to continue.”

Since taking over at Western, Keller has compiled a record 121-73. The men’s basketball Coach of the Year the last two seasons in the Frontier Conference, Keller has led the Bulldogs to the last four NAIA national tournaments, and twice reached the Sweet 16.

His Bulldogs made it to the Elite Eight in this spring’s tourney.

Everyone from that team is eligible to return next season, except for reserve center Vince Turk.

Yesterday, Keller signed former BCHS basketball star and two-time All-State player Wes Knox, to play for Western this coming season (see story on page A-11).

“Our players need to work hard this summer, but there’s no doubt we’ll be ranked in the top 10 in the country going into next season,” said Keller.

“The reason I put in for the Carroll job was my wife had a great job in Helena, and it’s been hard for me to ask her to give up her job there. It’s been tough doing that drive back and forth for six years. But now she will be working at Montana Western. She loves Dillon and we are both really looking forward to being here all the time.

“More money doesn’t always bring you happiness, but I think coaching and living here in Dillon the rest of my career will definitely bring us happiness.”