a new head football coach
Havre Daily News sports editor
After 15 years of coaching the same football team, Kevin Sukut was looking for a new challenge and opportunity. He has found both with the Havre High football team.
Sukut was offered the vacant head coaching position on Thursday afternoon by HHS activities director Dennis Murphy. He accepted the offer and will be the next Blue Pony head coach, pending approval by the Havre school board on June 14.
The Cascade High School coach was chosen over a group of seven other applicants, along with five other inquirers.
He will now have the daunting task of replacing the highly successful Troy Purcell and maintaining the tradition of football excellence at Havre High on the heels of its most successful season in 34 years, including the Class A state championship.
"From a football standpoint, there is no better place to coach than Havre," Sukut said. "Any coach would jump at the chance to coach there. It's an opportunity with a successful program that I couldn't pass up."
Sukut had passed up opportunities before, but with his sons growing older and Cascade's dwindling numbers, it seemed like the perfect time to go.
"I looked at other opportunities in the past, but my two sons were pretty young," he said. "Now that they are 11 and 8, it was the time to go after something like this."
After a season with only 25 players on his varsity team and a school enrollment flirting with going from Class B back to Class C, Sukut had some extra incentive.
"I've been at Cascade for a long time and experienced the transition from Class B to Class C back to Class B," he said. "We've had a steady decline in enrollment and our numbers in football were also down. I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't part of my motivation."
Still, the commitment that Sukut showed to Cascade in the past is a quality that Murphy found intriguing.
"Kevin has 20 years' experience as a coach," Murphy said. "He's stable and hasn't jumped around from place to place, having spent the last 15 years at Cascade. To stay in one place for 15 years is difficult. Over that time he has survived the good and the bad.
"The last few coaches we have had here have been younger and looking for bigger and better opportunities," Murphy said. "For Kevin, this could be his last stop."
While all the talk of commitment, experience and qualifications means plenty to administrators like Murphy, Pony football fans have bigger questions concerning Sukut's philosophies on offense and defense.
Under Purcell's regime, Havre fans grew quite fond of a wide-open pass-first offense. Sukut knows it well, having coached against the Pony JV squad last season.
"I know they like to pass first up there," he said. "That's obviously within my offensive system."
Still, he wasn't going to make a definite commitment to any type of offense until he can evaluate the Ponies' returning players.
"Like any coach, I've got to look at the kids and the talent that's returning," he said. "But, I'm more than comfortable with passing the football. From what I've seen, the kids they have do it well."
Defensively, Sukut would like to continue Havre's aggressive nature of attacking the football.
"I like my defense to be proactive instead of reactive," he said. "There will be changes from week to week depending on our opponent, but I'm a coach that believes in taking the play to the offense."
With most fans now breathing a collective sigh of relief, Sukut will turn his attention to his new players. His first goal is to meet with them, which will happen sometime next week.
"I'm excited to come up and get together with the kids," he said. "I want to get our summer schedule set up for lifting and camps. The season really starts in the summer and with them going undefeated, we have to be prepared right away."
If there is one message he will bring to his players in that initial meeting, it will be to match his level of commitment.
"I am extremely motivated," he said. "I'm going to challenge the players to work harder than I am, because I am going to work extremely hard for this program."
It's that kind of drive that Murphy heard about when researching Sukut's career.
"The thing for me is that he's very sincere," Murphy said. "Everybody I talked to about Kevin said he's a tremendous worker and very dedicated to his job. He takes his work seriously and I know he won't do anything to embarrass our program, our community or our school."
While many people around town may not be familiar with Sukut, there are people on the HHS staff who are. Superintendent Kirk Miller and HHS principal Jim Donovan both worked in Cascade while Sukut was there.
"He's a very solid person," Donovan said. "When we had talent at Cascade, we did very well. Of course, there hasn't been a lot there lately. I think he'll fit in very well with this program."
Murphy said that neither Miller or Donovan influenced the decision to hire.
"They remained very professional with this process," he said.
Even with Sukut's hiring, there are still holes to fill within the Blue Pony football coaching staff.
Defensive coordinator Jason Christenson moved to Montana State University-Northern to coach, while freshman coach Jeremiah Nitz took an administrative position at Havre Middle School that won't allow him to coach.
"I'm kind of leaning on Dennis a lot for that," Sukut said. "I know he has some people in mind. I don't plan to bring any assistants with me. It's definitely a priority to get the coaching staff solidified."
For now, Sukut is just excited with the opportunity and challenge presented with his new job.
"My family is so excited to come up here," he said. "The community and the kids really love football. It's the perfect place. I believe in what I can do and I can come in and continue the success in Havre."