By Kim Staudinger
After two months of holding the title of interim women's basketball coach at Montana State University-Northern, Mike Erickson has realized his dream of becoming head coach.
"It is unbelievable," Erickson said when reached by phone in Oregon this morning. "I'm just excited for the opportunity."
Chancellor Alex Capdeville made the decision Thursday night, he said, after meeting with search committee chair Kevin Carlson.
Athletics director Ted Spatkowski called Erickson, who is attending a coaching clinic in Portland, about 9:30 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time. Capdeville reached a very excited, and nearly speechless, Erickson minutes later.
"I'm just overwhelmed," Erickson said. "It's just unbelievable to know I have an opportunity to be a college coach and start my career."
Erickson has been the interim women's basketball coach for the Skylights since Feb. 12. Erickson went 3-3 with the Skylights as interim coach, including 1-1 at the Frontier Conference Tournament. Before taking over the women's team, he was an assistant coach with the Lights' program.
His selection brings stability to a team that was rocked with controversy during much of the season. Coach Kevin Emerick was suspended Dec. 12 for maintaining a personal relationship with a student but regained his job temporarily as he fought an unsuccessful court battle against the suspension. Toward the end of the season the Skylights refused to play for him and forfeited a game.
Prior to Erickson's move to Havre, he was the head boys basketball coach at Wolf Point High School for three seasons. In his tenure with the Wolves, Erickson compiled at 54-12 record and led his team to two district championships, a divisional championship and two state tournament appearances. He graduated from MSU-Billings in 1996 with a bachelor of science degree in physical education.
Erickson beat out two other job candidates who had more college coaching experience. Shawn Reed, an assistant coach for nine years at Sterling College in Kansas, interviewed on Monday. The other candidate, Bill Wilson, has spent the last six years as head women's basketball coach at Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa, after serving as an assistant for a year. In his tenure at UIU, Wilson complied a 79-72 record.
Despite not having much coaching experience at the college level, Spatkowski and Capdeville said, Erickson's connections with Montana made him the easy choice.
"He has Montana connections. He has the ability to recruit in Montana," Capdeville said. "He's been a successful head coach at the high school level. He's been well received by the players and the committee and he did an extraordinary job during a very difficult time.
"Not that the other two people weren't good people, but I think clearly in my mind we need to stay local. I looked at the pros and cons of each candidate and it became clear that Mike was the right choice."
Said Spatkowski, who also was a member of the search committee: "Obviously we were looking for the best fit for our program and our university. The fact that he's in our program right now and the fact that he's from Montana and has Montana connections was a big factor. Mike's just had a tremendous amount of support within our department, on campus and off campus, from the community and especially from the women's team. Mike is head and shoulders above everyone else."
The current Skylights players, who met with each candidate, also voiced their support for Erickson, Spatkowski said.
"They were impressed with all three candidates but they were overwhelmingly supportive of Mike," Spatkowski said.
Said Erickson: "You've got to gain the respect as the coach, and having that from the girls already is a big help."
Erickson has been recruiting since the season ended and will continue to do so now that he is the head coach.
"There have been some girls waiting to see if I got the job or not," Erickson said. "Hopefully it will help make their minds up."
Erickson said he plans to contact the girls he has recruited to inform them of the university's decision.
Also high on Erickson's priority list is finding an assistant coach. He said he has talked with some people and will talk with them more when he returns from Oregon. He plans to make a decision within the next week.
Spatkowski said the other two candidates from the women's job will not be considered for the men's position.
"We're in the possibility of identifying three or four candidates for the men's position," he said.
The possible candidates are all in the Northwest, Spatkowski said, but "several of them have either grown up in Montana or coached in Montana."
The candidates could be brought to campus for interviews as early as next week, Spatkowski said.