By Kim Staudinger
The interviews for the Montana State University-Northern head men's basketball coaching position began Wednesday with Keith Cooper from Central Washington University.
The slot opened when Brian Harrell resigned April 5 after an audit was conducted of the men's basketball program.
Cooper has been a full-time assistant coach and physical education instructor at the NCAA Division II school located in Ellensburg, Wash., since July of 2000.
Before joining the staff at CWU, Cooper was the head boys basketball coach at Decatur High School in Washington where he compiled a 75-54 record. He has also coached at Pacific Lutheran University, Shoreline Community College and Juanita High School.
"My ultimate goal was always to be a small college head coach. There are a lot of things attractive about this job. Having the community support and having people who care about the program is a plus," Cooper, 38, said.
Cooper graduated with a masters of physical education with an emphasis on athletic administration in 1993 from Pacific Lutheran University. He received his bachelor of arts degree in social science education with a valid Washington State teaching certificate in 1988 from Seattle Pacific University.
"I have to be somewhere where I can be successful," he added. "I wouldn't be at Havre today if I didn't think we could go to Kansas City (for the national tournament). The potential is here to be at that level."
To be at that level, coaches need to recruit strong athletes to build a program. Cooper said he plans on "building a base with Montana kids" and then finding other players who will fit the program.
Cooper has ties to coaches in Montana, Washington and Oregon, including Bobcat coach Mick Durham and former Griz coach Don Holst.
At Central Washington, Cooper said, the main recruiting base traditionally has been junior college transfers due to the low number of scholarships the school can offer. He sees the recruiting process at Northern in a different light.
"Northern has a base of high school players in the area. I think you can bring in a base of high school players and build around with junior college kids," he said. "You have to recruit kids who want to be here and will fit in here."
While Cooper said he cannot pinpoint exactly how long he would stay at Northern, he admitted he would be here long enough to build a strong program.
"We're making a sacrifice to be a part of this program," he said, mentioning his wife and 11-month-old son. "I think we're making a big enough sacrifice not to be here just one or two years."
Another integral part of the recruiting process, Cooper said, is hosting basketball camps. If hired, he hopes to plan and attend numerous camps throughout the summer to build his connections with area coaches and players.
Cooper's coaching style revolves around intensity, he said. He usually runs an up-tempo offense and pressure defense, he said.
"The players want to play a style they will enjoy," he said. "I think you will see us outwork and out hustle our opponents night in and night out. You will see a team that will play together, be mentally tough, and win games down the stretch."
As an assistant coach, Cooper said, he is usually calm on the bench. But as a head coach, he said fans can expect him to be "very intense."
"I'm not cursing out the players or demeaning them," he said. "I just really care and have a passion for what I do."