The inside pitch ...
By Ryan Divish
Patience is a virtue that many people in Havre aren't blessed with. Don't believe me? Try watching the drive-through line at Taco John's on Taco Tuesday, or shopping at Kmart on Sunday afternoons. Small town or not, we can be downright impatient folks here in Havre.
I'm no better. I admit it. My parents get physically ill watching television with me. I have a habit of flipping through the channels frequently and at a speed that could blind the inexperienced viewer. I'll be watching golf and I'll switch the channel at the beginning of a golfer's backswing and then switch back to see where the shot lands. Not because I don't want to watch, but because the swing was taking too long. If anyone has ever met me, they know I couldn't sit still even if I swallowed an entire bottle of Ritalin.
But after living in Havre for the better part of 20 years, I've realized if there is one thing that Havreites can be impossibly impatient with, it's sports success. We want it now. Not tomorrow, not the next day and certainly not in a year now, damn it. We want to win now and ask questions later. It's certainly isn't the healthiest attitude and it begs the question, why?
Well, people are impatient for success because they are used to success. Havre has been, traditionally, a perennial contender in just about all high school and collegiate athletics over the past decade. We've won championships in football, basketball, wrestling, volleyball, track, tennis, golf and baseball. To be honest, we're almost kind of spoiled a little. Not all towns experience that type of success. Many crave for just a hint of it.
When some of that success we're so accustomed to wanes, our impatience grows. The perfect example would be the Montana State University-Northern basketball programs.
Nobody needs to be reminded of what happened last season, but all that was needed was a couple of elephants to make it a complete circus.
After what would be best described as a tumultuous year, the men's and women's basketball programs at Northern are in a state of flux.
Call it rebuilding, call it retooling or call it cleaning house, but the programs needed refreshing changes from otherwise stagnant runs.
Enter Mike Erickson and Shawn Huse as the respective women's and men's coaches.
Erickson, the Skylights' interim coach during last season's debacle, was given the chance to try and build something on the foundation he tried so desperately to hold together. A Montana native, Erickson is approachable and optimistic, a stark contrast to his predecessor, who could be arrogant and antagonistic at times.
Perhaps the most assuring thing that Erickson has shown is his willingness and ability to recruit in state. It didn't seem like that long ago that the Skylights dominated the conference and region with predominantly Montana players. That type of recruiting slowly matriculated from the program. Consequently other programs like UM-Western are getting quality Montana players and winning in a dominating fashion much like the Skylights did not so long ago.
Erickson's success as a coach is measurably better, if for no other reason than the smiles that can be seen on his players' faces. A year ago, Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy wouldn't have been able to make a single player smile at practice. Erickson's players genuinely respect and want to play for him, which at this point is a major step in the right direction.
Maybe the best thing for Northern men's program was when Montana Tech decided to hire Mike Bauer as its head coach. Huse, a former all-conference player for Tech, was a finalist for the job and in the minds of people familiar with the conference and the job, the best candidate. However, Tech decided to go with Bauer, who had been the interim coach for the season. And Northern got a little lucky landing Huse.
Huse has a picture of him shaking Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's hand hanging above his desk. The legendary Duke coach is a role model for Huse and if you watch closely you see the same mental toughness, discipline and focus in Huse that makes Coach K a great coach.
If anyone knows what it takes to win in the Frontier, it would be Huse. He played on Tech teams that weren't the biggest or most talented. Yet, they won games using a combination of guts, fundamentals and effort.
His team, along with Erickson's team, will have to play similarly. Erickson returned only four players with significant experience, while Huse returned five players with little or no game experience. And because of their late hirings, recruiting was definitely a struggle. Both teams are undersized in the post, have questions about their depth and are two of the most inexperienced teams in their respective divisions.
The programs are on their way back to prominence, but that isn't going to happen overnight no matter how much either coach or we wish.
"It's a process," Huse said. "I have to be patient. It's going to be frustrating at times, but I have to remember the big picture. We're here for the long run trying to build something and I see it as a place where I could stay for awhile."
Huse could just as easily be speaking for us. We have to be patient. No matter how frustrated you get with either team's performance, you can't simply switch the channel. The programs have the right people in charge, who are making the right decisions. With a little patience and a lot of support they will return to prominence.