From the Fringe...
When it comes to coaches, it’s pretty unique to have the perspective I do. Not only do I get to cover coaches for a living, but I am one myself. And that gives me the opportunity to see both sides of the fence, so to speak.
As is the case with any coach, I have many mentors, many coaches who have influenced my life, my coaching philosophy, and in general, the way I approach sports all together.
I also know that coaches have a unique ability to touch the lives of many, no matter the sport, and for the hundreds of coaches I know around the state, to the ones I’ve played for and learned from as a youth, I doubt there are many coaches who touched as many lives as Walt Currie did.
Coach Currie passed away not long ago, and it’s been a sad time for so many who knew him, who were touched by him and who had the honor of just being near him all those years.
A legend in both the Montana high school football and wrestling communities, it would be hard to count just how many kids coach Currie influenced over the years. But what isn’t hard to compute is the respect and admiration he had from all of those people, and though I never got the chance to play a sport under him, coach Currie was a man I always respected, looked up to and in more recent times, tried to learn from.
Like I said, I was young and just starting out in sports when coach Currie was guiding young Blue Ponies in the football and wrestling program’s at Havre High. But I know what kind of leader he was. I know what kind of honest, direct and genuine man and coach he was. I know because I know so many who got the chance to play football or wrestle for him. I know because I have learned and played for some of those who learned and played for coach Currie. I know how much he influenced them and in turn, they influenced me.
And though I missed out on what an honor it would have been to play for coach Currie, and to learn, not just about sports, but about life, and how to be a better man from him, I did have the opportunity to get to know him as a coach and a person during my time at the Havre Daily News.
In fact, the first MSU-Northern football game I covered as a reporter, was a day back in 2003 when the Lights were thoroughly beaten by Southern Oregon at Blue Pony Stadium. After a loss like that, and as a young reporter, I was nervous about having to walk into the head coaches’ office and ask him questions about a game that was difficult, lopsided and probably very tough to swallow.
But in those moments with coach Currie, shortly after that game, I quickly learned just why he was so respected in the coaching community, and just what kind of coach and person he was.
Despite the loss, he answered every question I had for him, honestly and directly. He praised Southern Oregon and its coaching staff, and pointed out more what that team did right than what his team did wrong. He explained the game to me in a way which showed me just how much passion he had for his profession, and for Northern at the time. He went on to point out, how his young Lights were improving, and praised his players for their effort and their willingness to fight, even in the face of adversity. He talked about being proud of his team, his coaches and of his program, and unlike many coaches you see at press conferences on ESPN, I knew, in that brief encounter, just how much he meant every word he was saying.
In one interview, I learned so much about football, about perseverance, about life and about doing my own job, and I don’t think there is another man who could have taught me that much in a short amount of time. From knowing what I know about coach Currie, and in my own personal experiences with him, only he could have taught someone so much in such a short amount of time.
And in his time on earth, it would be hard to find someone who has done so much with their life. Coach Currie didn’t just win football games and wrestling tournaments, though he did plenty of that, too. He didn’t just fight forest fires in his spare time, or start Northern’s football program from scratch after three decades of lying dormant, no, he did a lot more than that.
Coach Currie did what so many coaches only aspire to do, he helped men grow up. He helped men become better men. He influenced lives, he touched people, he gave back for years on end. Coach Currie was a leader, he inspired people to do better and he did it all with integrity, honesty and with passion and intensity.
I know this because I have friends who played for him, who learned from him. I know because I’ve listened to people talk about him over the years and I’ve seen just how much respect he had from all of those lives he touched. I know because I’ve been friends with his son Jeff for years, and have heard the countless stories about coach Currie and the things he did in his coaching career. I know this because I’ve been coached by, and learned from, many people who played and learned from Walt Currie. And I know because I had the privilege of getting to know coach Currie myself over the years. I know these things from my own experiences, just like so many of you had the privilege of knowing, learning from and playing for coach Currie.
“When I got into coaching, of course it wouldn’t have even happened if it weren’t for Walt Currie,” said Scott Leeds, current MSU-Northern wide receivers coach, who coached under Currie for six seasons at Northern. “He gave me this opportunity, and I will always be so grateful to him for that, because I wouldn’t probably be doing this all these years later if it wasn’t for him and that opportunity.”
I have covered a lot of great coaches, I have played for some greats as a youth and I’ve met many other legendary coaches along the way. Many are personal friends, many are mentors, many are people I still count on to this day, just like I hope so many who have played for me feel like they can do now.
But Walt Currie will be one I won’t ever forget. Walt Currie will be a coach, a person and a man, who I will always know taught me so much. Walt Currie will be a Blue Pony, a Bison, a Light forever. I know how much coach Currie meant to every program he was involved in, I know how much coach Currie means to so many people who learned from him. I know exactly what kind of leader and coach Walt Currie was.
And I know that, as a coach, and as a person, if in my life, I do even a small amount of what coach Currie did with his, I know I’ll be doing all right.