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An easy choice for MSU-Northern


In a world that is filled with tough choices, this one was cake.

Think about all the arduous decisions that we make every day - Coke or Pepsi, tastes great or less filling, Real World or Road Rules. Choices that can affect the very fabric of our being.

This wasn't deciding who is hotter, Katie Holmes or Jennifer Garner.

It wasn't trying to figure out who is more annoying, Ashton Kutcher or Justin Timberlake.

It wasn't solving the greatest dilemma of them all: "Who is more famous despite really doing nothing to be famous, Paris Hilton or Carson Daly?"

Nope, this was easier than outsinging Britney Spears, or outsmarting Jessica Simpson.

Of the four finalists for the vacant Montana State University-Northern football coaching position, Helena Capital coach Mark Samson was the easy and proper choice.

To put it simply, the guy wins. At every level he's ever coached at, he has won games and championships.

In his seven years at Helena Capital, he won 85 percent of his games. Eighty-five percent? That's higher than any grade I got in college, except CPR class.

And in those wins, he mixed in Class AA championships in 1999, 2000 and 2002. There could have easily been another this year if not for a fluke loss to Kalispell in the first round of the AA playoffs. His Capital team also reeled off a record 26-straight wins.

There's been a proverbial pipeline from his program to Carroll College, where he coached for seven years before taking the Capital job in 1997.

There are 10 Capital graduates on the Carroll roster, and the Saints have received verbal commitments from a pair of Samson's players from this year.

However, the Saints did lose one player that they were desperately recruiting in Samson's son, Marc, who is one of the top defensive backs in the state as well as very good wide receiver.

Marc will follow his father to Havre, as will Samson's oldest son Kyle, who played for the University of Montana this season.

"Marc is tougher than anyone I've ever coached," Samson said. "He was a little wary of this, but he's very loyal."

That is hefty praise, considering Samson coached University of Washington starting linebacker Greg Carothers, University of Montana linebackers Kyler Noel and Shane MacIntyre and former All-Frontier linebacker Joe Horne.

After earning 2002 Gatorade Player of the Year honors as quarterback for Capital and leading the Bruins to a Class AA state title, Kyle Samson, who stands a shade under 5-8, was recruited to UM to play receiver. However, with injuries to quarterbacks Jeff Disney and Craig Ochs, UM installed an option package with Kyle returning behind center as quarterback.

It was those one or two series of quarterbacking a game that whet Kyle's appetite to return to signal-calling.

"It would be different for someone who had played receiver all their life," Mark Samson said of his son. "But Kyle has always been a quarterback and it's something that he wants to do."

Samson's two sons alone give Northern a solid start for the recruiting season. And while Northern Athletics Director Byron Ophus said that Samson bringing his sons along was never a factor. It certainly couldn't have hurt his chances.

However, before we go planning trips to playoffs and victory celebrations, there is some work to do. Let's be honest, there is a mountain of work to do.

The Lights were woefully inexperienced this season, starting as many 12 freshmen at a time, while finishing with a 1-9 record. Under former coach Walt Currie, Northern accumulated a 10-42 record, but was frightfully inconsistent, showing moments of brilliance and periods of lethargy.

"It will definitely be a challenge," Samson said. "But I think we can do some great things."

To have success in this conference, it comes down to recruiting. With its recent success and its spate of scholarship money, Carroll continually gets the best players not going to UM or MSU. It's a tough school to compete with on and off the field.

Even though it took little time for Northern to hire Samson, he is still behind in recruiting. Several of the top players have already verbally committed to teams in the Frontier Conference, including a few of Samson's own players. Still, there is enough time to get a solid recruiting class for next season.

But Samson knows he will run into the same problem that plagued Currie and his staff: "How do you get kids to want to come to Havre, Montana?"

Let's be real honest here. Havre isn't a burgeoning metropolis and the climate isn't what you would call balmy from November to March. Still, Samson believes he can get good players to come here.

"Yeah, a lot of kids have never experienced 20 below weather," Samson said. "But you'd be surprised how narrow their world really is."

Samson made it clear that recruiting around the entire state and even out of state is a priority.

"The number one thing is to dwell on what is good about the community and the college," Samson said. "Football is football. You have to sell the school, sell the program."

Even a program that went 1-9 last season?

"I'm not going to promise them the world," Samson said. "I'll give them opportunities and make sure they have good people around to help them succeed. I want to create some excitement so that five years down the road kids are still excited about the program even if they aren't playing."

It's easy to be filled with optimism the first week after taking a new job. Call it the honeymoon phase. The marriage will get a little tougher when Northern loses a few games. Because there will be some losses. Northern is still a long ways from a Frontier Conference title and competing with Carroll. But hiring Samson is a step in the right direction.

After talking with the candidates, there really wasn't any choice to be made. The other three candidates had their strong points, but Samson was clearly a little more polished, a little more prepared and a whole lot better.

When it comes down to it, this wasn't a difficult choice, it wasn't an easy choice.

It wasn't deciding who is pastier, Gwyenth Paltrow or Nicole Kidman?

There really was no decision to be made at all. It was Mark Samson and no one else.


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