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Tony Arntson has an exciting vision for MSU-N football

Caring is the foundation of Helena High coaches' success


December 4, 2017

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Helena High head coach Tony Arntson talks to members of the Havre and MSU-Northern community on Friday afternoon. Arntson was in Havre to interview for the vacant Lights' head coaching job.

Tony Arntson has applied for three head coaching jobs in his lengthy career as a football coach. Friday afternoon inside Hensler Auditorium, Arntson spoke passionately not only about the first two he applied for, but the third as well - the vacant head coaching job at Montana State University-Northern.

"This one feels exactly like the other two," Arntson, the 24-year head coach of the Helena High Bengals said. "When I sat down with Mr. (Greg) Kegel and his wife for coffee a few weeks ago, I saw the fire in his eyes, the vision for what he wanted here. It was exactly the same feeling I had from the two previous interviews I've ever had. I bought in. I said, I'll come up and interview as soon as you can get me there."

Arntson, who is coming off a Class AA state championship game appearance this fall with Helena High, has only been the head coach of two programs in his career - his first was the eight-man Charlo Vikings, and the second, the last 24 seasons with the Bengals. Arntson, a Great Falls native, and CMR Rustler, began his coaching career under his head coach at CMR, the great Jack Johnson, following a standout collegiate career with the Montana Grizzlies.

And, like the challenges will be at Northern if he is to be named the next head coach of the Lights, the start to both of his head coaching jobs was equally as daunting.

"Charlo was the only head coaching job open in the state when I applied for that job," Arntson said. "Their football program had fallen back some during that time. It was really hard at first. But from the minute I interviewed for that job, I knew that's where I wanted to be, it was what I wanted to do. The same thing at Helena High. When I interviewed for that job, they were really struggling. They were 0-33 the three previous years. But when I left that meeting, I was convinced that's where I wanted to be. It was really hard that first year. We went 1-10. I remember every single thing about that season and that team though. And we've been able to go on and have a lot of success there. We've had a great run, lots of great wins, I've been blessed to work with a lot of great coaches, and the kids bought in and believed."

Northern would be a similar challenge to what Arntson experienced in his early days at both Charlo and with the Bengals. But the former state champion quarterback at CMR and ex-Montana Grizzly certainly isn't afraid of challenges. Instead, he looks at Northern and sees potential, and opportunity.

"The foundation is here," Arntson said of Northern. "Talking with all of the other head coaches today (Friday), you can just see how much they love it here, the energy and excitement those coaches have for their programs. That can happen with football too. Havre is a football town. I've followed Havre forever, people love football here and they want this (Lights) to be successful. So now, it's not about the past. It's about moving forward and starting something special."

And when it comes to building a program, Arntson's philosophies are simple. His success is well-documented, and he's as experienced a coach as there is in the high school ranks in the Treasure State. But he's always believed in not making things complicated when it comes to the game of football.

"I believe in simple. I believe in building a foundation of caring," Arntson told many members of the Havre and Northern community. "It's so simple, if you just care about yourself, your team and your school, then everything else will fall into place. I don't think there's a magic potion to it, I just know you have to care. And that's what I would hope any players who have every played for me would say about me... that I cared."

There's no question, with all that Arntson has done in his career, all of his current, and former Bengals would say that about him, and a lot more too. He's been the driving force at Helena High for over two decades, also doubling as a highly successful track and field head coach as well.

And now, after so many wins, so many highs with the Bengals, Arntson is considering the next phase in his coaching career -the Lights, the Frontier Conference, and the collegiate game.

"I still love what I do, I love Helena High, I love coming to work there every single day," he said. "But this was an opportunity, where I had that feeling, just like my other two jobs, that it was really worth looking at. The college game has always been intriguing to me. It's an opportunity for me to expand, and I like a challenge. I think the idea of football all day, every day is one that intrigues me, and I think I would love recruiting. I think that part of it is something that's very exciting to me."

And when it comes to recruiting, and play on the football, again, Arntson's ideas are simple and solid.

"Absolutely, one hundred percent," when Arntson was asked if Northern can win with Montana-born players on the roster. "I believe that. You just have to recruit kids that are good people, just be a good guy, it's really that simple. Be a good guy, and we won't have any problems. You can recruit the right kids, and build the foundation. Get them to believe, and put them in a position to succeed. Kids want to be successful, and we can do that here."

As for football, Arntson has pretty much seen and done it all in his legendary coaching career. And even though the Frontier Conference has evolved over the years, he says the foundations for how to be successful haven't.

"The Frontier Conference is tough," he said. "I think coach Van Diest, and the run he had at Carroll, it made everybody better. It's just a really tough conference, with so many really good football teams.

"In this conference, though, I still believe you have to play great defense, I think it starts there," he added. "You need to be great on special teams, be very fundamentally sound. And then you make it work on offense. You control the game that way, and you're going to win football games consistently."

And Northern certainly wants to start winning again. And the vision Arntson has for the program, the school, and everything else associated with the Lights is one that is certainly passionate, heartfelt and exciting.

"I want our players to be more than a football team," he said. "They will be a part of this campus and the community. That's really important to me. And I think that's the way you then bring everybody together. So that Saturdays can become a big event. When your team is a part of everything else, in the classroom, the campus and the community, then everybody is going to come support you. That's what I want to see happen here, and it can happen here."

Listening to Arntson, who spoke and answered questions for over an hour Friday, his vision is clear. He knows of Northern's struggles in recent years, he knows, having lived in Helena and having watched Carroll College dominate for so long, just what the Frontier Conference is all about. And, with all of his success with the Bengals, he obviously knows exactly what it takes to build, nurture and then continue a winning program. He's done that for the last 24 years, and he truly believes Northern can have the same things.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Helena High head coach Tony Arntson was the first candidate to come to Havre to interview for the MSU-Northern football job. Arntson has coached in Helena for the last 24 years, and was on campus on Friday.

"Everything is already here," he said. "The vision is here, athletics, academics, the community ... Havre is a great community. The camaraderie here, on campus and in this community, it's special. This is a special place, and I believe the football program can be every bit as special. I believe we can do great things here. You just have to care. The kids just have to believe. It's that simple to me."

There's no doubt, Tony Arntson cares. He's shown that in everything he's done, as a coach and an educator, as a husband and a father. He cares, and Friday, he passionately expressed just how much he would bring that to Northern if he was to be the next head coach of the Lights.

"I'm excited about this," he said. "As I said before, this is the exact same feeling that I had about the other two jobs I have ever applied for. I just have the feeling about it. That this is a special opportunity."


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