Mike Petrino joins the Lady Griz basketball program as assistant coach. (Photo courtesy University of Montana)

Editor’s note: University of Montana media release

MISSOULA — New Lady Griz coach Shannon Schweyen may have went outside the program’s lineage to find her new assistant, but she still brought in someone with strong ties to the state of Montana.

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Mike Petrino, born in Glasgow, raised in Kalispell and with more than two decades of coaching experience, from high school freshmen to most recently Colorado of the Pac-12, starts work later this week as the newest member of Schweyen’s staff.

Petrino joins Sonya Stokken on the staff of Schweyen, who was announced as Montana’s new coach last week. She replaced Robin Selvig, who had just four assistant coaches at his side in 38 years leading the Lady Griz. All played for him at Montana before becoming coaches.

“The administration encouraged me to get some new ideas and maybe get someone who hasn’t been involved in Lady Griz basketball,” said Schweyen, who still has one assistant position to fill. “At the same time, Mike has a huge appreciation for what we have here.

“With the timing of everything, we’re fortunate he was available. He’s very passionate about his job and has a lot of ties to Montana, so I think he’s going to be a real asset to our program.”

Petrino, who broke into college coaching five years ago when he joined Joe Legerski’s staff at Wyoming, has been gone from Montana for 15 years, but like the other two itinerant sons of Mike and Peggy, he’s now back in his home state.

Jason Petrino, who was coaching at South Dakota, was hired in January to take over the Rocky Mountain football program. On his staff is Jared Petrino, most recently at Black Hills State.

“All three sons are now back in Montana coaching. It’s pretty exciting,” said Mike, who worked four years at Wyoming before spending the 2015-16 season at Colorado as the Buffaloes’ director of recruiting and video.

It turned out to be an eight-month position. CU coach Linda Lappe, who went 105-92 in six seasons, stepped down in March, leaving her staff without jobs.

“It was fun to be part of a conference that had the nation’s top RPI and sent two teams to the Final Four,” said Petrino. “It was very beneficial to see how things are done at that level.

“But it also reinforced for me that stability is a big thing in coaching. You want to make sure you’re at a place where quality of life is more important than the level you’re coaching at. To me this is the best situation because of what Montana has established over the years under Robin.”

A 1999 graduate of MSU Billings, he is maybe the only Petrino to find his calling in a sport that isn’t football — cousins Bobby and Paul Petrino are the head coaches at Louisville and Idaho, his uncle Bob Sr. was the longtime coach at Carroll. But basketball has been good to him.

Before leaving Montana he coached teams in Kalispell, Billings, Helena and Livingston, and married his wife Kelly, the daughter of Eric Hays, who led Hellgate High to state titles in 1985, ’90 and ’93 and scored 32 points in the Grizzlies’ 67-64 loss to eventual national champion UCLA in the 1975 NCAA tournament.

Fifteen years ago, the Petrinos moved to Portland so Kelly could pursue her doctorate in clinical psychology at Pacific University. Mike was hired at Central Catholic High School to teach social studies and coach boys’ basketball.

He spent 10 years with the Rams, the final five as head coach. His teams went 97-37 — 24-4 his final year, in 2010-11 — won five Mt. Hood Conference titles and twice finished third at the Oregon Class 6A state tournament, in 2009 and ‘11. Nine of his players would go on to compete collegiately.

It was while he was coaching at Central Catholic that Petrino first showed up at the Lady Griz offices. He wanted to let them know he was out there, interested and available.

“He basically came into my office one summer and visited a little bit and talked about his desire, if anything ever opened up, to be at Montana someday,” said Schweyen.

Petrino moved from the high school ranks to college coaching at Wyoming in 2011, when Legerski brought him on staff. Part of the move was professional. Part of it was the Petrinos’ desire, now that they had started a family, to relocate to a place that more reminded them of their home state.

“The idea of us both working on the same campus in a small town reminded us of Montana,” said Petrino. “Coaching college was always a dream, but I didn’t really plan on ever doing it.”

Petrino spent four years working under Legerski, a Selvig-like coach whose gruff sideline demeanor belies his true nature as a caring teacher, as the Cowgirls twice won 20 or more games and advanced to the 2013 WNIT.

“Joe reminds me a lot of Robin in the sense that he takes great care of the girls off the floor, always making sure they’re taken care of. On the floor they coach in a way that is positive and not demeaning,” said Petrino. “They are very simple in their approach, and it’s successful.”

Those Wyoming teams went 3-1 against Montana. Two of those wins came at Dahlberg Arena, two of just 61 losses at the facility over nearly four decades for the Lady Griz under Selvig.

“When we played them, I kept thinking about how great it would be to coach at Montana one day,” said Petrino. “I never dreamed it would actually happen.”

Beyond Montana and Wyoming meeting on the court each winter, their staffs would go up against one another in recruiting. More recently, Wyoming got Liv Roberts out of Missoula, and Alycia Sims had Montana and Wyoming as her finalists before choosing the Lady Griz.

“Mike and I would run into each other out recruiting, so we became better friends as the years went by,” said Schweyen. “We went head-to-head with them on a lot of kids from the Northwest.

“I wanted someone for this position who is enthusiastic about recruiting, and he definitely is. He’s very familiar with the kids in the Northwest, and he loves to get out on the road and recruit.”

Leaving Kelly, who by that time had a professional practice established, and daughters Jamieson and Hayden behind in Laramie, Petrino set up temporary quarters last season two hours south in Boulder so he could join Lappe’s staff at Colorado.

The Buffaloes went 7-23, 2-16 in the Pac-12.

The win-or-else pressure that comes with coaching at schools in the top conferences made Petrino appreciate even more programs like Montana and Wyoming, successful teams with loyal fan bases in outposts far from the more recognizable college hot spots.

“Coming out of the Pac-12, you realize that the fan bases at places like Montana and Wyoming are very real and bigger and better than some of the BCS schools,” said Petrino. “They are great programs with great fan bases that enjoy a special bond with their community.

“Women’s basketball is treated as a big deal, and those are the kind of places you want to be a part of.”

And when it’s back in your home state, even better.

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