GREAT FALLS — The Samson’s are a competitive bunch.
Both Mark Samson and his son Kyle have starred on the football field in high school and college – and today each makes their living on the sidelines, coaching at Great Falls High and Kalispell Flathead respectively.
So it might come as a surprise that when their two teams square off Friday night at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls, it marks the first time father and son are on opposite sides of the field. Ever.
“It’s always been me and him together whether I was playing for him or coaching for him,” Kyle said. “Personally it’s kind of going to be tough. I’ve never had the chance to compete against my dad. With everything he’s done for me it’s going to be a little weird trying to beat him and him trying to beat me.”
It’s a first for the family. And a first for Montana.
Friday’s contest is believed to be the first time in Montana prep football history that a father has coached against his son.
They’ve known for months this was coming. When Mark accepted the job at Great Falls High in February, the Week 3 match-up loomed large on the schedule.
“I would have never imagined in all my years of coaching and teaching that I’d ever have to face my son and I’m sure he never thought it would happen either,” Mark said. “But the schedule says Great Falls High has to play Flathead. I know my son’s a good coach.”
If Kyle’s a good coach it’s because he’s had heck of a role model.
Mark coached his son at Helena Capital where they won three state titles together. In 2002, Kyle earned the starting quarterback job as a senior and the two led the Bruins to another Class AA championship with Kyle picking up Montana Gatorade Football Player of the Year honors along the way.
Kyle earned a scholarship at the University of Montana and played in 10 games as a true freshman for the Grizzlies. But when Mark took the head coaching job at MSU-Northern in 2004, Kyle transferred. Father and son were reunited again.
And as always happens when the two team up, success quickly followed. In 2006 the Lights won nine games and advanced to the NAIA playoffs, falling to Carroll College in the first round. Kyle was named the Frontier Conference Offensive Player of the Year as a senior. After graduation Kyle immediately went to work for his dad as the Lights offensive coordinator where he stayed until he was named the head coach at Flathead in 2014.
“I’m very proud of my son and his mom (Kellie) is very proud of him too. When Kyle was playing for me as a football player in high school and college, I’ve rarely ever been around anyone as competitive as him,” recalled Mark. “When he got the head coaching job as Kalispell I was very happy for him, I didn’t really want to lose him at Northern but he’d done a good job up there, in two years they’ve got things turned around.”
There’s obvious mutual respect. But at the end of the day, each has a job to do Friday night.
“It will probably really hit me when they’re doing the national anthem and I look across the field and I’ll see him,” Mark said.
“But then after that, I want to beat him as much as he wants to beat me. That’s the bottom line.”
As emotional as the game is for the two coaches, it’s taking even more of a toll on their family. Especially Kellie Samson.
“I know my mom is thinking, ‘I’ll go to the park. Take the grandkids to the park and have some fun,’” said Kyle. “My son (Troy) was like, ‘How come you have to play grandpa? Why aren’t you on the same team?’ That’s always an interesting thing but it should be fun.”
And after the game?
Mark laughed again.
“I hope he comes up to the house!”
What a relief that will be.
“And after this we’ll get back to communicating back and forth like father and son. And honestly, my life will not end if it doesn’t come up positively and I don’t think it will end for him either. We’re looking at the importance of the game itself about where that can set us up the rest of the year.”