INTERSTATE-90 -- It was only fitting Ty Gregorak answer the phone on I-90 between Missoula and Bozeman.
Gregorak, the longtime defensive football coach at both Montana and Montana State, was making a trek back from the Missoula area to his current residence in Bozeman, where he lives with his family -- wife Kandice and children Gage, Gabby and Jax.
Gregorak, who spent the 2003-09 and 2011-15 seasons at the University of Montana, plus the 2016-18 seasons at Montana State, now spends his days as a medical sales representative for the Stryker Corporation, a medical technology company based in Kalamazoo, Mich., supplying equipment for interventional spine treatments to hospitals and medical professionals in Montana and Wyoming.
As Gregorak headed down the interstate last week, prior to Saturday's 119th Cat-Griz contest, he discussed his first year with Stryker, the relationships he's built and medical knowledge learned, as well as his fondest memories with both the Cats and Griz.
MTN Sports: It’s been a minute since we’ve chatted with you, so how much are you enjoying life? It’s a little less stressful, or maybe it isn’t because you were still doing just as much preparing for the TV thing?
Ty Gregorak: “It’s been an entirely new challenge for me professionally. You coach for 18 years, put in almost 20 years of your life coaching football and trying to master that, and then to completely switch gears, get out of it and try the medical world, the medical device world. Stryker is a great company. In terms of the transition, there are so many former athletes that Stryker goes after, and military personnel, so there’s a lot of very like-minded people of similar personalities. In our big, small state, shoot, there has to be eight to 10 former Bobcats and Grizzlies, either young men that I coached in their playing days, or young men that I coached against. Again, working for Stryker in our state, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a new challenge, but the amount of time, energy and passion that I get to now direct toward my own family is what’s been so enjoyable. I coached flag football this fall here in Bozeman, coached my son on that team and a bunch of the neighborhood kids that are in the same neighborhood and go to the same school and I get to pick up my daughter from dance class, have meals with my family, no cell phones at the table, turn off the TV, and we’re just a family at dinnertime. I get to put my little ones down, that’s what’s been fun for me.”
MTN Sports: Have you guys had any fun trips, any good vacations or anything? You don’t get many of those in the fall as a coach?
Gregorak: “We’ve done, my wife Kandice, she said recently, ‘We’ve probably done more as a family in the last nine months than we’ve ever done,’ and my kids, my daughter just turned 6 and my son is 4. I’ll put it to you this way Richie, the first weekend of college football, my wife and I hopped on a Harley and we went down through Red Lodge and up the Beartooth Canyon, down into Wyoming. Spent the night in Cody and had a ball in Cody. We actually stopped in Red Lodge and watched some football for a while, the Cats were on at that time, they were playing Texas Tech. But it’s just been fun to go do stuff. To answer your question, we’ve gone and done a lot of things, even in our own state. We went down to Yellowstone, we went down to Chico Hot Springs for a night, then down into Mammoth Hot Springs, we did that as a family a month-and-a-half ago. Having weekends is a whole new thing for me. I’ve never had weekends since, at least in the fall since probably pre-junior high. I shouldn’t say that because high school football is played on Fridays, so at least since college in the fall, I haven’t had a lot of weekends. It’s been fun having weekends, for sure, and getting to be with my kids and my wife. Life is pretty darn good Richie.”
MTN Sports: To be honest, you stole my vacation idea, my weekend vacation idea. I always thought taking motorcycles through the pass would be awesome down there. How cool was that?
Gregorak: “It was unbelievable. I got my motorcycle 15 years ago in Missoula at the old Harley store, which used to be off of South Ave., and I’ve always heard that’s a spectacular ride, and they were right. It was so pretty up there and just a beautiful drive. Through Red Lodge, up the Beartooth and down into Wyoming, it’s about as pretty of a ride as you can do. We had a ball doing it, my wife and I loved it. She jumps on the back of that thing with me and we’ll have a date night on it, but we’ve never done any long trip of length. To spend a couple few days on the bike together, we had a lot of fun. A lot of fun.”
MTN Sports: Did you check out any of the high school games? Have you had a chance to see, normally you’re recruiting like crazy, but now you have a different eyeball for it where maybe you can enjoy it a little bit more.
Gregorak: “I’ve taken my son and we’ve gone to watch Bozeman High play, my wife and I took in the (Montana-Weber State game on Nov. 16), and I’m getting to watch some NFL. I grew up a Seahawks fan, so I’m getting to watch some pro football for once. As a college coach, you don’t get to watch a lot of pro ball, just because one of your biggest prep days of the week is Sunday, obviously, and you might get to have Monday Night Football on in the background while you’re at the office, but it’s been fun to watch the pros and that league. I’m just an interventional spine guy with Stryker that moonlights (as a TV analyst) on ROOT Sports a few times in the fall, I did it three times, but I’m just getting to be a football fan, which is kind of fun.”
MTN Sports: What was that like, having the different vantage and doing more calm talking?
Gregorak: “I loved it. I was really bummed that I didn’t get to do a Montana or Montana State game, in particular (the Cat-Griz game). I would have loved to have been a part of it and put my own two cents into the broadcast. I would have really enjoyed that experience. But I do enjoy it. I did it three times this fall and I would like to do more, maybe, down the road. It’s fun for me because I get to talk football. Instead of the crazy stress and pressure of the game, making sure you’re dialed for three hours on every call that you can, it’s fun to just sit up there and talk football and talk the game, giving your own perspective as to what’s going on, trying to analyze it the way you see it. It’s definitely something that I enjoyed and could see myself doing some more of down the road if they wanted me back.”
MTN Sports: We’ve chatted with Ryan Leaf about this, he was making some rounds through Montana and he’s doing (college football broadcasting), but it allows football guys to just chat about football, without too much of the stress about what your defense does, what your offense is doing. Was that just more relaxing?
Gregorak: “It’s harder than you think, if that makes sense, in terms of the process of when to talk, when not to talk. It’s the ‘why’ as opposed to the ‘how’ you know? It’s definitely one of those things that takes reps, like anything. It’s like my new Stryker gig, it’s just reps and being in the operating room. It’s reps and reps and reps. I think with more reps I could get good at it, but like I said, it was fun and it’s something that we’ll see where it goes. Ryan is right, you get to watch football, sit and watch Big Sky Conference football, all those coaches. There’s probably not one team in the league where I don’t know at least one or multiple coaches pretty darn well. Over 15 years in the league, you just get to know guys, you stay in touch with guys. You’ve got buddies that move around to different schools, so the personal part of it was fun for me doing the broadcast. The different coaches around the league, whether it’s coaches that I’ve coached with or guys that I coached — the (Sacramento State defensive coordinator) Andy Thompsons of the world, or the (Southern Utah defensive coordinator) Brandon Fishers of the world, or the (Idaho defensive backs coach) Vernon Smiths — guys that were here at Montana over the 12 years that have now moved on to coaching, and are doing well. Andy and I are good friends and stay in touch to this day. He’s really, really done a great job at Sac State helping (Hornets’ head coach Troy Taylor).”
MTN Sports: The feedback we heard (about your TV commentary) was really good, and it was fun watching someone that you know. This year’s Cat-Griz game (and all their games), you just get to be a fan for it now, but take us inside the mind of the coaches (this time of year). You’ve been with both (programs), what’s going on each week?
Gregorak: “The thing I love and really respected about both coaches, because (Montana State coach Jeff Choate) did this, as well (as Montana head coach Bobby Hauck), throughout the (Cat-Griz) week they would bring in different perspectives of former coaches and players. Both guys do it, up until last year I know Bobby did it and Jeff did it, I’m assuming they still do it. Starting Sunday and all the way up until the night before a game, they’re bringing in different generations of Bobcats and Grizzlies to give their spin and perspective on what’s going to happen that next day. I always loved that. I’m really into the history and tradition of the (Cat-Griz rivalry game), and to listen to these guys talk about that in their own way, how this game and career and their time in Missoula or Bozeman parlayed into things down the road for them in life, is really fun. I think it’s neat both coaches do that.”
MTN Sports: You mentioned you’re a history guy, you’re part of that history. There were a lot of games you were on the sideline for, this isn’t a Bobcat or Griz question, not leaning one way or the other for people reading this, but I want to know which Cat-Griz game is most memorable for you? Maybe it was a comeback you had or a big play that won the game by one of your guys on the defenses, which one really stands out to you that you’re maybe most proud of?
Gregorak: “The 2008 game was so much fun, with the throwbacks and the disguise, so to speak, and the secrecy of everyone believing we were going to break out the maroon and silver, which we did in pregame, then went up the tunnel and came back out in the copper. And then, obviously, dominating the game the way we did was fantastic. The 2011 game where we went to Bozeman, Montana State was ranked No. 1, and we were obviously very good as well, in the top 10, but I have to believe, and I know, they had to be feeling pretty good about themselves that day, and we went and took a lot from them that day. The 2014 game, again, the dominating fashion in which we won, that was the game, I call it the 7-for-7 game — we took the ball away seven times and they scored seven points, right at the end of the game against a lot of young men that (former Griz coach Mick Delaney) wanted to make sure were in the ball game. 2016, ’17 and ’18, for me personally, to beat the team that I cared so much about and loved for 12 years of my life, to beat them three years in a row, twice of those in Missoula, and the way the game finished last year, it was one of those things that you’ll tell your grandkids about because it was such an unbelievable finish to a fantastic finish on a beautiful day in Missoula. To beat that team you were a part of for so long, and I’ve known Coach Hauck for a long time. He recruited me out of West Valley High School in Spokane, so I’ve known Bobby and his family since I was basically 16-17 years old. It was a great feeling, and with that feeling came the, I really thought whichever team was going to win that game was going to make the playoffs, and sure enough, we were right. We got a home game against Incarnate Word, and then the grand prize for getting that home win was, ‘You get to go to Fargo the next week against the team that hasn’t lost in a couple years.’ They’re all awesome. A comment that I made, and it’s the honest to God truth, you almost remember the losses more than the wins, at least certain parts of the losses. I was part of the game 15 times and lost in 2003, ’05 and 2012. I can say those years so (easily) — ’03, ’05 and ’12 — those are the years that I lost and they stand out because you put so much into it, you want to win it so bad. But I know for the Bobcats, and I got to coach a generation of Griz that never lost the rivalry, the kids that came in and either redshirted in ’05 or the true freshmen in ’06, we won it 2006-09, so that senior class that we also went back to a national championship with, they can say they never lost to their rival. I know the group of seniors at Montana State (can now say the same thing).”
MTN Sports: How loud or not loud do you get on Saturdays now? There’s no pressure on you now, so are you the quiet fan that watches? Do you analyze?
Gregorak: “I (didn’t even) go to the game. I watch on the big, beautiful HD TV and be in the comfort of my own home. … (If the Cats and Griz) get those top seeds, that’s a week off and that’s enjoying Thanksgiving, getting your body back after months of pounding and trying to get your bodies and minds fresh again, then go make a run. Once you make the tournament, anything can happen. But it sure helps having that week off and some home field advantage, for sure.”
MTN Sports: Two-part question, what’s next? First maybe what’s next professionally, and then do you have any more Harley rides coming up in spring or summer?
Gregorak: “The Harley is covered and in the garage. You know how it is around here anymore, summer moves right into winter and winter kind of goes back into summer. Spring and fall are getting tougher and tougher around here it seems like. I’m really enjoying working for Stryker, I think it’s a fantastic company made up of a lot of fantastic people. I think there is a lot of great Stryker representation in this state — great people that are friends and were friends of mine before I took the role. This fall, later in the fall as the season has progressed, I’ve gotten more and more, ‘Will you coach again? Do you want to coach again?’ Since I made this transition, I’ve always said, ‘I’m not going to say never, but it would have to be a really good situation and a really good fit for me and my family.’ We love being in Montana. We’ve had opportunities over the last three or four years to leave Montana, but we decided to be here. I married a girl from Roundup, Montana, and I grew up in Spokane, Washington, so I’m close to my home, we’re close to her home, we’re close to Priest Lake, which is where, if I could spend my entire summers, I would. My family has a place up there and has for a long, long time. This is home. I would like to do a really good job for Stryker. They took a chance on a, at the time, a 40-year-old guy. Most, not all, but most people that enter this profession do it at a much younger age, and they took a chance on someone with zero experience, I have no medical background at all, no medical sales background, so I would like to do a really good job for them. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, and I would like to reciprocate that by doing a good job out here in the state. I’ve got the whole state. We have a couple different spine divisions, we have the spine and I’m interventional spine, so I would like to do a good job in that division for them. It would have to be a fantastic situation for me to think about getting back (into football) right now. I’m loving my life with my family the way we are. It’s been a lot of fun to be a husband and a father. Your family sacrifices, and tell me if this makes sense to you Richie, your wife and children sacrifice a lot having a husband and a father as a football coach. But you sacrifice a lot, too, as a fella and a human being, having your own interests and hobbies and things you enjoy doing outside of football. I think that football, coaching is such a wonderful profession, it is. It’s as good of a profession as there is if you love to be around ball, and love to teach and be around the kids, but you do sacrifice a lot. It would just have to be a pretty darn good situation for me to jump back in. I do love football, I do love it. I love the camaraderie, I love the kids, and that’s the thing I miss the most — the kids, their families and Saturdays. That’s about it. All the other, the crazy hours and some of the other nonsense, it is what it is, that’s part of life and part of coaching anymore, but I miss Saturdays. Game days, I would honestly say I might have enjoyed coaching more than I enjoyed playing. I loved coaching football on Saturdays. It was a lot of fun. I’m very happy in my life right now, and I’m enjoying working for Stryker and this new challenge.”
MTN Sports: Let’s just say you’re speaking a very familiar language to those of us in (the media profession), talking about the family time and the things that go on with crazy hours. We wish you nothing but the best with Stryker, and for those of us that aren’t going to get a chance to do so until late (on game days), we hope you have a couple of cold ones and some wings or something for those of us trying to crank out stories and videos and all that.
Gregorak: “(Laughs). I have a lovely television that will be tuned to the games, and that’s the nice thing, they go to commercial and I can just flip to the next game. I’m excited for (both the Cats and the Griz). It’s special to have (both programs in our state) and I was fortunate and lucky to be part of them for 15 years.”