BILLINGS — Who says you can’t go home?
Mick Durham, Montana State’s second-all-time winningest men’s basketball coach, is returning to Montana. MSU Billings athletic director Krista Montague announced Durham as the Yellowjackets’ new men’s basketball coach on Wednesday.
“It happened quick. I guess I never saw this coming after leaving the state 10 years ago, now coming full circle,” Durham said after landing in San Antonio Wednesday evening. “I started in Billings right out of college at nearby Shepherd High School, and to come full circle and be back in Billings is pretty cool. The bottom line is it’s a chance to finish my coaching career back home in front of some people I know in the state I know. It’s exciting, we can’t wait to get going and we have to hit the ground running.”
MSUB confirmed to MTN Sports that there were 32 active candidates for the position. Durham was the only candidate interviewed on campus, which took place Tuesday. Wednesday he flew to San Antonio for Final Four weekend at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The Yellowjackets say they will introduce Durham at a formal press conference on campus either Monday, April 9, or Tuesday, April 10. Those are the earliest dates that both Durham and MSUB athletic director Krista Montague will be able to attend together, according to Montague.
Durham, a former MSU Bobcats player, spent 16 years as head coach in Bozeman, posting a 246-213 record before stepping down in March of 2006.
Durham took over the head coaching position at Alaska Fairbanks in 2011, spending the past seven seasons with the Nanooks. He guided UA-Fairbanks to the first conference tournament championship in program history two years ago. This year’s Nanooks finished 11-15.
“I’ve been in the (Great Northwest Athletic Conference) for seven years and I know the players, I have a feel for them, I don’t know them on a day-to-day basis, but I know their skills because we played them,” Durham said of the Yellowjackets. “That’s what’s a little different, I know a lot about the situation, which is going to help, I’m not going in blind, and it’s my home state. I think we can really get going right away.”
“I think I can sell MSUB and sell this league,” he continued. “If you go pecking order (of level), you have the Montana State Bobcats and Montana Grizzlies at one, then the Yellowjackets here at two and then the Frontier Conference. We’re all Montanans, so we all understand how much respect the Frontier has and the rivalries they have. That’s the toughest part in our league, we really don’t have any rivalries for people to identify with. It’s a day-to-day process of putting an exciting team on the floor, get some winning going, that’s our part. And then I have to sell to Montana kids. We need a base of Montana guys to sell the fact that it’s a great league, an NCAA league where you get to travel, see things and I think there’s a lot to sell with MSU Billings.”
Former Montana State player and Great Falls native Bobby Howard just finished his fourth season as Durham’s assistant coach.
Durham’s teams in Bozeman produced three 20-win campaigns and won two Big Sky Conference titles. MSU reached the NCAA Tournament in 1996 before falling to Syracuse in the opening round. The 1996 squad was the last Bobcats team to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Durham’s 2001-02 team played in the NIT.
The Three Forks native earned three Big Sky Conference coach of the year awards, including after the 2004-05 season in which the Bobcats were picked to finish last but tied for second.
Durham landed in San Antonio on Wednesday evening to attend an annual coaches convention that runs in correlation with the NCAA Final Four. He says friends and family members joke about the site of the convention, but insists the trip is just as much business as it is pleasure.
“People chuckle when we say (it’s our coaches convention), saying ‘oh, great place to have a coaches convention at the Final Four,’ but it’s always been a chance for my family to take a deep breath and try to enjoy things for a couple days,” Durham said with a laugh. “We’ll try to do that, but obviously right around the corner is getting things going at MSU Billings and getting back to Billings.
“Prediction-wise, I think Loyola-Chicago has hit the end. I was actually born in Chicago, so I should probably be pulling for them. But I’m thinking Villanova (wins the NCAA championship) in the end. I just think they’re really good, but my bracket is so messed up that it could be Loyola winning the dang thing, who knows.”
MSUB is replacing Jamie Stevens, who stepped down earlier this month after seven seasons with the Yellowjackets. MSUB went 13-18 (5-15 conference) in 2017-18.