BILLINGS — Steve Keller, who through nearly five decades has won more than 900 games and several championships across different levels of high school and college basketball in Montana, is retiring at the conclusion of the 2022-23 season.
Currently the head men's coach at the University of Providence in Great Falls, Keller told MTN Sports of his decision on Monday and informed his team during an afternoon meeting on Tuesday. Providence made it official on Tuesday via press release.
Entering this week, Keller has won 924 combined games in stints as the head girls coach at Opheim High School and Helena High School, and as the head men's coach in the Frontier Conference at Montana Western and Providence.
"Like I've told everybody, this is my 45th year of being a basketball coach, and it's been my life," said an emotional Keller. "The last couple years it's something you think about that everybody goes through. It gets harder and harder the older you get.
"Tough decision, but they say you know when it's time. It's the hardest thing that I've ever had to do, but I can tell you it's something I've thought about daily since probably the beginning of the year."
Keller took over at Providence in 2018, and has so far guided the Argos to an 83-55 overall record in five seasons. In his second season, UP went 24-8 and earned a berth in the NAIA tournament, and its No. 8 ranking was the highest in school history. In 2021, he coached Providence to its first outright league title since 1983 and its first Frontier tournament crown.
After a hall-of-fame run in the high school ranks, Keller joined the Frontier Conference in 2004, first as an assistant men's coach at Carroll College. In 2007 he became the head men's coach at Montana Western and guided the Bulldogs to three regular-season league titles and eight NAIA national tournaments. His record at Western was 231-124.
Keller guided Opheim to three consecutive Class C girls state titles from 1982-84. He became the head girls coach at Helena in 1985 and led the Bengals to three Class AA state championships in 1990, 1991 and 1997. His cumulative high school coaching record was 610-180. He was inducted into the Montana Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2005.
Keller, whose Providence team this season is 13-14 overall and 7-7 in the Frontier entering Saturday's matchup at Carroll, said he made it a point to tell his players first before the word got out.
"I wanted them to know," he said. "Nobody else really knew, and I wanted to make sure we got the word out to them because they're an important part. I told them that we still have work to do. We're not finished; I'm going to coach just as hard as any game I've ever coached."
Keller's overall coaching record, as of Tuesday, was 924-359, a winning percentage of .720. He won six state high school championships, four Frontier regular-season titles, one Frontier tournament championship, and his college teams qualified for the NAIA tournament 10 times. Keller is a five-time winner of the Frontier coach of the year award, and he's mentored 11 All-Americans.
In addition, Keller has coached the boys team in the Midland Roundtable Montana-Wyoming All-Star Basketball Series since 2012. His record is a perfect 18-0 in those games. Keller indicated to MTN Sports that he would like to continue in this role as long as the Midland Roundtable will have him.
A 1978 graduate of Rocky Mountain College, Keller played baseball for the Battlin' Bears from 1975-78 and is a member of the school's athletic hall of fame. He received a post-graduate degree from MSU-Northern.
Keller graduated from Custer High School in 1974. He scored 2,206 career points with the Class C Cougars, and is among the top scorers in Montana high school history.
"I have some bucket-list things that I'd really like to do," Keller said. "It's hard to do some of those things when you're tied down from Aug. 1 til the end of March. I wouldn't trade any of those years, I've loved every minute of it. And believe me, I didn't want to do it, but it's just ... you feel like it's the right time."
Keller said he is looking forward to watching his five grandkids compete in sports and watching his sons Wes and Josh coach — Wes Keller is the head women's coach at Rocky Mountain College and Josh Keller is an assistant with the Beaverhead High boys in Dillon — as well as being able to spend more time with his daughters.
But, Keller added, "I'm not going to be out of basketball by any means. I can't say that down the road if somebody called me and wanted me that I would tell them no. But I want to have the option to be able to watch my grandkids."
MTN Sports' Alec Bofinger contributed to this report.