HELENA — Kurt Paulson is coming back home to the Treasure State.
The Great Falls native and graduate of Whitefish High School is set to be named the next men’s basketball coach at Carroll College, replacing Carson Cunningham who accepted a position with Division I Incarnate Word last month. Paulson was officially introduced at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
“Carroll College is a special place with an amazing group of staff and student athletes. Being a proud alumnus, I couldn’t be more excited to hit the court with these young men,” said Paulson. “We are going to put a team on the floor that the Carroll community will be proud of. (My wife) Kari and I are excited to return home to Montana and we are thrilled to raise our kids in the Helena community.”
Paulson, a 2001 graduate of Whitefish, spent five seasons playing at Carroll College, helping guide the Saints to the national semifinals in 2005. He was third in the NAIA in assists during his junior campaign. Paulson and Carroll advanced to the quarterfinals in 2006, setting a program record with 30 wins.
Upon graduating from Carroll, Paulson served as an assistant coach with his alma mater, learning from hall of fame coach Gary Turcott. The Saints posted a record of 43-16 from 2007 to 2009, qualifying for the national tournament in 2008.
“Kurt was a three-year starter at point guard,” Turcott said in a release on Thursday. “As a junior his team advanced to the semifinals of the national tournament. As a senior, his team won 30 games and advanced to the quarterfinals of the national tournament. Kurt was the leader in every way on those teams. Carroll has made a great choice in selecting Kurt as its next men’s basketball coach.”
Paulson chose to chase a master’s degree in education at the University of Montana, joining Wayne Tinkle’s staff with the Grizzlies as a graduate assistant. Montana qualified for the NCAA Tournament in Paulson’s first year on the staff, falling to New Mexico in the opening round. The Griz competed in the CBI the following season.
Paulson earned his master’s degree in 2011 and became the athletic director and boys basketball coach at nearby Bigfork High School, leading the Vikings to the State B semifinals in 2013. Bigfork fell to eventual champion Malta in the semifinals, then dropped a 61-49 contest against Florence-Carlton in the consolation game.
After compiling 39 wins in his two seasons with the Vikings, Paulson returned to Tinkle’s staff with the Grizzlies before following Tinkle to Corvallis as the director of basketball operations. Paulson’s duties have included reserving travel, managing budgets, coordinating recruiting visits and completing schedules for the Beavers. OSU advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2016, falling to Virginia Commonwealth University in the first round. Oregon State went 16-16 this past season.
“I would also like to thank coach Wayne Tinkle and the Oregon State program for the great experience in Corvallis,” said Paulson. “Working at OSU was an excellent opportunity and I would like to wish the Beavers the best of luck moving forward. Coach Tinkle is an amazing coach and leader and I will forever be grateful for the chance to learn from him not only on the court but in the way he leads his program.”
“I’m very excited for Coach Paulson,” Tinkle said. “This is his dream job. He has always had a gleam in his eye when he talks about Carroll. I’m thrilled for him and the program, he will do a great job. He is an enthusiastic and energetic leader, I know his players will love playing for him. He is a run through a brick wall kind of a coach. And after playing there, he will be able to sell his passion on the program.”
Paulson follows in the footsteps of Cunningham, who oversaw a massive turnaround in Helena, taking over a team that won only two games prior to his arrival and leading it to three straight NAIA national tournament appearances in five seasons. Carroll advanced to consecutive quarterfinals before a trip to the round of 16 this season. Senior Ryan Imhoff was named the NAIA Division I player of the year.
Carroll’s roster listed four seniors this season — Imhoff, Lorel Johnson, Oliver Carr and Patrick Colberg — but had key junior contributors in Match Burnham, Matt Wyman and Ife Kalejaiye. Sophomore Dane Warp and redshirt junior Alex Santos played significant minutes for the Saints last season.