GREAT FALLS – Tony Arntson is coming home.
The Great Falls native and 1985 CMR graduate was named the head track and field and cross country coach at the University of Providence on Monday.
Arntson, who spent 29 years coaching football and track at Helena High, was most recently the offensive line coach at Carroll College. He left the program following Mike Van Diest’s retirement but knew he wasn’t done coaching.
“I love where they want this university to head and the support they’re getting from administration and getting back from the community,” Arntson said. “Great Falls is a sports town and they love sports, and everything in my life now, in conjunction of where this university is headed, just fit. I was blessed to have this opportunity and I think it’s going to be a great challenge for me and great opportunity.”
His first day on the job will be Tuesday, and his first order of business is reaching out to current student-athletes and working to build relationships. Then he plans to recruit and will look in the Argos’ back yard first.
“We’ve got to start right in Great Falls and in our local community and then spread it out through the state of Montana and get out beyond and see if we can steal a couple late seniors here — kids that are still looking for an opportunity to compete in track and get a great education, and we’re going to try and go sign a couple late ones and work from there,” he said.
Assistant coach Alan Cress will remain on staff working with the successful Argo athletes in the field events.
Arntson won two state titles with the Helena track and field teams, but he’s perhaps most known as a football coach, leading the Bengals to the playoffs eight times and appearing in four State AA title games.
It’s an open secret that Providence has considered adding a football program, but Arntson said potential growth in the athletics programs didn’t play a role in his decision to take the job. In fact, Arntson is excited not to be coaching football in the fall for the first time in more than 30 years so that he can follow his son Ryan, a transfer running back at Montana.
“I hope (college football) happens — not only for the University of Providence but for the town of Great Falls,” Arntson said. “But this is a whole separate thing for me. And with the spring schedule I will have the opportunity to follow my youngest son (Ryan) in the fall, that’s a very important thing to me as he goes the next three years.”
Providence vice president for athletics Dave Gantt believes Arntson’s background and experience is the perfect fit for the Argo track programs.
“I think what you see there is an opportunity to get another person with tremendous integrity, a long track record of success at the high school level and a track record of success before that, playing for the Grizzlies, a guy who is multifaceted in what he brings to the table,” Gantt said. “He’s an engaging guy who’s fired up to still be in the coaching world and has the ability to help us in track and field.”
Arntson’s hiring is just the latest splash in the period of rapid growth and change since Gantt took the position in 2016, and the university doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
“We’re just bringing a lot of years of experience in the world of athletics to a place that’s growing, and it’s pretty fun to be here right now,” Gantt said. “And I don’t know when it will stop, because we’re going to have some other coaching jobs surface here in the near future.”