Paul Barta spent 29 seasons patrolling the sidelines for the Columbus boys basketball program. He’s now down the road in Laurel, opening the door for Mark Crago to take the gig. It’s Crago’s first varsity coaching job.
Crago has coached at every level to this point other than the varsity level. He was born and raised in Ohio, went to college in Virginia, but made his way out to Montana after college.
“I ask what wouldn’t bring me out to Montana?” Crago laughed. “As soon as I graduated college I was ready to continue farming and agriculture. Montana was a place we vacationed when we were younger and it was the right place.”
Crago has been the Stillwater County commissioner since 2016, but he couldn’t stay away from the basketball court.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Crago said. “When it came open I threw my hat in the ring and applied. I interviewed and was fortunate enough to get the job.”
Those familiar with Cougar basketball in recent years will have to get used to a new brand of basketball. Gone are the days of Barta’s methodical approach, as Crago has ushered in an uptempo style to take advantage of his team’s athleticism.
“I have a little bit more go after it, fast-paced, run up and down the court, and a lot of high intensity,” Crago said. “Not to say that (Barta) doesn’t, but of recent years here at
Columbus that was the style they were playing. For this group of boys, this will be a change for them.
“Our coach’s new style is kind of like a run-and-gun, get the ball and go fast. We believe we got athletes and we’re going to try to use our athletic ability to beat teams,” Tommy Campbell said.
Crago found out during the summer that he’d be the man in charge for the Cougars. That allowed Columbus to begin installing its offense and defense then and not have to spend valuable time in season doing so.
“Because with such short practice windows before the first games of the season, it allowed us to lay down a lot of the groundwork for what we were going to be doing so that when we got to the practice court it wasn’t all new learning,” Crago said. “They got to begin to study and realize the difference in philosophies over the course of months instead of a couple weeks.”
“It’s definitely nice. We had a little open gym, camp sort of thing and learned a lot of things so we didn’t have to spend much time in practice. We got to get to doing some actual playing and get into that,” Reece Hogstad said.
Watching Columbus without Barta on the sidelines is going to take some getting used to, but Crago is looking to leave his fingerprints all over the Cougars program.