BOZEMAN – It was one of the most surprising announcements in recent memory.
Jeff Carroll told his Billings Senior players he was retiring moments before they took the court in Saturday’s AA title game against Missoula Sentinel.
Stunned faces filled the crowd as the news trickled through Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, but Carroll has actually known for some time this season would be his last.
The patriarch of Montana volleyball leaves after 31 years on the sideline, winning a Montana-record 12 state titles. His teams were still considered title contenders every single year, but Carroll believed the program had gone as high as he could take it.
“I just feel like I’ve kind of flattened us out a little bit,” he said after Sentinel won their second straight championship. “Somebody with some new energy and maybe new intelligence coming in could get us kind of over that mental hump.”
This year’s second place finish combined with last year’s third place crown weren’t enough in Carroll’s eyes.
“That’s kinda how sick you get when the only standard that you feel on the inside you’re being judged by, is whether or not your teams win championships,” Carroll said. “I love my kids to death, and it just makes me sick when I can’t get them to that ultimate level.”
Sentinel head coach Erin Keffeler was proud to have coached against Carroll in his final game.
“He is a legacy. He’s a legacy,” Keffeler said after her team’s win. “He’s a role model. He loves the sport. He’s been great for the program and he was so respectful and so complimentary to us. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
When training camp begins next August, it will be the first time since 1984 that Carroll won’t be leading practice inside the Broncs gym. And he’s not sure when that feeling will set in.
“I don’t know, because right now I’m a little bit empty. It’s just sad when you’ve poured your life into something as long as I have, especially Senior High. I mean, Senior High, I’ve spent 62% of my life there, as a student and as a teacher and everything. And so I don’t know, I don’t know when it’s gonna sink in.”