(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA -- It didn't take long for Clint May to get hooked.
The year was 1995 and May was a soon-to-be college graduate, one semester away from earning his degree in health enhancement. A member of Montana State's cross country program the previous two years, May chose to extend his passion for the sport by volunteering to assist Bozeman High School's cross country team.
Before the season began, he laid out expectations for Mary Murphy, the program's longtime coach who would later be inducted into the Montana Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He had scoured through his academic and personal schedules and felt he could commit to three practices per week in addition to two total meets.
That didn't last long.
"I wasn't three weeks in and I had already found a way to make it to every single practice and meet," May recalled 25 years later, now sitting as Montana's interim head track and field coach. "I skipped some classes and rearranged tests and did whatever I needed to in order to be with that group. I was hooked."
At that point, May was doing more motivating and encouraging rather than teaching technical skills, but that's also what gave him an unexpected hunger that has now translated to a lengthy career in the profession.
"I just remember the feeling of those runners reciprocating energy that I created," May said. "If I brought energy to them and showed my passion for distance running, it got reciprocated, and to me that was so invigorating."
So much so that he spent the next two decades with that program, rising from volunteer coach to assistant coach to head coach once Murphy retired following the 2005 season. In his 10 seasons as head coach at Bozeman High, success was abundant. His boys' and girls' teams would win a combined 18 state titles during that span – nine apiece – in addition to nine total individual champions. In his final season, the girls' team won the Nike Cross Regionals Northwest title in Boise, Idaho, with the boys' team finishing second and in the top 10 nationally.
As good as May had it at Bozeman High, a few years prior he began thinking about what opportunities past the high-school level might look like. He loved getting to do what he loved for a living, he just didn't like that it could only be for a few hours a day, compared to a college coach, whose coaching job is his only job.
The job at the next level came in 2006, when he became the head track and field and cross country coach for Southern Virginia University, a Division-III school in Buena Vista.
After leading a highly successful program for so long, his time across the country was an eye-opening experience.
From a time component, he was now overseeing six different programs – men's and women's cross country and track and field for both men and women, indoor and outdoor.
From a tradition standpoint, there was none. May was hired to be Southern Virginia's first-ever track and field coach, leading the Knights through their first three seasons. Aside from the 15 or so cross country runners who double-dipped with track as well, the rest of the roster was made up from a public inquiry.
"We opened it up to the student population," he said, "and just asked, 'Is there anyone who did track and field in high school and would like to participate again?'"
May had five takers.
As for resources? They were nearly non-existent as well. May was given a limited budget to purchase used equipment, such as shots, discs, hammers and javelins, and the team practiced 12 miles away thanks to the generosity of neighboring Washington and Lee University, which allowed Southern Virginia to train at their facility, since the Knights had none.
The time slot given to Southern Virginia was 6-8 p.m., meaning throughout the fall and winter, the Knights were practicing under the lights, often times in sub-freezing temperatures.
"It was humbling, frustrating and challenging, to say the least, but I grew so much during my time at Southern Virginia," May said. "I'm so grateful for that opportunity."
For the first time ever, May was tasked with hiring – and training – assistant coaches. Recruiting was never a thing at the high-school level, but now was the lifeblood of operating a college athletics program. There were other nuances, as well, such as budgeting and scheduling.
It's because of his time at Southern Virginia that a year ago he got the opportunity to return to Montana, this time to lead the Grizzlies' cross country program.
It's also why he has now been given the keys to the track and field program, as well.
"I'm really grateful to have this opportunity, and I think the biggest excitement has to do with the potential of this program," May said. "We have resources plenty, we have coaches plenty, and I really feel like Montana is a track and field-supportive state.
"I think we can be a top-tier team in the Big Sky Conference, year in and year out, and I'm excited because of the level of athlete that we work with."
As for what Griz fans can expect from his program, May has two objectives: surround himself with good coaches and good athletes.
He will finalize his coaching staff in the coming weeks, but there will be some recognizable faces with Adam Bork, a two-time All-America decathlete for the Griz, and Paul Reneau, another former Griz athlete who went on to compete in the Olympics, being retained from Brian Schweyen's staff. With May now overseeing both track and field and cross country, Griz fans can also expect to see more of Maryn Lowry, who finished her running career at Montana before taking on a coaching role this past season with the cross country program.
"A coaching staff is critical, because with so many athletes and so many events, we all help share the burden and load," May said. "I would love to go to a meet and have someone who is not familiar with our program just sit there throughout the meet and watch the University of Montana, and at the end they can't figure out who the head coach is. That would be my ideal, because they'd see leadership and structure from a variety of people."
The other focus, the student-athlete component, is to hit the state of Montana hard.
"I want fans of our state to know that we definitely have our eyes on Montana from a recruiting standpoint," May said. "What can they expect from us? They're going to get a deep, invested interest in the potential athletes who could fill our team, who are right here in Montana and the Rocky Mountain West."
In May, Montana has a coach who knows the region better than most, having spent more than 20 years investing in athletes and coaches from cities all throughout the Treasure State.
May was named Montana's interim head coach on Friday, a title that will last through the 2020-21 academic year. At that point, Montana will open a national search for a permanent coach.
After spending two decades at the high-school level, followed by several seasons at the Division III ranks, before getting a Division-I opportunity, May knows these opportunities aren't easy to come by. So, if the opportunity presented itself, is the permanent job something he would be interested in?
"Montana, to me, symbolizes family," May said. "My wife was born and raised in Montana, and her family still lives here. My parents moved here after I graduated high school, and I now have two brothers who live here. I love the wide-open spaces of Montana, and the differing landscapes. I think about the crisp air of the fall and the sights of the absolute crystal-clear water on the rivers and streams, contrasted by the colors of the changing trees.
"I don't know how to explain it, but Montana is so encaptivating and inviting. It's where I want to be."