BOZEMAN — Since graduating from Glasgow High School in 1981, Bob Connors has traveled the state.
He helped lead the Scotties to the 1980 Class A state football championship, which, in turn, led him to a career with at the University of Montana.
Once he entered the workforce, Connors traversed Montana, including stops in Butte, Choteau, Laurel, the Bitterroot Valley, back to Glasgow and now Bozeman. While at Laurel, Connors guided the Locomotives to the Class A state football championship in 1999.
Connors sat down with MTN Sports for this week’s Sunday Conversation, reminiscing on his coaching days, the 20-year anniversary of Laurel’s state title, his career as an educator, family and friendships made along the way.
MTN Sports: What prompted the move to Bozeman for you?
Bob Connors: “It was the opportunity to go to a bigger district and challenge myself as an educator but also move on and look at new horizons. Basically that challenge of, ‘Can you do it?’”
MTN Sports: How long have you been doing just the education side of it and not the coaching side of it?
Connors: “This will be my ninth year without coaching.”
MTN Sports: Do you miss coaching?
Connors: “I do, I do. And I find out I still coach. I can’t really watch a football game without looking at different schemes and stupid things. Then you relayed back to all this (run-pass option) stuff that they’re doing. Paul Petrino was doing that at Carroll. He was just under center running the option with a slant and bubble situation on their option stuff. It’s been around forever. How it gets regurgitated, so it’s just fun to look at those type of things.”
MTN Sports: What are the things you miss most about coaching?
Connors: “Probably just the interactions with the coaches and the players and the ups and downs. The coaches take it a lot harder than the players. You do miss that interaction with the kids. You still get a feel of that, because I do talk with a lot of old players. There’s a lot of players that are into coaching now and are raising their own families and get to see their kids. Their kids are now my kids’ age when they were playing. Just to see that full circle is pretty cool.”
MTN Sports: I think this fall, it’s been 20 years since you won the state championship with Laurel. Is that right?
Connors: “1999, this is the 20-year anniversary.”
MTN Sports: Take us back to that season. What do you remember about that year, that football team?
Connors: “They were really good. They were good kids. They were smart kids. I know we had over 20, but I’m going to exaggerate and say we had over 30 on academic all-state. Just a smart group of kids. From eighth grade on, they were the class of 2000. Every kid we got moved into that class, athlete upon athlete, we had kids that would’ve started both ways for most Class A teams that year. We had them one way. We had a kid get hurt before the state championship. We had a guy that’s never played there. Showing how great of coaches we were, he probably would’ve been all-state the other side of the ball had he played there the whole year. But we could do those things, we could play a lot of kids. It was just a great bunch of kids, good kids, good athletes obviously. But just really enjoyable to be around them.”
MTN Sports: Do you still keep in touch with any of those players or coaches?
Connors: “I do, I do. The three captains I do touch base with — Matt Kimmet, Vince Henman and Johnny Perrigo, talk to those kids once in a while. But through Facebook and social media I do tag on to the Ben Jares and some of the other kids that are a little more socially active.”
MTN Sports: Vince Henman, that’s a name you hear a lot when you’re talking about some of the best players in Class A football history. What do you remember about Vince?
Connors: “Vince was a good kid. He had a lot of things on his plate, a lot of pressure to live up to Vince Henman. And he did, so that was really cool as far as that goes. He was a great kid, great young adult as he got older. And he was just one of those kids that just made a mark on my kids. Always really nice to my kids. Really good kid, the whole package.”
MTN Sports: And your kids turned out to be pretty decent athletes themselves, right?
Connors: “They had fun. They had fun in high school, yeah. I had one son go to Carroll and went out for football. Ended up being hurt, so he didn’t finish that up. Had my second son, Logan, he went and through the javelin over at Minnesota for the Gophers. Then my daughter, she ran track for the Grizzlies. They were able to go on and get to that college scene and figure out it’s a job once you get to college and it’s not as fun as it was in high school. But they had great high school careers.”
MTN Sports: You’ve been all around the state. What’s the consistent thing you’ve noticed about Montana and how are these places all different?
Connors: “Kids are kids. That doesn’t change. I think as we’re going through the opportunities that the kids get really are different depending on where you’re at because of where you’re at. I mean, Oxford found Glasgow to be the middle of nowhere, which is four-and-a-half hours from anywhere, Billings, Great Falls, Bismarck. And those kids have a different path that they take. Very similar kids, very similar paths here in Bozeman with those kids. The Stevensville kids had the same ideas. All the kids want to do something great, and hopefully as educators we give them those opportunities.”
MTN Sports: Now that you’re here in Bozeman, what are some of the things you’ve learned in past stops that you maybe want to try to implement in a bigger market?
Connors: “It’s a bigger market, but it’s the same job. It’s making sure that we support our administrators, that we give the teachers the support that they need. … The overarching goal of any educator is not to shut doors on kids — give them every opportunity, give them the opportunity to explore things, give them the opportunity to even fail but be there to help them, pick them up and point them down a path that might be more appropriate for their talents. But never shut doors on kids.”
MTN Sports: Bringing in a second high school here, how’s that changing the dynamic in Bozeman?
Connors: “That’s going to be huge. We’ve been Hawks here forever. They’re really on an uptick athletically, and so that’s going to be a little bit different with the split school. How much I don’t know. … How the schools are divided, from what we’re gathering, a lot of the soccer kids are Bozeman High kids, and I haven’t seen what the breakdown is of the basketball team and different things like that. But we do have two more years. The juniors aren’t going anywhere, they’re staying at Bozeman High. We’ll see a big split … Gallatin’s going to have a tough time next year being juniors, sophomores and freshmen, but they’re going to get the opportunity, and that’s all we can ask at this time. It’s going to be exciting here in about five years when everything levels out after you take Lockwood kids out of Senior and Skyview, after you take the East Helena kids out of Helena High and Helena Capital, Belgrade coming on, getting their feet wet this year in AA. It’s going to be great for all 16 schools.”
MTN Sports: We’ve talked about you mentoring kids, let’s go back to when you were a kid. Winning a state championship playing football, that’s kind of what every kid dreams of. What was it like to win that state title with Glasgow?
Connors: “It was really a redemption of the year before. We were one of those teams that Miles City has had, Butte Central has had, the best team in the state that didn’t get it done. I was part of that my junior year, we ended up losing to Whitefish. The next year year, the team the year before would’ve beat us by 50. We just happened to be in the right year. I always say we were probably the worst team ever to win a state championship, because I had Daryl Schultz, 145-pound guard, I was a 180-pound quarterback, my guard was 5-8. We had a lot of tough guys, a lot of guys that were little brothers. I think that probably made the biggest difference, was we were a lot of little brothers, and our big brothers were on that team before us that didn’t finish the job, and we wanted to make sure that we had one up on our bigger brothers. That was an underlying factor.”
MTN Sports: And then that led to you going to the University of Montana to play for the Griz, correct?
Connors: “It did, yep. I was able to go on and get my college paid for, so took full advantage of that part of the scholarship. Some of these kids forget that part of it, but took full advantage of that. Got my teaching certificate and met my wife, so it was a good time, my four years there.”
MTN Sports: Good time in Missoula. I think there were some pretty good players that went through the program at the same time you did. Make some good friendships that have lasted the test of time?
Connors: “Great friendships. Marty Mornhinweg was also in the quarterback room with me. Last year he was with the Ravens. I took my boys out and we were able to go watch the Ravens play. Marty’s wife got us some tickets and we were able to sit with her and a couple of her friends and watch the Ravens and the New Orleans Saints. That was a great thing. I’ve stopped by and seen Marty a couple times over the years. Brian Salonen. Then my buddies that I ran with. Ned Becker’s very successful. Eric Dawald. A lot of good guys, a lot of great memories. And then the social media aspect of some of those linemen that nearly got me killed. We still touch base with the Darryl Deeks, John Hinson, Bob Cordier and guys. It’s been a great thing. As far as all the bad things about Facebook, the good things are there, too, of catching up with those old guys and making sure we are connected as we go forward. Now we’ve become empty nesters, we have the time again to relive our lies and make up stories of things that didn’t happen when we were in college. It’s good, it’s good.”
MTN Sports: I guess it’s been a while ago now, but health scare for you. How’s the health doing now? Everything going good?
Connors: “Everything’s great. Went through a three percent chance of coming out on the other end after my immunotherapy. Had to go to Portland every other week for about a year. What the immunotherapy allowed me to do is to eradicate my cancer. It didn’t shrink it, it didn’t put it in remission, it eradicated it, it got rid of it. My immune system, once they figured out how to get through that outer layer, that protein around the cancer, cracked that code, my immune system was able to attack the cancer and destroy it. Everything’s great. Got a little weight issue. I say it’s a weight issue, everybody my age is going, ‘You know, it’s not a bad thing to have.’ But would like to be able to put on weight, but it’s just one of those things that there’s a lot of guys my age that would like to take off the weight. We all have our own problems.”
MTN Sports: One of the things that we’ve noticed, Montanans doing a really good job of taking care of each other in those types of scenarios. What kind of support did you get from, not only the Glasgow community, but the entire state as you were going through that battle?
Connors: “It was good. My six buddies from college — my daughter was running track at the time, they have indoor meets here every Friday night here in Bozeman at MSU, so we would come down — there were a couple times where Mike McLeod, whose daughter, Erika, ran track for the Grizzlies, he was my college roommate, so he would get guys to come over and we would get through it and just spend some time and just be around each other, and that always helped. Once you get around those guys from college, it’s like yesterday. It was good. Then I had my guys I taught with that stepped up. Jim O’Neil, whose the golf coach over in Laurel, really, really good friend of mine, he stepped up and was always there whenever I needed him as a sounding board. It’s like anybody with good friends has. You have that support. Being a guy, it might not be outward support, but you know it’s there if you need it. My guys, they always stepped up for me when I needed them.”
MTN Sports: So through this long, winding road that’s taken you all over Montana and back to Bozeman, Bob Connors is a happy man?
Connors: “I am, very happy, very happy with where I’m at. I’ve got two grandkids, three kids that are very successful. I’ve got a wife that’s stepping into a new job here. She was promoted on her way down. Very proud of everything that my little family has and my extended family, I’m very proud of all them and their wives and kids, too. It’s been a good life.”