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The constant

Selvig retirement ends a rare legacy in Montana athletics

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Robin Selvig, who retired this past week with 865 wins as coach of the Montana Lady Griz, never looked at another job once he got back to Missoula. That assuredly didn't stop other potential employers from looking at him.

It's amazing, probably, that he stayed in one spot for almost four decades. Who does that? This side of Strom Thurmond, I mean.

Mike Montgomery—who as "head of basketball operations" actually had a hand in hiring Selvig as UM's women's basketball coach in 1978—and six other mens coaches have come and gone from Montana during Selvig's tenure. In fact, Selvig played for two different coaches at UM: Lou Rocholeau and Jud Heathcote.

Given all these peripatetic examples, you'd think an offer he couldn't refuse would have come about.

"I'm not a big-city guy," Selvig said last week, ignoring for a moment how much bigger Missoula is than his home town of Outlook. "This is where I wanted to be."

Eight of the colleges that make up the current Pac-12 have lost to Selvig-coached Lady Griz teams. One of those, Stanford, escaped with 2- and 6-point victories against the Lady Griz in the NCAA tournament. This is notable because Cardinal coach Tara Vandeveer interviewed in Missoula in '78 and lost out to a UM alum whose prior coaching experience was three years leading the Plentywood High girls.

"She ended up doing pretty well," Selvig noted, dryly. "Anyway, I ended up taking the job."

Notre Dame. Wisconsin. Texas Christian. Oklahoma. Providence. Syracuse. These and other less famous schools have fallen to the Lady Griz, and could have done worse for a head coach. Many have.

"There were times in the past when someone may have inquired," Selvig allowed. "Not recently. I think probably in the last 10 years or so people figured, 'Why would you want to ask him?'

"I could have pursued other jobs, but I don't want to tell on anybody who inquired. The point being: This was my school."

These were his teams. He had a few powerhouses, led by Shannon Cate-Schweyen or Mandy Morales or Hollie Tyler, and others that grinded their way to greatness.

PHOTO BY TODD GOODRICH
  • photo by Todd Goodrich

I was at the Missoulian when Selvig earned his 800th coaching victory, a 69-61 win over a talented Portland team early in the 2013-14 season.

"I love Missoula," he told the Dahlberg Arena crowd afterward. "I love the university, I love our fans, I love this sport. And when the girls play good, I love them."

Schweyen, who was Selvig's greatest recruit and has been an assistant since her All-America playing career ended, noted recently that when he took his glasses off and tilted his head during a timeout, you knew it was "about to get real."

But after the game Selvig was the picture of calm. A little hard to quote maybe—he'll start another sentence before the current one is finished—but helpful and patient. Game's over. Here's what we learned.

In 1990, when sports writing was still pretty new for me, I made a point after one game to ask how long Jeanne McNulty had been taking some rotations at the two-guard position.

"You don't miss much, do you?" Selvig asked. I'd missed something a few games before, though, complete with a stammered follow-up question. Now the coach was bucking me up some.

Something on a grander scale happened with his players. His demonstrative sideline antics aside—"It's like she's playing for the other team!" is my favorite—he wasn't a tear-you-down coach. The NCAA's highest level of hoops can do that on its own. His job was to build that athlete back up.

That never got old for Selvig. The 200-some losses did, possibly. Recruiting, which has become a more year-round job, did certainly.

"I shouldn't be complaining—it's my job—but it used to be in the off-season you had time to recharge and get re-pumped," he said. "I've re-pumped for 38 years, so it's not like it's not possible. But there are certain parts of the job you need to be excited about, and I wasn't."

There have been constants with the Lady Griz over the past four decades. A steady flow of in-state talent: 92 of 171 letter winners came from Montana high schools. Defense. And of course Selvig. There was no offer he couldn't refuse. He stayed, making the Lady Griz that much richer.

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