May 9, 2013
In May 2011, the Montana Board of Regents took the Associated Students of the University of Montana's yes vote on an increased student athletic fee and made it real with its official stamp of approval. Step one toward the creation of the Montana softball program? Check.
It took two years, but the next step in the process was finally taken this week, and it was more like a giant leap forward for the nascent program.
The job announcement for Montana's first softball coach was listed on the UM human resources website and will soon go national when it gets posted to the NCAA's job site.
"It's exciting, because we've been getting inquiries from prospects, from parents and from people interested in applying for the job at least once a day for months now," said Jean Gee, Montana's senior associate AD who will chair the search committee.
"For the job announcement to post finally makes it feel real that we're going to have softball."
Montana won't begin playing until the spring of 2015. That date may still sound distant, but it will put the initial coach, who is expected to begin in August, under a compressed timeline. The coach's first-year players will be matriculating at Montana just 12 months after the coach's first day on the job.
On the to-do list: Assistants will need to be hired, players scouted and recruited, in-state coaching ties created. And the players who report in the fall of 2014 will need equipment and a place to practice, and they'll also want a full schedule to play.
That process, starting something from ground zero and building a program in the successful mold of the 14 other Griz teams -- winners in competition, high achievers in the classroom, active in community service -- should be part of the job's attraction.
"I think our applicant pool is going to be incredible, because the person who gets hired is going to be the first-ever softball coach at the University of Montana, and that's pretty special," Gee said.
"They are going to be able to build the program into what they think it should be and then ultimately leave that as their legacy. I think that's exciting and appealing to a potential applicant."
The posting of the job announcement comes as softball, both at the prep level in Montana and at in Big Sky Conference, is at the forefront of fans' minds with postseason tournaments approaching.
The four-team Big Sky tournament will be contested this week at Pocatello, Idaho, with top-seed Idaho State hosting No. 2 Portland State, No. 3 Southern Utah and No. 4 Sacramento State.
Montana will begin playing a Big Sky schedule in its debut season and immediately be eligible for both the Big Sky and NCAA tournaments. That means that in a span of 12 months a player could go from playing in the Montana Class B/C state tournament to facing No. 1 Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament.
"I'm excited for softball in the state of Montana because junior high and high school girls are now going to have a Division I program that they can look up to and aspire to one day play for," Gee added.
The search committee will begin reviewing applications in early June.
"This is an extremely important search, so I am carefully selecting the committee members," Gee said.
"Unfortunately because of NCAA rules we will not be able to have current high school coaches serve on the committee. Allowing them to be part of the process in such a significant way could have provided the start of the relationships that will be so vital when the program starts recruiting.
"Regardless, I look forward to their input in other, permissible ways and the building of strong ties with coaches throughout the region, but especially those in Montana."
The job listing on UM's human resources website can be found here.
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