Montana State 1956 national champions

Gene Bourdet was a backfield coach for Montana State's 1956 national championship football team, pictured in this file photo.

BOZEMAN — Gene Bourdet, a Montana State hall of famer who made his mark with the Bobcats as an athlete, coach and administrator, passed away near his hometown of Hollister, California, on May 31. He was 96.

A distinguished high school athlete at Hollister High School, he worked at the shipyards in Oakland following a brief period at Salinas (California) Junior College, then entered the service in 1943. Pilot training brought him to Bozeman, where he met his future wife Eileen Olson.

He was part of the U.S. Army Air Corps 302nd transport wing, and later volunteered for the Army's 5th Division 11th Infantry serving under General George Patton.

Following his service, Bourdet returned to Bozeman to marry Olson and enroll at Montana State. In the fall of 1946 he became the starting quarterback for the Bobcats, and led the team to its first-ever post-season appearance. MSC tied New Mexico 13-13 in the Harbor Bowl following the season, with Bourdet throwing a touchdown pass, and the next year Bourdet and the Bobcats earned Montana State's first win over the Grizzlies in 15 years.

He earned All-Rocky Mountain Conference honors in 1947, finishing fourth in the nation in touchdown passes and 12th in completion percentage, and after graduating from Montana State with a physical education, health and recreation degree he coached and taught in Fairfield and Livingston.

Bourdet returned to his alma mater in 1956 as backfield coach with duties of co-track and field coach, as well. His return coincided with Bobcat football's greatest chapter to that point, as Montana State marched through an unbeaten regular season and tied St. Joseph's (Indiana) in the Aluminum Bowl to claim a share of the school's first football national crown.

After an 8-2 season in 1958, head coach Tony Storti resigned his position as head football coach and director of athletics, and Bourdet was elevated to the role of athletic director by President Roland Renne.

Working in concert with Renne and his successors, Bourdet oversaw the most prolonged stretch of balanced athletic success the school had known to that point. He led Montana State into the Big Sky Conference, hired coaches such as Jim Sweeney and Tom Parac to lead the football program, and Roger Craft to coach the men's basketball team.

Montana State won Big Sky all-sports trophies in 1965 and 1967, and under Bourdet's direction the Bobcats captured four Big Sky football titles and two on the hardwood.

In 1970, Bourdet accepted the position as head of the Aztec Club at San Diego State University, and one year later became athletic director at Fresno State. He remained there until 1979, when he returned to San Diego State as athletic director.

In 1984 he left that position and after serving as an assistant to the president for a year returned to his hometown of Hollister to enter private business in 1985.

Bourdet and his wife Eileen were married for 62 years until her passing in 2008.

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