MISSOULA — Change is the nature of the beast in athletics at all levels.
College sports are no different. Coaches move up or down and players come and go.
You might say Montana associate head coach Chris Cobb is the exception. He has fallen in love with a situation that has and allowed him to grow in the profession he’s wanted to do since he was a teenager in high school.
The bonus is that the 31-year-old rising star has thrived and climbed the coaching ladder at a rapid pace.
Cobb has been the lone staple on head coach Travis DeCuire’s staff since he arrived in Missoula five years ago. After two years as an assistant, he was promoted to associate head coach in 2016.
And DeCuire says the only way from here is up.
“I think he’s ready for the next step,” DeCuire said. “The question is when and where that opportunity presents itself.
“When that happens, he just has to surround himself with the right people and hopefully he’s fortunate enough to have a strong group of assistant coaches like I have been.”
Cobb’s coaching path began shortly after he finished his playing days at NAIA Menlo College in Atherton, California. A native of the Bay Area, he never wanted to be a graduate assistant or a basketball operations guy at a Division I school, so he chose the Division II level with San Francisco State for a season before moving to Chico State for four years. He did that so he could begin coaching right away.
That route he felt better prepared him for the Montana job when it came to recruiting, scouting and team workouts.
“The level I was at before I was here was fairly similar to where we’re at right now,” Cobb said. “My previous job, I had to do everything. The only paid guys were the head coach and myself. So I wasn’t foreign to having to do early morning workouts with guys, monitor their academics, and recruit while at the same time I had to get a scout done that week.
“So I think for Travis, he appreciated my ability to do a little bit of everything and kind of roll my sleeves up and go. … Honestly when I came in I was ready to do anything and everything. If he wanted me to mop the floor, I was going to mop the floor.”
Cobb has been the team’s recruiting coordinator since he arrived, his favorite part of the job. But his move to Missoula was his first away from California, so adjusting to being out of his comfort zone was the biggest challenge.
He never saw himself moving to Montana. By doing so he says he's grown more as a coach and person.
“Each year he’s picked up more and more responsibilities and grown in that regard into more of a leadership role with the staff as opposed to when he got here, he was the young guy trying to find a way to make an impact through recruiting,” DeCuire said. “What’s important for young assistant coaches that have dreams and aspirations of being head coaches is to have more on their resume than just recruiting good players.
“His ability to develop young talent and run a program while the head coach is away has been huge.”
Cobb says his “personality is to take on as much as (DeCuire) will give me or as I can take on. We worked really well together from day one and we have a similar mindset when we come to work.”
Even in his first year, Cobb wanted everything DeCuire could throw at him.
“In some ways, he and I work together as kind of a sounding board,” Cobb said. “I’ve appreciated kind of a partnership with him. I tell my parents this all of the time where I feel like we do it together where it’s kind of a crazy deal where he allows me to do whatever I want.
“He’ll yell at me and I’ll yell at him and in some ways I like to think that that makes us both better and allows for a solution to come out that’s best for the program by the end of it. It’s been able to work for both of us. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Cobb watching DeCuire work as the “CEO” of the program has helped him grow but that’s not without trust. Cobb said DeCuire has given him plenty of opportunities to do his thing, which he hasn’t taken for granted. With his role as associate head coach, he began to coach the defense more while getting to do more on-court coaching.
“The reason I’ve stayed with him is because I enjoy our working relationship,” Cobb said, also referencing DeCuire allowing him to have some say in the hiring of current assistant coach Jay Flores, whom Cobb coached at Chico State.
“He’s allowed me the ability to be a partner in this deal and take on ownership so I do continue to grow.”
A big reason Cobb has remained for as long as he has is loyalty to DeCuire. Cobb said he remembers his time at Chico State winding down and having no luck with Division I jobs.
“Travis gave me an opportunity,” Cobb said. “I don’t ever forget that and my dad (Mike) never lets me forget that Travis hired and took a chance on me. To me, if I’m going to leave here and do something else, it’s going to have to be an unbelievable situation for me and my wife (Alisa) to do that and really, I don’t know if you can find a better situation in terms of responsibility and the quality of life I have.”
Said DeCuire: “This is a business of loyalty. The guys that are loyal in successful situations are the ones who tend to prosper. Those that lack loyalty tend to bounce around a lot and find themselves in a stagnant situation. I think it’s paying off for him.”
Cobb laughs when asked if he’s the busiest man on the staff but says no. He once was, but that honor resides with Flores.
As far as his drive, he credits that to his parents, Mike and Leeann Cobb, even turning to the pair often for advice in life.
DeCuire interviewed Cobb when he was an assistant at California and Cobb always stayed in touch after that. Some of Cobb's traits reminded DeCuire of himself as an associate head coach at Cal.
“The key that was intriguing to me with him was how relentless he was to communicating and staying on task and his aggression towards getting what he wanted,” DeCuire said. “Over a period of time, if something doesn’t get done I just gave it to him and it got done.”
Cobb said much of his growth has come with the Grizzlies' success, capped most recently with the NCAA Tournament appearance last year and this season's high expectations.
“Every year you grow as a leader and with your voice on the court,” he said. “You kind of figure out who you are and I think that’s what I’ve done over five years.
“I’ve been lucky that I’ve been around incredible leaders and people the whole time I played and coached. That’s kind of why I think I’m at where I’m at.”