BILLINGS — Now 60 years old, Bill Lepley gives a good laugh when he’s asked if he thinks he’s a dinosaur in more ways than one.
Not many high school coaches spend 32 seasons at one school like Lepley has at Shepherd, and the way coaching trends are going, even fewer will likely accomplish anything like that in the distant future.
But 32 seasons it’s been, since 1987, when he took over the girls program after a three-year stint coaching the boys at Augusta. The 2018-19 season was Lepley’s last. He’s retiring from both coaching and teaching at Shepherd, where’s he’s mostly been a high school biology teacher.
As for the long stay at Shepherd well, that just sort of happened.
“Nothing was planned there,” said Lepley, who also coached the Shepherd boys the past two seasons. “It’s been a good stay here. There were opportunities to go and I could have went to another town and stuff, but I never chose to do that.”
Along the way, Lepley compiled a record of 496-280 with the Shepherd girls. Coupled with his boys mark of 35-70 with teams in Augusta and Shepherd, he leaves the profession with 531 wins and an overall winning percentage of .602.
The Fillies reached the Class B state championship game in 2007, but lost to Malta. The M’ettes were also in the way in 2016, when Shepherd reached the state tournament semifinals undefeated and wound up 25-2.
Counting that 2015-16 season, Lepley’s Fillies teams won 20 games or more 11 times. They did it four straight years from 2004-05 to 2007-08, compiling an overall mark of 89-19 during that stretch. His girls teams won 13 district championships and three divisional titles.
“Of course, it comes down to the kids,” said Lepley, who was also complimentary of his assistant coaches and Paul Martin, who has helped compile team and career stats for the past several years. “I had a lot of good kids. And in this day and age, coaching this long at one place, the community has to be in it with you, too, and you don’t see that much anymore.”
One of those assistants was also one of Lepley's best players, and she's been handed the Fillies' reins. Becky (Jacobs) Anderson was hired earlier this month to coach the Shepherd girls. A former Fillie and one of five Shepherd products to play at Montana State Billings, Anderson played for Lepley from 1994-97 and ranks fourth on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,152 career points. Anderson has been next to Lepley on the Shepherd bench for the past 12 seasons.
“The thing that impresses me most about Lep is he wins with class and loses with dignity,” said Anderson, who added she’ll continue Lepley’s tradition of handing out a blue towel to the Shepherd player of the game each night. “That’s, I think, what people hold him in high regard for. He’s very respected everywhere he goes. I’ve just learned a whole lot from him.”
While an outsider might consider the task of replacing a 500-game winner a bit daunting, Anderson doesn't feel that way. She knows the Fillies program inside-out.
“More than anything, I feel blessed that I get to take over a program that’s been run the way it should be," Anderson said. “I just loved coaching with Lep. But it’s also something that I would have a hard time watching someone else take it over, too, having played for him and coached with him.”
Rob Nyby, who has assisted Lepley with the boys program the past two seasons, was named the head coach, also this month. Nyby, a Plentywood native, played basketball at Rocky Mountain College, where he was an honorable mention All-American in 2016.
Lepley, who got his coaching start as a football assistant with C.M. Russell legend Jack Johnson while Lepley student taught at the Great Falls school, has a granddaughter to spend time with, and he said he’ll also help Anderson out next season.
As for what else will occupy his time, Lepley isn’t sure yet.
“I haven’t decided what I’ll do down the road here,” he said. “But I’m in no hurry.”