MISSOULA — Loyola Sacred Heart athletic director Mac Roche is heading home.
Roche, a 2011 Whitefish grad, has been hired to be an assistant football coach under Bulldogs head coach Chad Ross, who coached him in high school, he told 406mtsports.com. His move was one of several athletic director and coaching changes across the five Missoula high schools for the 2019-20 school year.
“I’m super excited,” Roche said in a phone call from Whitefish. “Whitefish has just always been home to me, and it always will be. I absolutely loved every minute that I was at Loyola.
"The chance to come back and teach at Whitefish and coach with the coaches who coached me in high school, it just came up and I couldn’t pass it down. I’m super excited to get back here and be around family and friends and get back to being a Bulldog.”
Roche will be coaching Whitefish’s quarterbacks, the same position he played when he was a captain for the Bulldogs, although his senior season was cut short by a broken foot in his first game. He’ll be in charge of the passing game, which he led at Loyola and had previously learned about while playing quarterback at Carroll College under Mike Van Diest and Nick Howlett.
Ross had been looking for the right quarterbacks coach since the departure of offensive coordinator Eric May following the Bulldogs’ 2015 State A championship. May’s son, Luke May, was a four-year starting quarterback for that team and is now playing safety for Montana State.
“We haven’t had a real quarterback coach the past three seasons,” Ross said. “It’s a deficiency, and we haven’t had things go as expected. We’re excited to have Mac come in and take over the passing game. At some time, he’s going to have a career as an OC or head coach whenever he wants it because he’s that good.
“I used to call him when he was at Loyola and ask him what we need to do breaking in a new quarterback. He’d go over the progression and what we need to do. I’d joke with him that whenever he wanted to come to Whitefish that we’d love to have him.”
After his playing days, Roche started to work on developing his coaching acumen at Loyola under head coach Todd Hughes. In Roche’s three seasons there, the Rams were twice a State B runner-up and once a state semifinalist. He broke in a new starting quarterback each season and ran a two-quarterback system this past season.
Replacing Roche will be no easy task for Hughes.
“Mac is a high-energy, offensive savant,” Hughes said. “He’s got youth on his side. He’s energetic. I was hoping to keep him around here forever. I kind of knew that he was probably going to move on in his career.
“He brought a great, youthful set of knowledge to the coach’s office, to the football team. He worked extremely well with young people and knows how to communicate with them. They trusted him because he’s played that position. Whitefish got a really good one.”
Whitefish is coming off a season in which it qualified for the State A playoffs and lost in the opening round. The Bulldogs went 5-5 overall and 3-2 in the Northwest A, the same conference that features Columbia Falls, which was the 2017 state champ and a 2018 state semifinalist.
The opportunity to head home and help turn around him alma mater was simply too much to pass up for Roche, who will be teaching Special Education at Whitefish after spending the past two years as Loyola’s athletic director.
“My wife, she’s just finishing up grad school to be a speech pathologist, and we’ve been wanting to move up to Whitefish,” Roche said. “Both our families are from here, so being around family is probably the most important one. We both knew that we wanted to raise kids in Whitefish when we decide to have them. We just really want to get close to home.
“I loved everything about the interview and the school when I came to visit. I looked at a couple other schools, but nothing felt like home like Whitefish. I had the feeling that it was the right place that I should be.”
With Roche’s departure, Loyola has hired Missoula native Eric Stang as its athletic director.
Stang most recently was the athletic director at Power School District near Great Falls. The year before, he coached the boys basketball team at Conrad.
Stang, who grew up in St. Regis and graduated from Plains, played basketball at Eastern Montana College before transferring to Carroll College. He spent time coaching college and high school basketball and later coached professional and semi-professional hoops in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Slovakia and Italy.
“For years now, I’ve been looking to get out of coaching and get into the administrative side of things,” Stang said. “I guess what was appealing was I wanted to get back to western Montana. My parents still live in St. Regis. I missed the mountains and the western, Missoula area. That was the biggest reason for me was to get to back to civilization.”
He added: “Loyola has had quite the success in athletics, so I’m looking forward to being part of that. Two weeks in, it’s been good.”
Loyola doesn't have any head coach changes, Stang added.
Big Sky has hired Arlee native and former Weber State basketball player Jordan (Pfau) Hansen as its girls basketball coach.
Hansen graduated from Loyola in 2010 after a prep career in which she earned four all-state basketball honors, three all-state volleyball awards and two all-state track and field honors. The 5-foot-10 guard followed up that success by playing two years at Weber State before transferring to NAIA Carroll College.
Hansen replaces Michela Anderson, who went 6-54 (.100) overall and 2-34 (.056) in Western AA conference play in three seasons. The Eagles didn’t qualify for state under Anderson.
Valley Christian athletic director Gary Fritz is stepping down after one year because his family is moving back to Pennsylvania.
“We kind of missed it back home and missed the family,” Fritz said. “It’s beautiful here, so that’s what we’ll miss the most. We made a lot of friends, and the other ADs have been great.”
A new athletic director hasn’t been hired yet, according to Fritz. The Eagles have made two coaching changes, he added.
Jim Cissell has been promoted to replace Shane Sander as the 6-man football coach. Cissell was Sander’s assistant coach the past four seasons.
Kim Dierking has been hired as the girls basketball coach, replacing Brent Reimer. She had been a junior high hoops coach at Valley Christian.
Hellgate is looking to replace a pair of head coaches after the departures of swimming coach Helen Houlihan and wrestling coach Jason Ferree.
Houlihan led the Knights to a sweep of the boys and girls state titles each of the past six seasons. She coaches all of the Missoula high school swimming teams.
Ferree was the wrestling head coach this past season after serving as an assistant under previous coach Josh Sessums.
Sentinel will be returning all its head coaches for the 2019-20 school year, athletic director Dane Oliver said.