BOZEMZAN — Jeff Carroll cradled his granddaughter Carolina tightly in his arms while doing a television interview.
Around him, teary-eyed players — present and past — along with assistant coaches milled around the bench trying to gather their thoughts.
It was an emotional day for many reasons.
One of the biggest was because it was the end of an era.
Carroll, the longtime volleyball coach for Billings Senior, announced his retirement after 31 seasons Saturday afternoon at the Class AA state tournament at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
“Surreal,” he said of coaching the Broncs a final time. “I’m going to need some time to process all of this.”
Carroll finished with a career record of 726-209. He guided the Broncs to 12 Class AA state championships, the most for any class in Montana.
Senior’s season ended Saturday with a four-set loss to Missoula Sentinel in the Class AA title game.
“This is it for me,” he said. “I’ve thought about this for a while. I think I was just starting to feel it a little bit and various things. You just know intuitively.”
Carroll informed the players of his decision before the match against Sentinel.
“I said I don’t think they need a better coach. I just feel like they need a different coach,” he recalled of the discussion.
Senior won its first Class AA state championship in 1991. The Broncs won four in a row, from 2005-2008, and had another run of three straight, from 2012-14.
“He is the program,” said Chelsey Walter, who played for Carroll at Senior and was the junior varsity coach for the Broncs this year. “When people think of Billings Senior volleyball, you think of Jeff Carroll. He’s a legend for Senior. He built the program.
“What sets him apart from other coaches is his passion. He will fight to bring out the potential of every player. He can be tough, but that’s up to you. It was an honor to have played for him and coach with him this season. It was a great experience.”
Carroll, a graduate of Billings Senior, began his coaching career in 1976 as a junior at Montana State University. He coached junior high football, boys and girls basketball and track and field in the Bozeman school system.
He became a high school volleyball coach in 1983 when the sport was sanctioned by the Montana High School Association.
“When I got hired, they said, ‘We have this new sport we’re starting,'” Carroll remembered. “What I knew about volleyball I learned in class at MSU. They said, ‘You’re hired.’ “
Carroll was a junior varsity coach for Darci Conway at Senior for two years and Carol Kuhns at Skyview for one year before taking over the Senior program as head coach during the 1986-87 school year.
Along with the MHSA-record 12 state championships, Carroll has had numerous players move on to the collegiate level. They include his daughters Leslie, Amy, Kristin and Emily.
“I love the relationship with the players I’ve had,” he said. “I love to move people forward. That is what coaching is all about.”
He will officially retire from District 2 on Jan. 18, 2017.
“I think I have some intelligence in other areas and people only know me as a volleyball coach, really,” said Carroll. “I love leadership and leadership development and I really want to become a leadership development coach.
“That’s what is next for me.”
Kyle Houghtaling of the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com contributed to this story.