MISSOULA — Montana’s coaching tree started by Jud Heathcote might be the most nationally recognized aspect of the men’s basketball program.
The tree has produced eight of the past nine head coaches as former players or assistants lead the program. They’ve gone on to bigger places after UM, but they can all trace their roots to Heathcote directly or through people who learned from him.
Former Griz player and coach Wayne Tinkle, now at Oregon State, is adding to the coaching tree’s legacy on the national stage that is the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. He’s also adding a new chapter to his own standing and legitimacy as a coach with his run to the Sweet 16, which is just the sixth time a Montana disciple of Heathcote's has made it that far since 1977.
“This is what makes people’s careers,” said former Montana coach Mike Montgomery, the member of Heathcote’s UM coaching tree who went on to the most NCAA tournament success. “I think there’s too much emphasis placed on the tournament. It should be more what you do over the months, but this is the way it is. Wayne will get a ton of mileage out of this.”
Tinkle is the fourth former Griz coach from the eight with a Heathcote connection to make it to at least the Sweet 16. He joins Larry Krystkowiak (2015 Sweet 16 at Utah), Montgomery (1997 Sweet 16, 1998 Final Four and 2001 Elite Eight at Stanford) and Jim Brandenburg (1987 Sweet 16 at Wyoming).
Heathcote, who coached at UM from the 1972 through 1976 seasons, advanced to at least the Sweet 16 five times. He made the 1975 Sweet 16 at UM when it was a 32-team tournament. He then went to Michigan State, where he won the 1979 national title while coaching Magic Johnson and made the 1978 Elite Eight, the 1986 Sweet 16 and the 1990 Sweet 16.
“It means a lot to all of us,” former UM coach Stew Morrill, who recruited Tinkle to UM, said about his pupil's run. “It’s kind of how we all got our start, so there’s a great deal of pride in how that family tree has been successful. Nowhere else in the country has a place hired that many assistants. When Montana has a former player like Wayne, a former coach, I think basketball people can puff out their chest and feel good about Wayne and the coaching tree.”
The eight members of the coaching tree who followed Heathcote at Montana have combined to make the NCAA tournament 46 times as head coaches. They are, in order, Jim Brandenburg, Montgomery, Morrill, Blaine Taylor, Don Holst, Krystkowiak, Tinkle and Travis DeCuire. They’ve gone on to Stanford, Utah, California, Utah State, Colorado State, Wyoming, San Diego State, Old Dominion and various stops in the NBA.
Heathcote made the tournament 10 times total, nine times at Michigan State. Robin Selvig, who worked under Heathcote before moving over to coach the Montana Lady Griz, won 865 games, made the NCAA tournament 21 times and won six of those tourney games at UM.
The one outsider to lead the Griz was Pat Kennedy in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, during which he went a combined 23-35. He never made the tournament at UM or after leaving despite eight appearances prior to UM.
“Miami (Ohio) used to be the cradle of coaches in football. I’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who’s put out more basketball coaches than Montana,” Montgomery said. “They’re not the big-time national presence of others, but if you look at it from Brandenburg to me to Stew to Robin Selvig to Tinkle to Krystkowiak to Blaine, a lot of people have had success coming out of there. It’s always been a great basketball school.”
Luck plays into deep tournament runs with upsets like Loyola Chicago, Oregon State’s opponent in the Sweet 16, taking out top-seeded Illinois in the second round. But Tinkle’s coaching ability is tested in the quick turnaround that is the postseason. He and others in the tree are used to developing a formula for winning in March and peaking at the end of the season from their time in the one-bid league that is the Big Sky.
“I think it made him be able to explain to his players what it’s like,” said Morrill, who made the tournament nine times and pulled off an upset of fifth-seeded Ohio State in a 2001 first-round game but never made the Sweet 16. “I think him being in that position a number of times, he knew what it felt like and what was the best thing to do without putting too much pressure on your team and how to play free and have fun and believe they could win.
“At Utah State, we were always trying to explain how tough it is, and a lot of conferences are in that situation. His guys, they just got on a roll. This really helps your fan base appreciate what you accomplish.”
Tinkle has already reaped some rewards from his team’s 8-1 run after they were 11-11 on Feb. 20. The Beavers won their first-ever Pac-12 tournament title to get an NCAA bid, which triggered a clause to automatically add another year to his contract, according to USA Today. He’d be racking up bonuses but chose to forego them as OSU’s athletic department, like most others across the country, work through financial struggles caused by the pandemic.
“This is going to take pressure off of him. This means you are capable of winning at this level. And it makes things easier for you,” Montgomery said of Tinkle’s run, although that doesn't last forever, which can be seen in Krystkowiak getting fired last week after five straight years without a tournament appearance.
“You’re going to get publicity, so people are going to look and say, ‘Oregon State, I might want to go there not knowing anything about it.’ The year we went to the Final Four, we saw kids listing us as one of their choices, but we didn't know who they were. It’s a lot of publicity, a lot of feel good and a lot of kids will take a look at you.”
Tinkle’s coaching staff has a distinct Montana flavor to it with three former Griz staffers.
Associate head coach Kerry Rupp was an assistant coach under Tinkle at Montana in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He’s a veteran coach who’s been the head coach at Louisiana Tech, which he got into the AP Top 25, as well as an associate head coach at tradition-laden Indiana and an interim head coach at Utah after he worked there under Rick Majerus.
Director of basketball operations Joey Petschl worked at UM for six seasons under Tinkle. He was a student manager for four years, a grad assistant in the 2013 season and the director of basketball operations in the 2014 season. He went to Saint Martin’s for two years to learn as an assistant coach and was then brought to OSU by Tinkle, as promised.
Assistant coach Marlon Stewart worked at UM under current coach Travis DeCuire, who replaced Tinkle. He was the Grizzlies’ director of basketball operations in the 2015 and 2016 seasons and had his first job as an assistant coach in the 2017 season, feeling he was able to start developing his voice during that year. He then spent one season at Hawaii before joining Tinkle, who he got to know through UM connections and meeting at Final Fours.
“Montana is just such a special space,” Stewart said as he dove into why Tinkle is loyal to his Montana roots, even recruiting players out of the state. “You look at the coaching tree going back to Heathcote, there’s a culture deal there that’s as special as anything in the country.
“Having guys that have gone through there, it’s one of the beauties of hiring within and hiring former assistants there, it keeps that culture. That’s the state of Montana, when you look at the people and the way they live and help each other. There’s something about it that you’ve been part of their program and keeping that within our program.”
Hauck a fan
Montana football coach Bobby Hauck and Tinkle go back to their time together at UM in the 1980s. Hauck was a track athlete and then got into football coaching at UM while Tinkle became a three-time All-Big Sky selection from 1986-89.
The two later overlapped when Hauck was the Griz football head coach from 2003-09. Tinkle was an assistant basketball coach from 2003-06 and the Griz head coach from 2007-14.
“He’s an awesome dude, and obviously you cheer for the guys that are good fellas like Tinks,” Hauck said the day after Tinkle made the Sweet 16. “It’s been fun to watch their run, both the Pac-12 tournament and this weekend was fun to watch. I’m just excited and happy for him and his team.”