BOZEMAN — Montana State University announced it has hired Kyle Whitaker as its new head coach for the Bobcats rodeo team. Whitaker, a former professional tie-down roper, steer wrestler and saddle bronc rider, took over as head coach on Monday, Aug. 23.
Whitaker said he is excited to lead the Bobcats, a team with a rich tradition in the rodeo world.
“It’s always been a college rodeo powerhouse and I have a lot of respect for (the program),” said Whitaker. “I’ve also always loved the (Bozeman) area, so when the job became open, I decided it was the right time to transition from being a rodeo cowboy to training the youth in rodeo to keep the sport healthy.”
A native of Chambers, Nebraska, Whitaker competed collegiately at the University of Nebraska and put together one of the most acclaimed careers in professional rodeo history. He won the Linderman Award for excellence in riding and roping events 10 times, breaking the record of four, previously held by his father, Chip. He is the first cowboy to win that award five consecutive years.
The Linderman Award is given annually to the winningest cowboy of the season who earned at least $1,000 in each of three events, including one timed event and one roughstock event. Whitaker first won the award in 1997 and won it most recently in 2018. He won the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo all-around titles in 2002 and 2008 as a tie-down roper, steer wrestler and saddle bronc rider.
This is Whitaker’s first college coaching position, though he has conducted many rodeo clinics and worked with young competitors. Whitaker said he recognizes he is stepping into a good situation with the MSU team, as most of the team is healthy, loaded with talent and has great success on the national level in recent years.
MSU Athletics Director Leon Costello said Whitaker’s strong and diverse rodeo background positions him well to lead the Bobcat program.
“Kyle has had a long and storied career on the rodeo circuit, and I am excited for him to bring his knowledge to the MSU rodeo program,” Costello added. “He comes highly recommended and will be a great fit for the program with this experience in both roughstock and timed events.”
The MSU rodeo team has a history of success dating back to its first individual national champion in 1949. The Bobcats have claimed nine national team titles, 34 individual national championships and a multitude of Big Sky Regional crowns.
At the College National Finals Rodeo in June, the MSU women’s team captured its third national team title — its first in a decade. The Bobcats also finished with an individual title in barrel racing and a share of the all-around title. Freshman Tayla Moeykens won the barrel racing title, MSU’s first individual title in any event since 2011 and the first barrel racing title in MSU women’s rodeo history. Prior to the CNFR, Moeykens was ranked third in the nation and won the Big Sky Region barrel racing title. Paige Rasmussen, who tied in the all-around, is the first women’s all-around winner since Jan Walter in 1971.
Along with a new coach, the rodeo team has found itself a new home on campus. The Bobcats will transition from being housed in the Division of Student Success to be the newest member of MSU Athletics.
According to Vice President of Student Success Chris Kearns, rodeo has been part of the Division of Student Success since the mid-90s. He said with the departure of previous head coach Andy Bolich, it felt like a natural opportunity to bring rodeo back to Athletics.
“We have seen how much athletics is devoted to student success with its new Bobcat Athletic Complex and other new programs. It seemed like a great time to hand that part of rodeo’s mission back over to athletics,” Kearns said.
“Rodeo has a rich tradition at MSU. The transition back to Athletics will provide the student-athletes the support needed to succeed academically and athletically during their time here,” Costello added. “The Bobcat Athletic Department is set up to provide this support and we look forward to assisting the entire rodeo program moving forward."
Kearns said it was a pleasure working with rodeo athletes and coaches over the years and added that the team’s work ethic — from academics to the rodeo lifestyle — is a perfect representation of MSU and the Rocky Mountain West.
“The team exemplifies our land-grant mission and how we celebrate our Western values: openness, individualism and resilience,” Kearns said. “I got to see up close with the rodeo team how our students have such full lives. It’s really a distillation of a sport and way of life and what is so unique about rodeo. It’s a very demanding sport with high standards but also an entire culture, way of life and a part of where we are and who we are.”