MISSOULA — He speaks with sincerity and eloquence and his smile is sure to go over well with the Montana Lady Griz faithful.

But Brian Holsinger didn't land the women's basketball coaching job simply because he's a swell guy. He knows what it takes to win at the highest level as a former assistant coach at Oregon State, and even though he's still in honeymoon phase in Missoula, he's not playing patty cake.

"I want to change how they look at hard things," Holsinger said of his full cupboard of 15 Lady Griz. "You have to go through hard things.

"I'm going to push. It's going to be hard. But when you get through hard things, that helps you win championships. Championships aren't won when you're comfortable. I'm going to push them, I'm going to love on them and we're going to make this team better."

Holsinger has two monster challenges in his first month as head coach: Putting together a coaching staff and figuring out which of his current players really want to be in Missoula and give full effort.

All 15 need to get better, including newcomers Haley Huard and Dani Bartsch. The veterans need to get markedly better if the team expects to challenge Idaho State, Idaho and Montana State for Big Sky Conference bragging rights.

The Lady Griz seem a few strides behind those programs right now, especially in the backcourt. And how is it that Holsinger plans to motivate his adopted squad to work harder than ever in the summer months when he barely knows them?

He'll be polite, of course. He'll also be brutally honest and ask one important question:

"Do you want to be here?" he offered. "If so, these are the expectations. This is how it's going to be.

"Is this something you're interested in? It has to be a two-way street, right? They may not be interested in what I want them to do."

One suggestion stood out to me in talking with Holsinger early last week in front of the Adams Center: He's always on the lookout for a talented player. The fact he has enough players to make up three teams right now doesn't make any difference.    

"Am I recruiting? The answer is always. Always recruiting, always talking to people to see what's out there to try to make the program better on and off the court," he said. "That will be a theme with me no matter what. We will continue to recruit whether there's spots or not. In today's day and age, you just don't know when kids are going to leave."

It's worth noting Oregon State made it all the way to the Final Four five years ago. That makes Holsinger uniquely qualified, at least around these parts, to clue in his players on what exactly it takes to be a national power.

That's a dream wish obviously. At this point it would just be nice if Montana could beat Montana State every once in a while and win a Big Sky tourney game, for crying out loud.

No one knows for certain if Holsinger, who characterizes himself as a "fiery" coach, has the right stuff. But it sure is exciting talking to him about his team and the response he's been getting from the current Lady Griz players.

"They're excited about having some stability, honestly," he said, alluding to the fact UM had an interim coach this past season.

"Let's move forward. Let's not worry about some of these other things that have gone on. Let's get this program back to where it needs to be. That's my total focus in all of this."


Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 15 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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