BILLINGS — Mark Branger is back as coach of the Huntley Project boys basketball team, a second run in which he hopes to mentor the next Red Devils’ coach.
Following a 15-year run at Project that included a record of 258-106 and a Class B state championship in 2007, Branger retired from coaching following the 2015-16 season.
He thought the retirement would be for good. But Branger, who is the technology director at Huntley Project, found himself wanting to get back in when Randy Robinson stepped down after two seasons following this year’s Southern B Divisional.
Branger was re-hired Monday night following a meeting of the Huntley Project School Board of Trustees.
Branger said he looked back at his early coaching days — he started as the Melstone junior high coach in 1986 and became the boys varsity coach for the 1988-89 season — and said he wished he would have had someone above him to pass down some wisdom and experience.
Now, Branger said, he thinks he can be that guy. When it didn’t appear there was any serious interest from others at Project, Branger decided to give it another chance and put his name in the ring.
“There’s a lot more than just Xs and Os that a lot of young coaches go into it not really knowing the full gamut of what it is to coach,” he said. “And coaching has also changed. It’s a lot different than in the 1980s when I first started.
“So I always thought I’d love to mentor somebody. I really didn’t have any desire to be head again, but I love the game and I love being around kids enough that if I could help I would love to.”
In 24 seasons as a head coach at Melstone and Project, Branger has a career record of 428-161. He took Melstone to the state tournament two times and Project eight times.
Branger will start his second stint coaching a grandson, Noah Bouchard, who will be a senior next season. Bouchard was one of the keys to a 19-4 season last year, but despite the good record the Red Devils’ season ended in a Saturday morning loser-out game at divisionals.
Seeing how dejected his grandson and others were about the disappointing ending convinced Branger that he was ready to help again.
“The incoming seniors were seventh graders when I was coaching and I had them in the junior high program,” Branger said. “So I know them fairly well. It was really hard for me to see them how their season ended and how down they were and no one really stepping in to kind of help them.
“I just thought I can’t let (the coaching position) not be filled by somebody who has the passion for the kids and the game and who wants to help them.”