When Travis DeCuire was hired as Montana's 27th head basketball coach in May 2014, taking over the program at his alma mater, he called his former coach Blaine Taylor for some advice on how to continue the program's tradition.
Eight years prior, when Wayne Tinkle, a skilled low post post player in his days with the Griz, was struggling through his first season as Montana's coach, he put in a call to former coach Stew Morrill.
DeCuire and Tinkle both took their mentor's words and turned them into success. Tinkle won at least 20 games in five of his final six years, winning three Big Sky tournament titles before leaving for the same position at Oregon State. Last season, DeCuire coached a team thought to be in the middle of a rebuilding season to 20 wins and a regular-season conference title.
Tinkle's is the most recent name in a lineage of coaches who experienced success at Montana before moving on to positions at larger programs, or in the case of two former Griz coaches, the NBA. Many of the coaches returned to Missoula on Wednesday night for the Roundball Roast, a fundraiser to benefit Griz basketball.
"What a great idea. Very creative to bring back some of the old coaches," said Tinkle, who spent eight seasons as Montana's head coach. "Travis, we're excited and proud of the job he's done."
Joining DeCuire and Tinkle on the patio at The Ranch Club on a clear and mild evening, were Morrill, Taylor, Don Holst, Larry Krystkowiak and Mike Montgomery. All were mingling with people who paid at least $150 to have dinner and drinks with the coaches before watching members of the Montana tree roast DeCuire with roastmaster and legendary Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig.
The coaches in attendance date back to the late 1970s and accounted for 669 wins and some of the highest win percentages in program history.
It all started in 1978 when Montgomery took over for Jim Brandenburg. Monty, as he has come to be known, coached the Griz for eight seasons before taking the head job at Stanford. He was followed by Morrill, who gave way to Taylor, who preceded Holst.
Two years after Holst, who was an assistant for Morrill and Taylor, was fired Montana endured a failed experiment with outsider Pat Kennedy, a high-profile coach who won just 23 games during his controversial two seasons in Missoula. Krystkowiak was then called upon as the program was given to a man with strong ties to the program.
Before spending nine seasons playing in the NBA, Krystkowiak became the only three-time Big Sky MVP as he scored more points and grabbed more rebounds than any Grizzly in school school history. He coached for two seasons, reaching the NCAA tournament both years and earned the program's only tournament win beating Nevada in 2006.
He left the program to Tinkle, who handed it off to DeCuire.
"Montana has had a proud tradition of keeping it in the family. I thought it was a tremendous hire and we're going to bust his chops a little about winning a championship with my team," Tinkle joked through a charismatic smile that became a trademark of his time on the bench.
Tinkle and DeCuire are still making their way in the coaching profession, but Montana's other coaches found plenty of success in the other endeavors. Montgomery built Stanford into a perennial power during 18 seasons in Palo Alto, California. He spent two seasons with the NBA's Golden State Warriors before taking over the Cal Bears, where he has coached for the past six seasons.
Morrill experienced moderate success at Colorado State before taking over Utah State in 1998. He spent 17 seasons with Aggies, molding them into one of the most feared mid-majors in the nation.
Taylor, who assisted Montgomery and Morrill, left Montana for Old Dominion where he spent 12 seasons. He won more than 25 games on four occasions and reached the NCAA tournament four times. Krystkowiak and DeCuire served stints on his coaching staffs.
Krystkowiak was an assistant with Milwaukee Bucks before he accepted the franchise's head coaching position. He was let go after one full season in which the Bucks were riddled by injuries.
In 2011, he accepted the Utah Utes head coaching position and returned the Utes to the success they experienced in the late 1990s. Last season, the Utes won 26 games and reached the Sweet 16.
"I've had the opportunity to sit back and kind of learn from each one of them and add it to my own caoching personality," DeCuire said. "I think that's why the lineage of championships is so long and so deep is that most of us have had the opportunity to work under one another and so it just continues."