In his most recent coaches' interview, CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with former Montana and current Old Dominion head coach Blaine Taylor. Taylor, whose Monarchs won the CAA's automatic bid this past season and beat Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, led the University of Montana to a pair of NCAA Tournaments in his seven seasons at the helm.
Jon Teitel: You played point guard for Coach Mike Montgomery at Montana from 1979-81. What was it like to play for him and what was the most important lesson you learned from him?
Blaine Taylor: I was the last player that Jud Heathcote recruited before he went to Michigan State to coach Magic Johnson and win the national title in 1979. Heathcote's coaching tree is probably one of the largest in the country. Jim Brandenburg, who had come over from Wyoming, was the next coach after Heathcote. We had a pretty good team, as I played in the same backcourt as Micheal Ray Richardson. I was the first starting point for Montgomery and his assistant was Stew Morrill. We had a series of four or five guys who later got elevated to head coach and have accomplished so much in their careers. Montana had twenty-one winning seasons in a row.
JT: In 1981 you were recognized as the school's most outstanding male athlete. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor?
BT: A lot of people who were there at the time have gone on to do some incredible things, so I was very fortunate to win it. I look back and wonder how on earth I won.
JT: From 1981-84 you were a graduate assistant at Montana. Was it weird to be coaching guys who you were previously teammates with?
BT: I attended two practices a day, as I was also the JV coach. Three or four of the varsity scholarship kids ended up playing JV, and I had to do the scheduling, budget, etc. It was a tremendous opportunity, as a lot of guys who come in now to start coaching have never even led their own practice before.
JT: From 1986-91 you were an assistant under Stew Morrill. What was it like to coach for him and what was the most important lesson you learned from him?
BT: Every coach is their own certain kind of guy. I am forever indebted to Stew as he gave me my first job as an assistant coach; we are tremendous friends. He is as competitive and organized as anyone around. When you keep following people who are successful, you wonder how you can follow in their footsteps.
JT: In 1991 you were promoted to head coach at Montana and you were named 1992 Big Sky Coach of the Year. How were you able to come in and be so successful so quickly?
BT: We had built that whole group together so I benefited from the efforts of many others. I called Stew after we won the conference title. I helped recruit that team, but the timing was very good.
JT: In 1998 you left Montana to become an assistant under Montgomery at Stanford. Why did you decide to make the move, and what was the biggest difference between the two programs?
WW: It was kind of an unusual move, as I was leaving a very successful program...at my alma mater...in my home state. Stanford was very aggressive, and I just thought it was time to try something else. It extended my career in some respects, as Stanford was winning titles in so many different sports and recruiting a bunch of basketball players who ended up in the NBA. When you go to a BCS school, you get to recruit some of the best players in the country.
2001 NCAA Tournament
JT: Jason Collins scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a win over UNC-Greensboro. How far did you think your team was going to go that year?
BT: We were ranked #1 in the country for a lot of my time there so we had high expectations.
JT: Collins scored 22 points and had nine rebounds in a seven-point win over St. Joe's (led by a career-high 37 points from Marvin O'Connor and a near-triple-double from freshman Jameer Nelson). Were you just unable to stop O'Connor because he was "in the zone", and could you tell at the time that Nelson would become a star?
BT: Jameer was young at the time but he was awfully good. When a guy goes crazy on you there is not a lot you can do; Homeland Security could not have stopped O'Connor!
JT: Casey Jacobsen scored 27 points in a win over Cincinnati. What was the feeling like going into the Maryland game and did you think the geographic discrepancy would give you a big advantage?
BT: Casey was the leading scorer in the history of California high school basketball and was a scoring machine.
JT: MD made 9-of-13 3PT to bring your season to an end. Did you consider your team's run a success because you made it so far and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards?
BT: Maryland ended up winning the title the following year so we just ran into a bunch of guys who were learning their lessons. When you play one game instead of a seven-game series anything can happen.
JT: In 2001 you left Stanford to become head coach at ODU. Why did you decide to make the move?
BT: I had been there a few years and Mike was not sure how long he was going to stay there as coach. I made the right choice, as things have fallen into place here at ODU.
JT: What are your memories of the 2005 CAA tourney final (CAA tourney MVP Alex Loughton scored 28 points in a seven-point OT win over VCU)?
BT: It was in Richmond, and there were discussions at the time as to where to hold it, but the attendance records that were set that year solidified Richmond as the location for the future. Loughton had his folks fly in from Australia so that was very special. It was a neat group of kids that captured the imagination of our entire campus.
JT: What are your memories of the 2005 NCAA tourney (Loughton had 22 points and 11 rebounds in an eight-point loss to Michigan State)?
BT: It was the highest scoring game of the first round that year but Tom Izzo's guys were just so experienced. I called Jud the next day, and he wondered if we could have won that game. Michigan State probably should have been seeded a little higher, as they ended up going to the Final Four that year. My kids were crying their eyes out in the locker room as they felt they had a real shot to win it.
JT: You finished the 2005 season with 28 wins (most in school history) and were named CAA Coach of the Year. Where does that season rank among your best ever?
BT: When you come in and rebuild something from scratch, it gives you a lot of satisfaction. It is hard to say which is the all-time best, but that one was very special, as it allowed us to "cut our teeth".
JT: When you lost in the 2007 NCAA Tournament to Butler, did you ever think that then-assistant coach Brad Stevens would end up in the title game against Mike Krzyzewski only three years in the future?
BT: It was a close game. They have had a lot of success since then; Barry Collier is their athletic director and I have known him for a long time. I ran into [Brad] at a golf tournament when he was only 29 years old, and I wondered if he was a waiter bringing us hors d'ouevres, but then he told us he was there as a fellow coach!
2010 NCAA Tournament
JT: The whiteboard in the locker room from your pre-game speech had the phrase "If the Shoe Fits, WEAR IT!". What did you choose that phrase, and why did you want your team to play like underdogs?
BT: I told my guys that I thought we could win even though the media saw us as underdogs, so why not just go out and show them that we could do it.
JT: Frank Hassell scored 15 points and had nine rebounds in a one-point upset over Notre Dame for the school's first tourney win since 1995. How big a deal was that win and do you think that you would have lost if Luke Harangody (four points in 23 minutes) was playing at full-strength?
BT: After we won, we ended up shaking their hands rather than running around and piling up on the floor. Notre Dame came into the tourney as a hot team, even though they had changed their style a little bit after Luke had gotten hurt. We were big and physical, so we matched up with them pretty good. Our governor Bob McDonnell went to Notre Dame (as did his son), and when I was on "Mike and Mike in the Morning" the next day I noticed that Notre Dame alum Mike Golic was not there, which I found to be odd. The win was pretty big stuff, as it gave our school a lot of good publicity.
JT: At halftime you switched from a man-to-man to a 3-2 zone defense. Why did you make the switch, and why was it so successful?
BT: We were chasing them around, and all we were doing was wasting energy, so we just decided to stop doing that.
JT: Hassell scored 15 points and had eight rebounds in an eight-point loss to Baylor. How impressed were you by his performance in the tourney, and how much of a key will he be to your success next year?
BT: Gerald Lee is an awfully good player, but Frank's performance against two great teams was great. Baylor and our team were two of the biggest teams in the tourney, so we could both play big. We shot 52 FG%, but their guards were just too good. We return four starters so we have a good shot. Sports Illustrated has us ranked #14 in its preseason poll, but I do not know if I believe all that.
JT: Your assistant coach Rob Wilkes is the son of legendary Stetson coach Glenn Wilkes. What is Rob like as a coach and is it hard for him to follow in his father's large footsteps?
BT: I have had to make my way in the world, but I think it is actually a little easier if you have a dad who is in the same business, and Rob's dad is a tremendous coach. Our other assistant coach (Jim Corrigan) has also been great, so I have been very fortunate.
JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?
BT: I hope people think that when they played against my team, they were in for a long night.
Best Coaches in Big Sky History
Eastern Washington: WB "Red" Reese (1930-1942, 1945-1964): 473-298, twelve conference titles
Idaho State: Jim Killingsworth (1971-1977): 163-109, two NCAA tourneys, three conference titles, two-time conference Coach of the Year
Montana: Blaine Taylor (1991-1998): 141-66, two NCAA tourneys, two conference titles, one conference Coach of the Year award
Montana State: G. Ott Romney (1922-1928): 144-31
Northern Arizona: Mike Adras (1999-present): 158-136, one NCAA tourney, two conference titles, one conference Coach of the Year award
Northern Colorado: George Sage (1963-1968): 95-36, four conference titles
Portland State: Ken Edwards (1972-1978): 94-63
Sacramento State: Jerome Jenkins (2000-2008): 80-147
Weber State: Neil McCarthy (1974-1985): 205-105, four NCAA tourneys, five conference titles, three-time conference Coach of the Year