Montana St. coach Durham retires

Updated: March 13, 2006, 2:29 PM ET
Associated Press

BOZEMAN, Mont. -- Montana State men's basketball coach Mick Durham said Monday he is retiring after 16 years at the school, following a 15-15 season in which his team again faltered down the stretch.

"The last couple months have just felt different," Durham said at a news conference. "When the season ended I didn't want to go recruiting. I didn't want to start scheduling. I didn't want to get ready for camps."

Durham, 49, a former MSU basketball player, posted a 246-213 record as a coach. His teams won a pair of league titles, the 1995-96 team advanced to the NCAA tournament and the 2001-02 team played in the National Invitational Tournament.

"I was given the opportunity a long time ago, and where it led is unbelievable," Durham said. "I never in my wildest dreams -- No. 1 think I'd ever play here and No. 2 think I'd be the head coach for 16 years. For me to walk into this building every day for the last 24 years was pretty neat. It was a big deal to me."

Montana State athletic director Peter Fields said Durham "has meant as much to Bobcat basketball as this program has meant to him.

"He is a man of high integrity and a coach who poured all of himself into his program. He achieved at a high level over a long period of time at the school he loves," Fields said. "I think that is the strongest statement that can be made on Mick's behalf. He has affected a lot of lives in a positive way."

Durham had three 20-win seasons, in 1994-95, 1995-96 and 2001-02. But over the past four seasons, the Bobcats have gone 54-58, failed to qualify for the Big Sky Conference tournament in 2002-03 and 2003-04 and lost out in the first round the past two years.

Even more telling, the past four Bobcat teams have closed the season with a combined record of 8-21. The 2002-03 team lost its final four games, and over the next seasons the Bobcats closed at 3-6, 3-5 and 2-6.

"Nowadays there's a lot more scrutiny from everybody across the state who thinks they're experts," said Scott Hatler, who set the MSU career assists record of 608 from 1992-96.

"Everybody thinks they've got the answer, but believe me, it's a lot easier in the stands than on the sideline," Hatler told the Great Falls Tribune.

Durham received his third league coach-of-the-year award after the 2004-05 season, in which the Bobcats, picked to finish last in the league in preseason polls, finished in a tie for second with a 6-9 mark. But the Bobcats lost five of their final eight games of the season, including a 75-69 loss to Montana in the semifinals of the league tournament.

This year, the Bobcats returned all five starters from the 2004-05 team and preseason polls predicted they would win the league title. Despite having three all-conference players -- including co-defensive MVP Al Beye -- the Bobcats went 7-7 in league play and lost six of their final eight games, including a 71-70 loss to Sacramento State in the first round of the league tournament.

"I think it's kind of a tough deal for a guy who's given his whole life to Montana State, not only the university but the basketball program," said Danny Sprinkle, a member of the 1995-96 championship team who is now an assistant men's basketball coach at Cal State-Northridge.

"For 16 years, for him to do what he's done is pretty remarkable," said Sprinkle, who holds MSU's career records for numbers of 3-pointers attempted and made (263-628), as well as free throw percentage (.850). "It shows his loyalty to Bozeman and the Bobcats."

Durham's resignation means three Big Sky Conference schools are looking for men's basketball coaches.

Weber State coach Joe Cravens was dismissed Feb. 27, two days after his team finished its second straight losing season with a 10-17 mark. Cravens was 116-88 in seven seasons.

Idaho State coach Doug Oliver announced in mid-January that he would resign at the end of the season. He had an 88-134 record in eight seasons at ISU.

Fields said he hopes to have a new coach in place by early April.

"I'd hope they'd do it with somebody who has some kind of ties to Montana State, who knows the tradition there, who knows how important it is to the people of Bozeman and the people in Montana," Sprinkle said.

Durham was a three-year starter at guard for the Bobcats in the late 1970s and is fourth place in the school records in career free throw percentage (81.6) and career assists (362). He coached at Shepherd High School from 1980-82 before returning to MSU and serving as an assistant coach to Stu Starner for seven seasons. Durham was named the head coach of the Bobcats in April 1990.

Durham's father, Lin, played basketball at Montana State. His son, Casey, just finished his sophomore season as a point guard for the Bobcats.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press