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Missoula native and 2003 Montana graduate Eric Taber, right, was named the Grizzlies’ assistant sports information director this week in charge of football and men’s basketball.

LOREN BENOIT, Missoulian

Eric Taber graduated from the University of Montana in 2003. He started work in the university's athletic department 11 years later. In between were more adventures centered on sports than he can count.

Whether it's meeting British royalty in princes William and Harry at the Rugby World Cup ("Did I just call the future king of England, fella?" Taber replays their interaction), winning a national club rugby title while working in New York or his time living in four non-American countries, the past decade-plus has been busy.

The 35-year-old Taber, who was recently promoted from assistant marketing director for new media to Montana's assistant sports information director covering football and men's basketball, sat down with the Missoulian recently for story time.

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Q. You worked for a while next to (former SID) Dave Guffey. What's it like taking over for a legend?

A. Yeah, big shoes to fill. I've known Guff for a large part of my life. My dad is good friends with him and my brother played baseball with his son. ... I've always paid attention to the work he's done here and, yeah, amazing stuff for 37 years.

Q. What a whirlwind it was here for a few months (Guffey retired at the end of May and his replacement, Mike Hanson, died of natural causes just weeks later in June). How did you guys keep it together?

A. It was crazy. ... It was really clicking along and I was on a plane coming back from a conference at the Denver airport (when I heard he died). I was just shocked. How precious is life? It was like, wow, what do we do now? But football season was coming up here soon and I was lucky enough to be asked to do this by Greg (Sundberg, senior associate AD) and Kent (Haslam, Athletic Director).

Q. Did Dave leave you with any advice?

A. Lots of it. And he still does. He gives me notes and answers texts from me probably 10 times a day (laughs). 

Q. Where did your history with rugby start?

A. The whole thing kinda stems from the fact that my mom is from New Zealand. As a kid I would go down there quite a bit to visit family. And after I graduated from high school at Hellgate (in 1998), I went down there for a year. I basically got off the plane, they looked at me and said, "You're big. You're gonna play rugby, right?"

Q. You played rugby at U of M, too, after you came back. Didn't you work at KPAX (the television station) at one point?

A. I worked at KPAX running cameras and stuff, just like an after-school job. After I graduated, I took an internship at Fox Sports in L.A. It was Fox Sports World at the time, which is now Fox Sports Soccer. They were producing a rugby show, taking a game from overseas and doing a wrap around, an intro and a post-game wrapup.

Moved back here from California and got a job as a reporter in Kalispell with KPAX. Did that for two years. But through my New Zealand citizenship, I was able to get what they call a "working holiday visa" to the UK.

Q. Wait, so you ended up in Europe?

A. All the kids -- the Australians, the New Zealanders, the South Africans -- they all do a year in England. It's just a thing that's their right of passage. ... I was sort of getting disheartened with the TV business so I figured I might as well do this when I was young. I was also really keen on playing rugby as at high of a level as I could.

Q. Did you even have a job to go to?

A. I didn't know anybody, didn't have a job lined up or anything. I had a couch to stay on, a friend of a friend. I landed in London and got connected with a rugby team up there. And some people I knew through that knew some people that were working as part of the the upcoming Rugby World Cup (in 2007) in France. I ended up getting a job with that organization doing corporate hospitality stuff.

AJ. Wow. That's pretty good for going in blind.

ET: Yeah, I moved over to Paris for almost a year. That kind of got me into working in sports. I'd covered games and I would shoot highlights in the Flathead ... so I was pretty well versed in sports and TV, but sports business was all pretty new to me.

Q. I saw on your GoGriz.com bio you worked for USA Rugby. How'd you get involved with that.

A. (After a brief stay in New York working in TV), I just applied for a sponsorship position with USA Rugby, based out of Boulder, Colorado. Boulder was closer to family and I was out there for five years. ... When I first got there, rugby was still a very unknown sport. And it still is to a degree, but it's the fastest growing team sport in the country. I'm pretty proud that I got to work there in such an explosive time in its history.

Q. You coached some too, right?

A. I coached (a club team at the University of Colorado) ... before I got an interesting proposition from a tiny college in West Virginia that decided to make rugby a varsity sport there. I accepted a job half-time coaching and half-time working in the university's relations office. ... Then they offered me the SID job for 21 varsity sports.

Q. Why did you want to come back home?

A. My folks had both been in the hospital that year and my brother had just had a baby and I felt the need to be closer to home after 10-plus years strolling around the world. I'd always prided myself on not acquiring stuff and I never had things to tie me down. I was always able to move around pretty well and take a chance on different adventures.

AJ. Being a lifelong Missoulian has got to add a whole new level to this job for you.

ET: It's great. I grew up going to games, as a kid even going to the (football) games at Dornblaser (Field). Grizzly athletics has been a major part of my life for so, so long. It's a natural fit. I just feel comfortable here.

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