The last time Kerry Rupp helped coach a game in Dahlberg Arena, the Montana Grizzlies won.
Rupp, who Griz head coach Wayne Tinkle hired as an assistant to replace Bill Evans last month, was the director of basketball operations at Hawaii when the Warriors dropped a BracketBusters game to the Griz back in February.
Missoula and Tinkle’s program made a good impression on the Utah native. Three months later, Rupp calls Missoula home.
Rupp, 58, has an extensive background in basketball. After a 24-year career in the high school ranks, Rupp broke into the college game as an assistant at Utah under Rick Majerus. He went on to serve as an assistant at Indiana and Alabama-Birmingham before landing the head job at Louisiana Tech from 2007-11.
Rupp has five daughters, two with his current wife Lori, and six grandchildren with a seventh on the way.
Rupp took a little time last week to talk with the Missoulian about his love for the game, as well as his friendship with former Utah Jazz great Karl Malone.
Q. What were your impressions of the Griz after facing them in the BracketBusters game?
A. First off, when we got here I called my wife and told her what a beautiful place Missoula is. I definitely watched a lot of tape on Montana and I knew they were a very, very good team. I was even more impressed after we played them. They came out and had the eye of the tiger from start to finish and knocked us on our heels. I definitely walked away from here very impressed with coach, with his staff, his players and the program. It’s funny, I really told my wife this is a beautiful place and what a great job they’re doing here. I really enjoyed the time here, except for getting beat.
Q. Having seen last year’s team, what do you think of the Grizzlies’ prospects for next season?
A. I think we have a great program and some great returning players that have had great success over the past few years. I think there’s a great recruiting class coming in. The job that Coach Tinkle does is outstanding. The staff he’s put together, the players he has, his recruiting philosophy and the way he runs his program – the culture – it’s a special time to be here.
Q. How did you come to be a candidate for the job?
A. When Coach Evans left (to become head coach at Idaho State), I was looking at going back with a coach I had coached with previously, but he ended up getting fired. When I saw Coach Evans left, I thought about how much I really enjoyed Missoula and how impressed I was with the program. That’s when I first made a call to Coach Tinkle. Fortunately, I knew Coach Evans before and then Mike Davis — who I had coached for at Indiana and Alabama-Birmingham — and Coach Tinkle, those guys had played against each other in the CBA and knew each other. A young man I had in high school, Lance Allred, he stayed close with Coach Tinkle and fortunately through Coach Evans, Mike Davis and Lance, they were able to reach out and talk to him on my behalf.
Q. Is there someone along the way who has influenced you in your coaching career?
A. I would say Rick Majerus is a big mentor to me. I broke into the business with him. He was a guy who would personally and professionally challenge you every single day. Having coached for him where he held me accountable and really pushed and challenged me, I think I was able to advance at a great pace. At the University of Indiana, Mike Davis was a great mentor. I think that just being the associate head coach at Indiana, it was a place that personally and professionally challenged you every step of the way. Just the nature of Indiana basketball, the love and passion that surrounds you in the state … being at those two places gave me an opportunity to take off and prepared me to be a college coach.
Q. Coach Tinkle said his first piece of advice to you was to find a hobby. What do you like to do away from basketball?
A. My best friend is Karl Malone and he loves to hunt and fish. He says ‘you have to go hunting and fishing with me.’ It’s the same thing, I just love doing ball. I don’t hunt, I don’t fish, I don’t golf; I love doing ball and I’m married to a lady and have daughters who love me as a result of it. I enjoy being around family. I have some grandkids who are getting into sports and I enjoy going to watch them play. But my love and passion is basketball. My second love … is strength and conditioning, seeing how different teams and different programs approach that.
Q. You were involved in the Karl Malone Foundation when you lived in Utah. Tell me about that.
A. It was in the Intermountain West when he played for the Utah Jazz. He wanted someone he could have some fun doing it with. My wife and I joined he and his wife … I was the director in name, but my wife did a lot of the things. I traveled with Karl and went when we did things like giving different gifts and benefits. We were able to raise a lot of money for kids who were handicapped or had serious illnesses, injuries. There were kids who had never been out of their homes … that we went out and purchased vans and equipped them. We were able to help families who were going to lose their homes pay off their mortgages and give them the deed to their houses. It was very touching. At the end of the day what life’s all about is to give back. That was something very, very special.