Wayne Tinkle won more basketball games as head coach of the Montana Grizzlies than anyone except the man Dahlberg Arena is named after.
He won more Big Sky Conference games than any previous Griz coach and took his team to three NCAA tournaments, another superlative. But those are not the things of which Tinkle is most proud in his eight-year tenure as Montana’s head man.
“Seeing (former Griz star) Will Cherry get his diploma is probably one of my most proud individual moments,” Tinkle said Thursday from Corvallis, Ore., three days after being named head coach at Oregon State of the Pac-12. “That’s what it’s all about for me. Where we’re at in the history of coaches – none of that stuff matters. It’s the individual relationships and the maturity and the growth that we’ve shared with so many guys over 13 years, eight years as the head coach.”
And that’s a big reason the decision to leave the University Of Montana and Missoula – Tinkle’s home for nearly 30 years – was “gut-wrenching.”
“As we learned more about the makings of the athletic department and the community here, it really sold us on the fact that, why can’t it be a different place, but similar to the things that we were so in love with at Missoula and the University of Montana?” Tinkle said of OSU and Corvallis.
“As you do some more investigating, you learn more about the quality of the student-athletes they have in place now and that equates to the kind of guys we have at the University of Montana. That’s huge. ... That’s going to be the hardest thing for me. The friendships will go on with the people in the community, but the players we’ve had wearing the Grizzly uniform is something that we were very proud of and will miss, but will try to replicate here.
Tinkle is painfully aware that his decision affects those around him – new recruits, current Griz players and coaches. He has spoken to – or at least communicated with – all of the current Griz players and 2014 recruits.
“I just said it was a bittersweet deal, that it was really tough for me, but that it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up for me and my family,” said Tinkle, who received a six-year guaranteed contract that will pay him in the neighborhood of $1 million annually. “It was about a new adventure, more than anything we were walking away from. (Griz players) Jordan Gregory and Mario Dunn were unbelievable with their maturity. They’re happy – even some of the parents and the recruits I reached out to – they all understood that it was maybe an inevitability because of the success of the program, and they were happy for Lisa and I and the kids.”
Equally as tough will be filling out his staff at Oregon State. Jono Metzger-Jones, Kerry Rupp and Kurt Paulson were Tinkle’s assistants at Montana. Freddie Owens, a former Griz assistant, left for Oregon State one year ago only to lose his job when OSU fired Craig Robinson earlier this month.
Tinkle said he’s not officially reached any decisions about his new staff, although Rupp was in Corvallis for Wednesday’s news conference.
“Kerry has kind of become my right-hand man a little bit and we hope to make it work, but there are all the (human resources) hoops to jump through,” Tinkle said. “One thing that’s going to be difficult through all this is that I have a lot of guys to try to take care of, and I can’t get lost in that. I have to do what’s best for the program here at Oregon State.
For these last few days, Tinkle has been working out of his hotel room.
“I look out my window to the football stadium,” Tinkle said. “I’m probably a driver and a wedge from my office. That’s if I hit my driver on the face.”
The training table and academic center are a stone’s throw away, as is the new practice facility and Gill Coliseum. The practice facility houses courts for women’s basketball on the first floor, the women’s offices on the second floor, the men’s practice courts on the third floor and the men’s offices on the fourth floor.
“That’s really one of the more historic arenas now in the league,” Tinkle said of 9,600-seat Gill Coliseum, which was built in 1949. “There’s been maybe a facelift or two over the years, but I really love that feel. You walk in and you smell the varnish and the wood and the seats, like you would think of from back in the day. That really cranked me up and got the juices flowing. There’s a lot of energy right now, and I really feel like it’s a great time to be jumping in.”
Tinkle will be facing his former boss, Larry Krystkowiak, a least once a season when the Beavers face Utah in a Pac-12 game. That could be a tad awkward.
“It is, it is,” Tinkle allowed. “I never wanted to coach against any of the former Montana guys. Larry, I have so much respect for him as a player and a coach and really to see him move on and build and have success and know what he stands for and know that he does it the right way and there’s no way that he’s compromising his values to succeed at this level – that’s inspiring.
“As competitive as we both are – and I know how sharp he is – I’m not going to look forward to it. On the other hand, it’s going to be pretty fun to compete against a guy that you hold in such high regard.”
Krystkowiak is a graduate of Montana’s Cradle of Coaches, as it’s sometimes been known.
It started with Jud Heathcote, then the baton was passed to Jim Brandenburg, Mike Montgomery, Stew Morrill, Blaine Taylor, Don Holst and Krystkowiak (with a two-year blip for Pat Kennedy). All except for Holst went on to coach at schools in more prominent conferences.
Now it’s Tinkle’s turn.
“Personally, that’s where I’m really proud when I look at what we’ve done and more than that, what we’ve been a part of,” Tinkle said. “When you’re knee deep in it, you’re just trying to develop players and win and keep your job and pay tribute to all those guys. Now that I look back a little bit from somewhere else, I remember the reverence with which we held all those guys, not only as coaches, but as players, the people who had been there and the great job they did in forging the program there at Montana and how they carried that with them. It’s really neat to feel like I’m a part of that group.
“I’ve talked with Monty here lately and Stew and Blaine – that connection is going to be there forever and it’s a special feeling.”
More than his record of 158-91 in his eight seasons at UM, or the 97 Big Sky wins, or the three NCAA appearances, Tinkle is proud of the way he and his staff achieved those milestones.
“We did it the right way, we did it with class, we didn’t compromise ourselves or try to cut corners to win and to get somewhere else,” Tinkle said, speaking of what he hopes his legacy at UM will be. “We stood the test of time and we made a huge impact on people’s lives. And all the while did some pretty neat things in program history, as far as the number of times we went to the (NCAA) tournament, bringing the (Big Sky) tournament back to Missoula and being able to do it back-to-back times is unbelievable.
“Those are great memories and hopefully they won’t be the only ones I’m able to hold on to as we move forward here at Oregon State. Not only will we leave a big piece of our heart there, but we’re always going to be members of that community one way or another.”