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Grady Bennett caused quite a stir when he transferred from Montana State University to the University of Montana after just one quarter with the Bobcat football team.

He caused an even bigger stir when he left Flathead High School - his prep alma mater - to become the head football coach at the new Glacier High School on Kalispell's north side.

But in Grady's mind, both of the moves - any controversy aside - were no brainers, just like his decision to attend MSU in the first place.

The Bobcats' 1984 national championship, when Bennett was a high school junior, certainly caught his eye, as had the school's football dominance over the Grizzlies for a number of years.

MSU head coach Dave Arnold had been recruiting him for some time, while new UM coach Don Read was relatively unknown to him, even though the new Grizzly mentor worked hard to get him to come to Missoula.

Bennett also was looking forward to studying under standout quarterback Kelly Bradley, a key to MSU's passing attack who had led Cats to that 1984 crown.

As fate would have it, Arnold and his staff were fired after the 1986 season, and new Bobcat coach Earle Solomonson planned to install an option offense at MSU. Bennett wasn't interested in being an option quarterback, and Solomonson agreed to cut him loose.

"I gave coach Read a call, and he said, 'hey, come on up,'" Bennett recalled. "(I) basically came home for Christmas break and when I was going back just turned off at Van Buren there, met coach (Robin) Pflugrad and registered for classes."

His short stay in Bozeman left Bennett less likely to be called a traitor although he took plenty of grief from some former Bobcat teammates during the three years he started for the Griz.

Bennett considers himself blessed that he got to work with Read and UM offensive coordinator Tommy Lee.

"The way I coach to this day, the things that I do offensively are still heavily influenced by Tommy Lee," Bennett said. "I have some people around me that either played for him at (Montana)-Western or coached with him or have just been influenced by him."

Bennett said running Montana's offense in those days was "a blast," partly because the players back then realized that they were in on the ground floor of what would become a nationally-recognized football program.

"We were the first group that really took it to that next level," Bennett pointed out, "and got to the playoffs (and) made it to the semifinals in '89. We just feel like we were the ones that really laid the foundation for the success that has, really to this day, continued."

Bennett said the Grizzlies of his era were the first in the Big Sky Conference to "really spread the field." He remembers when they first used five wide receivers, something previously unheard of in the league.

Bennett found out what Read was all about early in his sophomore season when he had a poor performance at Nevada-Reno and began to question himself.

"I remember on the plane ride back, coach Read came and sat with me and just gave me one of those fatherly talks that he did and really got my ship going in the right direction," Bennett noted.

Bennett bounced back quickly with solid performances on the following weekend and for the rest of his UM career.

Beating the Bobcats three straight times was a high for Bennett and his Griz teammates, some of whom - because they had redshirted for a season - had been involved in five straight wins over their arch rival.

Going to the national semifinals in 1989 was another high for Bennett, although he and his teammates failed to make the playoffs in 1990 when Montana was 7-and-4.

For most of his early life Bennett was zeroed in strictly on basketball, but he remains grateful to this day that some coaches in Kalispell convinced him that he should play other sports to become a more well-rounded athlete.

"My goal was to be the next Scott Zanon," Bennett explained, referring to the outstanding Flathead guard who played college hoops for the Grizzlies. "I played basketball all the time. That's all I really did in the summers and (at) camps.

"I really didn't want to play football because I didn't want to get hurt, and I didn't want to do track because I wanted to shoot hoops," Bennett added.

The result was that Bennett became an all-state performer in three sports as a senior - in football, basketball and track, where he won the state title in the 300-meter hurdles.

Now he battles constantly with high school athletes trying to convince them to play two or three sports rather than just one, or at least become involved in other activities such as speech and drama, or music.

It was ironic that, as much as Bennett wanted to play college basketball, the primary recruiting interest he received was for football. And that interest came from a number of schools, including some in the Pac-10 that saw him as a prospective tight end.

But Bennett wasn't interested in bulking up to play tight end, so he confined his potential college choices to those where he could play quarterback. Staying in state became a priority as well.

Bennett majored in business and accounting at UM, but learned through working at summer football camps that he loved being around kids and helping them to learn how to play the game.

So he switched his major to education near the end of his junior year, also taking advantage of all of the business courses he had already taken.

After graduating Bennett returned to Kalispell and got right into teaching and coaching, working primarily with football and basketball programs. He spent 16 years at Flathead High School before deciding to make what turned out to be a controversial move to the new school in Kalispell.

Realizing people would be upset with him - and some still are - Bennett said most of the disenchantment is based on misunderstanding his motives.

When the new school was about to open every staff member at Flathead High School was given a choice of where they wanted to be. The administration worked through the list of requests, and Bennett said about 85 percent were granted their wish to either move to Glacier or stay at Flathead.

The other 15 percent were either moved or stayed put depending on the needs of the overall district.

Bennett initially had decided to stay on as head football coach at Flathead High School. But when he found out that his entire staff of assistant coaches had requested to move to Glacier, he had to rethink things.

"All of my guys . . . live up north and they all had opportunities to become a head coach (for other sports) at Glacier," Bennett explained. "They (also) wanted to be by their kids and teach . . . and coach their kids."

About to lose his whole staff and not wanting to start over, Bennett made the agonizing decision to join them at Glacier.

"It was pretty simple as my wife and I sat and talked about it," Bennett said. "I said, 'boy, if I lose all these guys it's gonna be a tough thing.'"

What Bennett has been accused of by some is deciding to go to Glacier himself and then convincing his assistant coaches to move with him.

"Those guys all made their choice and I was the smart one that said, 'I'm gonna go with them,'" Bennett said.

The move of the entire football staff and many others from Flathead to Glacier probably has contributed to a quick upswing in the rivalry between the two schools even though Glacier, with a lot of underclassmen competing in sports the first year (2007-08), has a long way to go to be competitive.

"As the dust settles and as we get going, it's gonna be such a great thing for Kalispell," Bennett predicted. "So many more kids are getting to participate. It helps the Double-A league. There's just so many benefits."

Not so controversial, but certainly enjoyable, for Bennett, has been his work as a television commentator for Grizzly football.

Nearly 10 years ago Bob Hermes, general manager at Missoula's KPAX-TV, asked him if he would be willing to help with the telecast of a Grizzly-Bobcat football game. After a couple of years doing only Griz-Cat games, Hermes asked if he could do more Grizzly regular-season games.

Now Bennett does nearly all of Montana's home games, only missing those that conflict with his high school outings. He continues to appreciate being asked by Hermes year after year to keep doing it.

Bennett and the former Amy Schuldheiss started dating in high school and were married during his junior year at UM. They'll celebrate their 20th anniversary in December.

They have three daughters who will range from fifth to 10th grade this fall. Bennett's nephew, Matt - whose parents live in Las Vegas - also has joined the household so he can finish high school in Kalispell.

While Bennett really loves coaching high school sports he hasn't blocked out the idea of someday working at the college level. But because of the serious lifestyle change that would bring, he said he will only consider such a move once all of his children are out of high school.

Both Amy and Grady have parents still living in Kalispell, another thing that keeps them close to home.

"I jumped at this job knowing that I could settle in," Bennett said. "There's security. You're pretty secure to be able to teach and hopefully coach all the time that you're there. It's just a great situation for a family."

Because the Bennetts started having children so early, it will be only another 10 years before they're all done with high school. At that point, Bennett said he would give college coaching a serious look.

One thing Bennett tries to instill in younger coaches around him is how much influence - positive and negative - they can have on kids.

"Those times with the young men and young women that you coach are so powerful," Bennett said, "and really shape their lives.

"Our society is so bent on winning," he went on, "and it's hard to sift through that and keep the priorities right, and that's one of the things that I really try hard to do with my staff."

Bennett said he is who he is today and does the things he does because of people like Don Read and Tommy Lee and other coaches under whom he studied.

"Every day that we're with kids and coaching them and being around them, we are influencing, whether it's for good or for bad," Bennett reiterated. "I have so many assistants now that are head coaches in their programs, and I see it helping them as they run their programs.

"I feel really good about that and am able to thank guys like Don Read and Tommy Lee and those other coaches that I've worked with and for."

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