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BILL SPELTZ: Parenting comes first for Andrus

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In a city with twice the population of Montana, he's known as the new guy trying to revive a faltering pro football franchise.

Fans of the Toronto Argonauts have given coach Bart Andrus a lukewarm welcome. Some aren't sure he's the right man for the job because he's new to the Canadian Football League. Others are glad to see him.

Six months into his stint, Andrus has already taken online shots from mean-spirited fans. He hasn't even coached a regular-season game yet.

What does this say about the tweeting, texting, e-mailing world we live in? Not much, my friends.

Rather than firing up a computer to find out what the fickle are saying about this ex-Montana quarterback, I took a different route. In the spirit of Father's Day, my Andrus exposé centers around his daughter, Brooke.

You'll never catch her spewing venom at anonymous bloggers because she wasn't raised that way. Instead the Bigfork grad and ex-UM trackster offers a history lesson - the kind you won't find in a game program.

Bart Andrus has coached for more than 25 years for teams like the Tennessee Titans, Amsterdam Admirals and Rocky Mountain College. He coached overseas during Brooke's teen years, yet she never considered him absent.

He just always seemed to be there for the important stuff, always armed with sage advice. Getting to his daughter's track meets or his son's football games was, and will always be, a priority.

"He has driven hours and hours to watch me run a two-minute race," Brooke gushed. "When I was in college he went to as many indoor meets as he could.

"I remember he came to watch me in Pocatello as a freshman and on the way there he ran out of gas. He had to pull over to the side of the highway after driving five hours."

The fact Bart was dressed like "Fonzie" in jeans and a leather jacket didn't help his situation. But while jogging to an off-ramp, a nice fellow picked him up and took him to Walmart to purchase a gas can. He made it just in time for Brooke's race.

"He put us first - all the time," she said, referring in part to brother Travis, an ex-Kalispell Flathead wideout who will play for the Griz this fall.

Respected for his offensive expertise, Bart is busy preparing for the Argos' official opener on July 1. But he's found a way to keep his daughter close and kick-start her journalism career. She's been hired as an intern by the Argos with the freedom to write a weekly blog about Toronto's training camp.

"I didn't see this side of things growing up," Brooke said. "We went to games but hardly ever hung around for practice.

"When we lived in Tennessee we'd go over to practice at the end to meet him for dinner. One time we took our puppy and one of the players came up and started playing with her. I had no idea what was going on but afterwards Dad said, 'Did you realize that was Eddie George holding your dog?' "

As Brooke has matured, it has become increasingly more stressful watching dad's games. She describes it as an adrenaline rush that leaves her shaky.

"At home in Bigfork I really don't want to have friends over for games," she said. "It's really emotionally taxing. Mom starts jumping on the couch."

Dad's task leading a team that was 4-14 last season is a little scary. Brooke knows he's feeling pressure to win. She's feeling pressure for him.

But win or lose, one thing will never change.

"I'm so proud of my dad," she said. "He started out coaching high school kids and built it up to now.

"Knowing what he's doing makes it seem like anything is possible for me."

Turns out you can learn a lot about a pro football coach from talking to his daughter. For all of Bart's success, he's never lost sight of what's most important in life: His wife of 27 years and their two children.

Maybe there's a lesson there for all of us who consider work and sports ultra-important. If an ol' Griz can keep his wits with thousands of Canadians tracking him, it shouldn't be so tough for the rest of us papa bears.

Sports columnist Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or bill.speltz@lee.net.

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