MISSOULA — It was springtime in Missoula and Idaho football coach Paul Petrino was in town, decked out in a Montana Grizzly hat.
The venue was Grizzly Softball Field and he was there to watch his daughter, Anne Mari Petrino, play for Montana. His allegiances to the Vandals were put on hold.
“Everybody always thinks it’s funny that I wear a Grizzly hat when I’m watching my daughter play,” Petrino said. “But I’m not sure why, because it says ‘softball’ on it and she’s on the team. There’s no bigger Grizzly softball fan than me. That’s for sure.”
With the Griz and Vandals renewing their football rivalry for the first time since 2003 this Saturday, Petrino doesn’t want to be returning to Missoula in the spring having lost to the Griz.
A Montana native with deep ties to the state who knows the history of the rivalry, he’s looking to bring the Little Brown Stein back to Moscow, Idaho, following the 85th all-time meeting.
“Any time that after the game the team can walk off the field and have a trophy or have whatever it is, it doesn’t matter what it is, that symbolizes who wins and then you play again for that same thing next year, I think that always makes for a good rivalry,” said Petrino , whose cousin, Mike Petrino, is an assistant coach for the Montana Lady Griz and whose nephew, Kyle Samson, played for the Griz football team in the last meeting between the two programs in 2003.
“For a lot of years, they were two of the best teams in the league, so that made for a great rivalry.”
Petrino was born in Butte and spent his youth in Helena, attending Broadwater Elementary School and Helena Capital High School. He was recruited by the Griz but went to play for his dad at Carroll College, where he earned All-American honors. He later coached the Saints as an assistant before embarking on a journey across the country with stops at Utah State, Louisville, Southern Mississippi, Arkansas, Illinois and the Atlanta Falcons.
Growing up, Petrino was friends with former Grizzly Tim Hauck, knew current Griz head coach Bobby Hauck, went to football and basketball camps with Tim and attended a wrestling camp in Billings run by the Hauck’s uncle, Tom. He also knows Griz wide receivers coach Brent Pease and safeties coach Shann Schillinger well.
With the ties to Carroll, Petrino was a Saints fan instead of the Griz or Cats, although he leaned toward Montana during Cat-Griz week. When he became an assistant coach at Idaho and coached against Montana from 1992-94, he got to learn about and experience the rivalry that he hadn’t paid too much attention to growing up.
“When I was an assistant here, we were 9-2 all three years (in the regular season), but that’s when Dave Dickenson was playing quarterback for them, so they were a real good team,” Petrino said. “We only lost two games a year, but they beat us. Unfortunately, I do remember that.”
The Vandals’ coaching staff has others with direct ties to the Griz. Assistant coach Mike Breske had two coaching stints at Montana, from 2000-02 and 2010-11. Cornerbacks coach Vernon Smith played for the Griz from 2000-04, was part of the 2001 national championship team and earned Second-Team All-America honors in 2002.
Others on the staff have connections to the state, ranging from Bozeman to Havre to Helena.
“I think any time you’ve coached at one school and then you’re at another school playing that school, I’ve done that a few times in my career, you definitely want to make sure you try to beat them,” Petrino said.
“I think every game you want to win. There’s no question. But sometimes there’s just a little bit more, I don’t know if it’s anxiety or nerves or excitement, it’s one of those words that you’re feeling.”