Editor's note: The University of Montana will celebrate Robin Selvig Day Saturday as part of a Lady Griz home basketball game against Sacramento State. Selvig left an enduring legacy that the Missoulian is spotlighting in a two-part series that concludes today. 


They do a few drills down in southern Idaho that Montana women's basketball fans may want to know about.

"We use them on a regular basis in practice, the Griz rebounding drill or the Griz shell drill or whatever," Idaho State women's basketball coach Seton Sobolewski told the Missoulian. "They emphasize what you have to do to beat the best."

If the most sincere form of flattery is indeed imitation, recently-retired Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig must be smiling somewhere. The legacy he has left, not just on the Montana women's basketball team but the entire Big Sky Conference, will never be paralleled.


"On a national level, Rob was the face of the Big Sky, without a doubt," said Jon Newlee, coach of the defending Big Sky tourney champion Idaho women and former skipper at Idaho State. "I mean, look at him. He's a legend, a hall of famer. Every time you read about Pat Summitt or Geno (Auriemma), his name was always in that same paragraph.

"He brought that national recognition to the Big Sky and we're going to miss that as a conference. Without a doubt. You lose a guy like that, it's going to be rough. It's going to be a challenge for all of us to elevate our game even more and get the kind of respect that Rob got on a national level. That is going to be our challenge. And keep the Big Sky's name relevant out there."


Selvig's numbers in 38 years at the helm were ridiculously good. His teams produced 36 winning seasons, 31 20-win campaigns, 24 conference championships and 21 NCAA tournament appearances.

Twenty-one times he was voted by his peers as conference coach of the year.

"It's basically the UConn of the Big Sky and everything you do you measure against Montana," said former Northern Arizona coach Laurie Kelly, who now guides the NCAA Division III Gustavus Adolphus women's program.

"That starts with Robin. You can't repeat the kind of things he did. He is Montana Griz. That's every coach's dream to do what he did. He was always humble but always a fierce competitor. To be able to play in that type of environment up there (at Dahlberg Arena), even for the opposing team, is priceless, especially at the mid-major level."

Sobolewski, who has been coaching Idaho State for nine years and in 2012 won the league tournament championship, says his goal starting out in the Big Sky was simple.

"If you want to be successful, (Selvig) is the person you prepare for to beat if you want to be the champion," he said. "It's very unlikely anything like that will ever happen again in terms of someone staying in one spot for so long and winning so much and really shaping a conference.

"You just look at the time when he started, the 1970s. You don't see someone staying 38 years in one program. That's one correlation you can make with him and (the legendary late Tennessee women's coach) Pat Summitt. Both stayed in the same place until they retired."


Winning is easy when you have the best players or your team is shooting lights out. Lady Griz fans will attest there were times when their team enjoyed both luxuries.

The times when the shots aren't falling or the lineup lacks experience -- those are the times when coaching makes a real difference. Selvig was a master in those situations, especially late in his career when a good number of Big Sky teams matched his team's talent.

"What I learned from him indirectly, just from getting my butt kicked early on, was you have to be tough," Sobolewski said. "You have to defend. You have to rebound to be successful.

"He had some really good offensive teams but even when they didn't shoot the ball very well they could beat you just by grinding it out and playing great defense and rebounding and being physical."

Selvig's teams also had a way of turning things around after ugly first halves.

"It was always fun to compete against Robin, such a great X's and O's guy," Newlee said. "He's so knowledgeable and he made great in-game adjustments.

"He's able to take his personnel and really stick them into his system. To be able to take the different types of players and put them in those spots and get the most out of those kids was a great strength."

Kelly was rarely surprised by what Selvig's teams tried on the floor. That didn't make it any easier to stop them.

"You knew what they were going to do defensively, you knew what their offenses were," she offered. "But they were just so good at execution and so disciplined as a team and you still had to stop it. I never felt like (Selvig) was ever trying to re-invent the wheel and that was a strength of his."

Beyond his team's consistently high level of effort -- a point of pride for Montana's coach throughout his career -- it was Selvig's even temperament in practice that helped keep his teams from getting too high or low during the regular season.

Anyone who ever watched a Selvig-led Lady Griz team in a game knows his temperament changed once the clock started. But by pacing his team when the fans weren't watching, he put them in position to be at their best physically and mentally for the biggest games of the season.

"It seemed like with him, no game was any different than the rest with his demeanor after the game," Weber State coach Bethann Ord said. "I actually didn't realize how much he gets after it on the court. When you're coaching yourself, you're so focused on your kids.

"Our former golf coach, who has passed away, was telling me one time he always sat behind the other team's bench and he'd tell me, 'Aw you should have heard Selvig!' I'm like, 'Really?!' You just don't realize."


For a man with 865 wins, Selvig is surprisingly humble. Just ask his former Big Sky peers.

"He'd have smoke coming out of his ears during games and you know he loves to win, but more than anything you learn humility from him," Kelly said. "When you're the best, there's a lot that are pretty cocky about it. You never got that feeling from him. He shook your hand after the game and you felt like he really meant good game.

"I never felt an arrogance about him. You want to beat him because that was the measuring stick. But the poise he held himself with was something you wanted to model yourself after."

Sobolewski uses the word "class" to describe Selvig.

"He always found something nice to say about your team, even if he beat you by 30," the Bengals coach said. "His assistants conducted themselves the exact same way, always cordial before games.

"Robin always sought me out, sought our assistant coaches out before every game, to visit for a while before the game started. As fierce a competitor as he was, he conducted himself with class. That's something else I learned from him, that you can't be so competitive that you don't want to be cordial."

Newlee is proud to call Selvig a friend.

"Because he was so intense during games, I think some people think that's the way he is," Newlee said. "But when he gets off the floor he's a totally different guy.

"You know, you're sitting around and having a couple sodas on the recruiting trail, and he's just a laid back, funny guy, really funny. People don't always see that side of him. We connected so well. I think we are a lot alike like that, personality-wise. He beat us or we beat them. But nothing ever changed."

Coaches like Newlee, Sobolewski, Ord and Kelly grew so accustomed to seeing Selvig on the Lady Griz sideline that even now it's hard for them to fathom he retired.

"At first I was shocked -- you know sad shock," Ord shared. "I mean happy for him if that's how he wants it.

"I'm telling you, he was my favorite Big Sky coach. Since before I even came here Robin has been a name and a person that has been a true trailblazer for women's basketball and what he's done at Montana. It was really an honor for me playing them."

Newlee took note of the fact he wasn't seeing much of Selvig this past summer on the recruiting trail. Still, he never saw his retirement coming.

"Geez, I don't know what I'd do," he said of the idea of retiring after decades in coaching. "I'm not a golf fanatic. I know a lot of coaches are. But how much golf can you play?

"There's going to be a lot of down time when you retire and I'm not sure what I would do. Man, it's going to be hard retiring."

In the end, the grind of recruiting was a big reason Selvig decided to hang up his whistle. Kelly, for one, can relate.

"It's grueling," she offered. "College kids all want to text and Tweet now. It's crazy. Kids are committing so early, two and three years ahead of time. And you don't even call to talk to them on the phone anymore. They want to be on their phones and Tweet.

"Robin will miss the game. I just don't think he'll miss the recruiting. That's the tiring part of it for a lot of coaches that retire. It's never-ending."

More than anything, Selvig's peers, like a lot of Lady Griz fans, just wanted to be reassured Robin was OK physically when he announced his retirement in July. Safe in that knowledge, a lot of folks feel compelled to thank him for his positive impact on their lives -- including his Big Sky coaching peers.   

"I hope the university really celebrates what he's done there," Ord said. "I'm sure they will."

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