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MISSOULA — When longtime Kalispell Flathead cross country coach Paul Jorgensen announced his retirement in late December, he had a little more advice to pass on.

He sent it in an email to his successor, Jesse Rumsey.

"... Never think that you're the best coach out there and that you had no room for improvement," Rumsey said of Jorgensen's words of wisdom. "That was something about Paul, he was very modest, so those words really struck me."

It was a message saying, "stay hungry." No doubt Jorgensen used the mantra to drive a cross country coaching career that lasted 45 years.

Flathead officials called Jorgensen "a legend" in the press release announcing his retirement. The stats back up the superlative.

His cross country teams won a combined 24 state titles between the boys and girls in his 45 years at the helm of at least one of the programs (Rumsey took over head coaching duties for the girls' team four seasons ago). Jorgensen was named the National High School Athletic Coaches Association boys' cross country coach of the year in 2008 and the NHSACA girls' cross country coach of the year in 2010.

Jorgensen is a tough act to follow, Rumsey implied. But the challenge should certainly complement the drive to strive for greatness, as implied by Jorgensen's email.

"He's got big footsteps (for me) to follow and a legacy ahead of him, so it feels like a lot of pressure to maintain the success of the program," Rumsey said Wednesday. "I know the decision for Paul to retire was a hard one for him, and he's still my coach and my friend, so it's kind of been a range of emotions."

Rumsey's no stranger to the program. She's been the girls' head coach for the last four years and an assistant coach under Jorgensen seven years before that. She's a Flathead graduate, and she ran for some of Jorgensen's more dominant squads in the early 1990s. (The Bravettes won state in 1991).

While Rumsey described Jorgensen's coaching style as a bit more introspective than her own, she still draws similarities in their coaching styles.

"Bottom line, Paul and I almost always saw eye to eye on athletes and training. I think we have a very similar approach and take on running as a competitive sport," Rumsey said.

Meaning the program's new torch bearer, of sorts, should have no problem managing the flame.

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Kyle Houghtaling can be reached by email at kyle.houghtaling@missoulian.com or on Twitter @khotel.

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