Support Local Journalism


Subscribe


Danny Sprinkle turned around and looked for assistance. The men’s basketball head coach wanted to know how many timeouts he had left. Last season, director of operations Luke Fennelly was in charge of knowing the answer.

This summer, Fennelly left Montana State to become an assistant coach at MSU Billings. The Bobcats haven’t filled the open position yet because of a hiring freeze.

During the Dec. 2 game at Pacific, Sprinkle thought, “Where’s Luke?” Then he remembered the job now fell to assistant coach Ken Moses. Due to coronavirus protocols, Moses was spaced out farther down the bench so Sprinkle had to walk over to Moses and ask.

It’s moments like those that reflect what MSU is missing this season.

“There’s been a bunch of adjustments,” Sprinkle said. “But everybody’s just kind of got to pick up a little bit more responsibility.”

In addition to Fennelly leaving the men’s program, women’s basketball director of operations Jason Alvine also left the Bobcats and is now a play-by-play announcer at Northern Colorado.

With the two positions left vacant for now, MSU’s basketball programs have had to divvy up responsibilities. Assistant coaches have picked up most of the slack and played a vital role this season in the midst the coronavirus pandemic.

Coordinating things like travel, logistics and scheduling are as tricky as ever. If there was a year the operations directors would be even more important, this is it.

“It’s tough,” Sprinkle said, “because the director of operations does so many of the small tasks that you need to be a functional organization.”

Though the hiring freeze has affected these two positions, both programs replaced assistant coaches who left in the offseason. MSU athletic director Leon Costello said in November that the athletic department hadn’t had furloughs or layoffs.

On Wednesday, the school announced the hiring of Sean Herrin as the MSU football strength and conditioning director.

Earlier this month, Costello wrote in a letter to fans his department is expecting to generate $3 million less than it “normally” does. In 2018-19, MSU brought in $22.7 million in revenue for athletics, according to U.S. Department of Education data.

The Bobcats aren’t making money from ticket sales since no fans have been allowed at games. That rule could change, but it’s up to local health officials to decide.

“Athletics needs to do their part on campus to ensure that the financial constraints that we have right now aren’t going to continue on moving forward,” Costello said. “If we can help in that way by leaving some of those positions open, we will.”

Costello plans for both basketball operations positions to someday be filled. He recognized the situation isn’t ideal, but it’s necessary given the overall financial picture.

“If this is a small sacrifice that we have to make now to get to where we want to go very quickly in the future, that’s OK,” Costello said. “We can deal with it now so we can get there in the future.”

Bobcats women’s basketball head coach Tricia Binford said the staff has been “a little bit limited” without a director of operations, but the situation is “all hands on deck.”

Associate head coach Sunny Smallwood has been on Binford’s staff since 2018, longer than anyone else. With two other assistants who were just hired this offseason, Smallwood has taken on a significant chunk of extra responsibilities.

“I need to make sure they’re getting recharged,” Binford said, “and I do feel like Sunny has jumped on taking a million things on her plate, but the staff has been fantastic (at adjusting).”

MSU women at Montana (copy)

Montana State head coach Tricia Binford yells to her team during a Feb. 1 game against Montana in Missoula.

Men’s basketball assistant coach Dan Russell called Moses and fellow assistant Chris Haslam “superstars” for the way they’ve stepped up.

Moses was hired this fall to replace Shawn Dirden. He was previously Southern Illinois’ director of operations and has picked up a lot of those roles with the Bobcats.

Former MSU guard Carlos Taylor has also worked with the program as a volunteer director of player personnel. He also contributes to filling in for Fennelly.

“Nobody is kind of stuck in their role and like, ‘Nah, I’m not doing that. I got too much on my plate already,’” Russell said. “For all of us on the staff, everybody is more willing to do more.”

Moses praised student managers Brayden Hall and Alec Nys for helping him become familiar with the Bobcats’ program. They’ve helped teach him Sprinkle’s preferences, how Fennelly did things and anything else he should know. Moses has been involved in planning road trips, booking flights and overseeing the team’s budget.

Hall and Nys have pitched in with helping coaches prep for practice, recording video of practice and keeping up with travel receipts. Hall in particular is in charge of food whenever the team is on the road. He places orders, picks the food up and brings it back to hotels.

It’s those types of things that help the programs run as smooth as possible. And it’s taken a team effort to fill the void.

“We’ve had hurdles and challenges like everybody else,” Costello said, “but it has not stopped us.”

Sports editor Colton Pool contributed reporting.

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

Recommended for you