By ERIC TABER
In an announcement that lacks any of the surprise of Robin Selvig’s retirement two weeks ago, the best player in Big Sky Conference women’s basketball history has been chosen to take over the league’s flagship program.
Shannon Schweyen, a Kodak All-American as a player for the Lady Griz and an assistant under Selvig the last 24 years, has been hired as the new women’s basketball coach at Montana.
Schweyen went through a series of interviews last week, was offered and accepted the job on Saturday, and on Monday signed a three-year contract that runs through June 30, 2019, pending approval by the Board of Regents.
“Obviously this is a dream job. I feel fortunate I’ve been given the chance to carry on the amazing things Rob did here and continue the tradition he established over the last 38 years,” said Schweyen, who played for the Lady Griz as Shannon Cate from 1988-89 to 1991-92.
It marks the first time since June 1978, when Selvig was hired away from Plentywood High School at the age of 25, that Montana has needed to find a new women’s basketball coach.
Kent Haslam, who has now hired Montana’s football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball coaches, plus the department’s golf, softball and volleyball coaches since being named Director of Athletics in September 2012, did not have to look far to find Selvig’s successor.
As a member of Selvig’s staff since 1992-93, Schweyen has been a part of teams that have gone to 13 NCAA tournaments, won 14 Big Sky Conference regular-season titles and piled up 531 victories.
Still, she had to prove she was the best person for the job, which she did last week. She becomes Haslam’s first internal candidate he’s hired for a head coaching position.
“This wasn’t simply handing a job to a longtime assistant out of loyalty. Shannon interviewed with different people on and off campus, and shared her plan and her vision for the program. She earned this opportunity. I’m confident she’s ready for this job. I’m excited to see where she takes it,” said Haslam.
What Selvig, who went 865-286 over his career, the seventh-most wins in NCAA women’s basketball history, built over nearly four decades was celebrated two weeks ago upon the announcement that he was retiring. It’s that tradition of success that Schweyen has been charged with continuing.
Over 38 years, Selvig’s teams produced 36 winning seasons and 31 20-win campaigns. Twenty-four of his teams won regular-season conference championships, 21 of them advanced to the NCAA tournament.
And he did it with just four assistant coaches. Annette Rocheleau was on staff from 1981-82 until her retirement in 2013, when she was replaced by Sonya Stokken. Schweyen joined the staff in 1992-93; Trish Duce, who left the program this summer, in 1994-95. All played for Selvig at Montana.
“I think it’s only fitting that someone within our program was the next head coach,” said Selvig. “Shannon has been a part of Lady Griz basketball for a long time. She was a great player and then a coach in a program that’s done pretty well over the years. I know the program will be in good hands.”
Schweyen was recruited to Montana out of Billings Central, where she was the USA Today Montana Player of the Year as a senior. She led the Lady Griz to four NCAA tournaments, including wins over Cal State Fullerton and Wisconsin, three regular-season Big Sky titles and a record of 103-18.
She was twice voted Big Sky MVP, was one of just 10 Division I players to be named a Kodak All-American as a senior and in 2014 was ranked No. 1 on the list of “25 Greatest Female Athletes” in Big Sky history, the only basketball player in the top four.
Following her playing career, Schweyen joined Montana’s coaching staff as a student assistant, at a time when it was just Selvig and Rocheleau. “I just looked at it as a way to stay in basketball,” said Schweyen, who was hired as Montana’s first No. 2 assistant prior to the next season.
“We went to the Final Four that year, and another coach inquired about hiring me. Rob thought we should try to create a spot to keep me here, so the second assistant position became official the next year.”
Montana’s success under Selvig began before Schweyen arrived as a player — the year before she joined the program, the Lady Griz went 28-2 — but she’s since been an integral part of keeping the wins, the championships and the national tournament appearances coming.
Ann Lake, Greta Koss, Skyla Sisco, Linda Weyler, Brooklynn Lorenzen, Hollie Tyler, Mandy Morales, Katie Baker and Kellie Cole-Rubel have all been voted Big Sky Conference MVP since Schweyen joined the staff. Montana’s last four teams have won 24, 23, 24 and 20 games.
“Most jobs come open because teams have been losing and things haven’t been going well. Things aren’t broken here,” said Schweyen. “It’s not like I’m taking over a program that has a lot of things wrong with it. That’s because Rob has done such a great job for so long.
“Being the head coach is going to be a learning experience for me, but I’m excited.”
Schweyen will develop her own coaching style, but she intends to keep the bedrock principles of the program in place. Selvig built his program largely on the talent of Montana kids — which is part of the reason for the team’s loyal following year after year — and by focusing on defense. That won’t change.
“Recruiting Montana kids will still be a priority for us,” said Schweyen, who inherits a team with seven in-state players. “I hope kids will still grow up wanting to be Lady Griz.
“And I’m a firm believer that defense wins championships. When kids buy into playing defense, good things happen. I want that to continue to be a mainstay of the program.”
And while there will be similarities between the way their teams perform on the court, don’t expect Schweyen to be the second coming of Robin Selvig on the sideline. That unique game-day transformation, from relaxed to roused when the game tipped off, follows Selvig into retirement.
“I don’t think anybody could ever emulate what Rob was on the sideline,” said Schweyen, who retains Stokken on her staff, leaving two assistant positions open. “When game time came around, he was a different guy. I don’t think anybody can compare. Time will tell what my style will be.”
To Lady Griz fans, who’ve grown accustomed to leaving Dahlberg Arena following another Montana victory, sideline antics are mostly secondary to what’s happening on the court. That’s where Schweyen hopes there will be the fewest changes of all.
“We’ll do our best to keep winning championships,” she said.