The Danny Sprinkle era in Bozeman has ended.
With today’s announcement that Danny Sprinkle has been named the new head coach at Mountain West Conference member Utah State, he leaves behind a short but storied legacy as head coach after heading one of the most successful runs at Montana State in modern history. Under Sprinkle, the Cats won the conference tournament twice, earning back to back 14 seeds in the NCAA tournament, the regular season conference championship in 2022, and amassed a 49-23 record in conference play in his 4 year stint in Bozeman, including 31-7 during the last two. Perhaps most impressively the Cats only lost one conference tournament game in the 3 eligible years under Sprinkle (the 2020 conference tournament was cancelled), the lone loss coming in the title game to #2 seed Eastern Washington in 2021. His tournament record was an impressive 8-1, something that largely eluded his predecessors during the 21st century. Sprinkle will no doubt leave as one of the best players and coaches in Montana State history.
There will be a lot of articles and discussion about his accolades during his successful career as a Bobcat. But once again, as a fan, I have a burning question, one I have each time a head coach leaves for greener pastures. It is the same question I had after Jeff Choate left for an assistant coaching job at Texas, and that question is this – why can’t we have nice things? Or rather, why can’t we hold onto nice things. What can MSU do to make our pastures more green? Or does it even matter?
MSU has been able to retain Women’s Head Coach Tricia Binford, going into her 18th season, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this fact. For whatever reason you never hear her name pop up in the offseason, even though she is one of the most successful coaches in Big Sky Conference history. As such she is heading up perhaps the most consistent program in the Big Sky in the last 10+ years. While it took a few years, the results are now there. And let’s not think women’s basketball isn’t immune to this, Sacramento State’s head coach Mark Campbell was just hired at TCU after just two seasons. Is it possible to get a Tricia Binford for the two other major revenue sports?
I don’t know what it’s going to take for MSU to be able to keep a coach around who has better opportunities, and subsequently turns them down to stay in Bozeman – it’s rare but there are examples throughout the country in all sports of coaches staying despite having bigger and “better” offers, including the aforementioned Tricia Binford right here in Bozeman. But if MSU basketball can’t retain a successful alumni/player like Danny Sprinkle, then what? Do we as Bobcat fans just accept that we are an eternal stepping stone, doomed to a life of fandom where we never get to tether our allegiances to any one single coach? Can you build a true mid-major program with a high rate of turnover, however successful each subsequent coach may be? Let’s look at Utah State, Sprinkle’s new team, who recently is in much the same position as MSU. Three head coaches in 8 years after Stew Morrill was there for 17 years. The coach being replaced, Ryan Odom, was in Logan for just two years before bolting for VCU. Maybe that is what was so attractive about Utah State to Sprinkle – another stepping step for him, and I think it’s safe to say Sprinkle likely has bigger dreams than Utah State. Would an invite to the Mountain West help, or would we be just spending more money to be a slightly more attractive stepping stone?
Make no mistake – Montana State is a great spot and experiencing a tremendous wave of growth, both as a university and an entire athletic program. Leon Costello and Waded Cruzado (and countless others who aren’t so forward facing) have done a tremendous job in building MSU up. They likely won’t have a shortage of solid candidates, and I have faith the right one will be selected. Many of us were pretty devastated when Choate left for Texas, but 2 years later Brent Vigen has erased all of the pain of that departure. We simply have to accept that at least for now, Montana State is unlikely to hold onto a successful coach, and hope the next hire doesn’t derail the progress each successful predecessor has built.
So my advice is simply this – enjoy the good times, be thankful for the time these coaches spend at our treasured university, and thank them when they move on. And get ready to do it all over again if all goes well.