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Famed Montana football coach Bob Petrino Sr. dies at 81

Posted at 5:00 PM, Jul 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-26 19:00:27-04

HELENA – Montana football fans were in mourning on Thursday, after the passing of longtime Carroll College coach Bob “Putter” Petrino Sr. He was 81.

A 1955 graduate of Butte Central, Petrino won three state championships in the Mining City, one in football and two more in baseball. He continued his athletic career at Western Montana College, now Montana Western, in Dillon, before entering the coaching ranks.

Petrino made coaching stops in Grass Range, Moore and Harlowton, leading the football and basketball programs, before returning to Butte Central and guiding the Maroons in 1965. In 1971 he became the head coach at Carroll College, reshaping the program.

Petrino mentored the Fighting Saints from 1971 to 1998, compiling a career record of 163-90-2, good for a .644 winning percentage. His teams won 16 Frontier Conference championships, earning him 13 Frontier Conference coach of the year honors.

Carroll competed in the NAIA national playoffs nine times under Petrino, including four semifinal appearances. Carroll also recorded undefeated regular seasons on four occasions: 1973, 1978, 1986 and 1988.

“Growing up in East Helena and going to high school in Helena, you always knew about Carroll College football, you always knew about Coach Petrino,” said Carroll College offensive coordinator Nick Howlett, who played and coached at Montana Western in the 1980s. “Playing against him for four years, coaching against him, just an unbelievable man, an unbelievable coach. I was fortunate to get to go to the Montana Football Hall of Fame where they honored Coach Petrino and his legacy, unbelievable. He has touched, I think, every level of football that you can. A lot of his former players, sons, nephews, are coaching and doing a tremendous job all over the country. He’ll be missed. He’s a true legend.”

Mike Van Diest followed Petrino as the Fighting Saints’ head coach in 1999, building on Petrino’s success.

“His legacy here is certainly what he did, the most Frontier Conference championships ever, 163 wins. Just tremendous,” Van Diest said. “He brought toughness to Carroll College at a time that I think they needed it. That was at a time when you saw football really go forward. There was a great history of Carroll football, but he kept it on the map and even elevated it to another level. We’re just blessed and I’m just blessed that we were able to come on the foundation that he built.”

“I think the No. 1 thing you always got from Coach Petrino was his passion,” added Howlett. “Obviously he was a great Xs and Os guy, ran the triple option as well as anybody, published a few books about it, but his passion for his players, as well as the game, and honoring the game, are things that will truly be missed.”

During his career at Carroll, Petrino tutored numerous all-conference and all-American athletes, including his sons Bobby and Paul, who each earned all-American recognition as quarterbacks for the Fighting Saints. The duo followed their father in to the coaching world, with Bobby the head coach at the University of Louisville, while Paul leads the University of Idaho.

Bob Petrino Sr. has been inducted in to the NAIA, Montana Coaches Association, Butte Sports, Carroll College and Helena Sports Halls of Fame. The Montana Football Hall of Fame honored the Petrino family during its annual induction banquet in March. Bob Sr. was honored along with his sons, Bobby and Paul, son-in-law Mark Samson, grandson Kyle Samson, as well as nephew Jason Petrino, the head coach at Rocky Mountain College, and other members of the Petrino family.

“Coach Petrino, that Petrino name is college football. It’s synonymous. I don’t know if there’s another family with that,” Van Diest said. “You look at Bobby and Paul and what they’re doing. You look at Mike Petrino, his brother who coached with him here and now his sons, Jason and Jared, are down at Rocky. You look at his son-in-law Mark Samson (at Great Falls High School), his grandson Kyle Samson (at Kalispell Flathead High School), it’s a coaching tree that’s unparalleled to anybody else in the country.”

“Two of my greatest memories, a year ago on his 80th birthday, I went over to his house and just visited with him and (his wife) Patsy, just sat there and listened to stories and talked and reminisced. It was invaluable,” Van Diest added. “The other memory was in 2002, I had him and Coach (Jim) Deming come out to the stadium and talk to our football team when we were getting ready to go to Savannah, Tennessee and the national championship game, our first one. He came out there, and as I told somebody else, the look in his eyes and the sound in his voice really showed me, and I don’t know if our players recognized it, but I recognized it, how much he loved Carroll College football. He was at the golden era at that time. He was an (athletic director), he was the head football coach and he was Carroll College football, and he always will be.”