BUTTE — Bob Green strolled through Montana Tech’s ELC building around 9 a.m. and warmly greeted just about every person he saw like an old friend.
A genial handshake here, a friendly slap on the back there peppered with some words of encouragement.
At this early hour, he probably had more energy than most of the undergraduates ducking into their morning classes.
His jovial encounters left little doubt that Green is a well-known and well-respected presence on the Tech campus — as if the football field bearing his name didn’t already establish that — and his grey sweater emblazoned with a large green “Montana Tech Football” logo across the front left little doubt to his coaching pedigree and team loyalty.
The legendary former Montana Tech football coach, who revitalized a fledgling program and guided the Orediggers for 24 seasons, entered his office on the third floor — he now works for the Montana Tech Foundation and happily declared that he is “the lowest guy on the totem pole” — and pulled up a chair at his desk.
Green shared his thoughts on the Montana Tech-Carroll College rivalry.
What makes Montana Tech vs. Carroll such a unique rivalry?
Few people are as familiarized as Green with the excitement, anticipation and ensuing pandemonium that is a clash between Orediggers and Fighting Saints.
And though his career took him through the high schools ranks, Division II programs and the Big Sky Conference, Green said no other rivalry he experienced was as intense as that between Tech and Carroll.
“The old coaching saying that ‘every game is important’ is absolutely true,” said Green. “But when you have a rivalry like the one between Tech and Carroll, it really adds to it. Both teams, both schools are really into it. It’s always a great contest and it’s always hard-fought.”
It’s a great rivalry. Tech and Caroll have been playing each other for a long time. They played each other for a long time before I got here and long after I’m gone they’ll continue playing each other.”
Throughout his decades-long career with the ‘Diggers, Green’s teams compiled a 140-116-1 record and made five trips to the NAIA playoffs. The 1996 team became the first from the Frontier Conference to play for an NAIA national championship.
Green noted that the intensity of the clashes between the ‘Diggers and Saints was generated from respect between two Frontier powerhouses who rotated in taking shots at the Frontier title and making runs through the playoffs.
“Quite honestly, Carroll was always hard to beat,” Green said. “They were a very good team and we always bumped heads with them.
I coached against Coach (Bob) Petrino and against Coach Van Diest. They both did a great job. Football means a lot to Carroll and football means a lot to Montana Tech. The fact that they were good and the fact that we’ve been good certainly contributed. We’ve both been successful.”
The memories that come to Green's mind when looking back at his battles against Carroll run a full gamut from the exhilarating to the painful.
"We played them in the playoffs and in the conference championship and we tied with them," said Green, trying to summarize his dozens of contests against the Saints. "Points allowed, various tie-breakers. You remember ones you won, and some of them you should have won, some heartbreaking losses, overtime games. They all stick out."
Green also acknowledged that — while there was always something special about games against Carroll — the other teams in the conference also produced some strong rivalries.
“Every game in the Frontier is tough,” Green said. “We had some epic struggles with Western, Rocky, Northern and now with the advent of the Oregon schools. Truly the Frontier Conference is the apex of the football in the NAIA.”
Football's evolution under Green
Green’s arrival at Montana Tech spurred needed change within its football team, a program that had averaged less than two wins a season in the 78 years preceding him assuming command.
Throughout his tenure he also witnessed college football evolve as player safety became a growing area of focus.
“Obviously the game itself has changed and the college game has really changed,” said Green. “We narrowed the hash marks. We changed the rules of blocking--where offensive line can extend its arms. We minimized how you can hit receivers. The offense really took the forefront of those changes.”
He pointed out that those changes were for the better and ultimately resulted in a more exciting game.
Green also saw schools across the board undergo a paradigm shift as college football became a focal point and programs engaged in an arms race to build better stadiums and reinvigorate their programs.
“I saw the college game evolve to where everybody wants to be good,” said Green, whose overall 40-year coaching career made stops at four colleges and two high schools. “Today all schools want to have good facilities and good coaches. I think those things have contributed to a very interesting and very passionate game that we continue to see.”
Tech was swept up in this trend of strengthening its football program, and Green oversaw many of those changes through the years; from a renovated press box, to an improved scoreboard, to the addition of a jumbo tron, to the installation of an artificial surface field which Green pointed out is not only safer and cheaper to maintain but aids in the recruiting effort.
“And grass doesn’t grow very well here at 6,000 feet,” he quipped.
Green said he’s honored that the field is titled “Bob Green Field at Alumni Colisem” but also stressed that he’d prefer it hold another name: “Players Field.”
“When I was coaching, I didn’t have a lot of things figured out but I did know one thing — it’s players that win games,” he reasoned.
The Frontier Conference also matured and transformed during his time with Tech.
“When I first came here in 1987, Montana Western had dropped its program for a year,” he said. “But for smaller universities, college football is absolutely important because it contributes to enrollment. Western saw that dropping football caused a decrease in enrollment so by 1988 football was back.
“As the seasons went on, Northern reinvigorated its program. We grew, adding Eastern Oregon and Southern Oregon as a full-time member. And for a while we had Dickinson State.”
Green: After football
Green loved coaching, but he’s been just as enthusiastic as a fan for the past seven seasons since hanging up his whistle.
“It’s a different feeling, and I always want the 'Diggers to win real badly, but I love to watch from the stadium,” he said. “I haven’t missed an Oredigger game, home or away, since I retired."
He's as boisterous from the stands as he was from the sidelines.
"I admit it, I’m loud," he said with a grin. "I think some people enjoy sitting with me and getting a coaches' perspective on the game. And then I think some people just want me to be quiet.”
Now working for the Montana Tech foundation, traveling to Oredigger road games gives him a chance to connect with Montana Tech grads now spread across the Frontier Conference map.
Green required only two words to summarize his emotions for Saturday's rematch between Montana Tech and Carroll.