When Bruce Parker was introduced last week as Rocky Mountain College’s new athletic director, he looked out in the large crowd at the press conference and made note of all the Battlin’ Bear coaches in attendance.
“These people are looking for greatness, and I hope I can bring that to people,” he said. “I hope I can take us to the next level, and be a power not just in the Frontier (Conference), but nationwide.”
The 57-year-old Parker, who grew up on Parkhill Drive in Billings and spent the past 11 years as the AD at Carroll College, is going to work for Rocky later this month after putting together a resume full of “greatness” with the rival Fighting Saints in Helena.
“It’s definitely a confidence-booster,” Rocky men’s basketball coach Bill Dreikosen said of Parker’s hiring. “He’s somebody who knows what it takes in the Frontier Conference, at the national level and knows the hard work that has to be put in to be successful at a small, private college.”
Carroll captured five of its six NAIA national championships in football on Parker’s watch, while the school also doubled the number of sports it offered and swelled the ranks of its student-athletes.
“Obviously I think it’s a great move by our school,” said Wes Keller, who is the women’s basketball coach at Rocky. “Bruce has a great track record. He’s done a lot of good things at Carroll College. I’m excited to see where he can take Rocky Mountain College.”
Rocky volleyball coach Laurie Kelly referred to Parker as a “great professional who cares for student-athletes. I trust that he’s going to be nothing but good for the coaches and the school.”
The personable, well-connected Parker, whose responsibilities as AD will include fundraising and marketing, certainly doesn’t see his new school as being a tough sell as it seeks to boost its profile.
“I really believe Rocky is right on the cusp of doing great things,” he said.
In returning home to Billings, where Parker graduated from high school and college, he will not have to start from scratch with the Bears in tackling his latest challenge.
Rocky won the Frontier’s Bandy Memorial All-Sports Award last year — ending Carroll’s four-year reign — and sent teams or individuals to 13 national championship events.
“I’ve been here for 20 years now and Rocky has been a great place,” said Dreikosen. “But every place wants to continue to improve and get better and stay ahead of the curve. I look forward with Bruce as an athletic director to continue on with that mindset.”
“I think what Bruce is going to bring in is that consistency so that we stay on top,” said Randy Northrop, who is Rocky’s director of golf. “He’s done that obviously with Carroll football and many other programs at Carroll.”
With coach Mike Van Diest on the sideline, Carroll compiled a 139-14 record in football during Parker’s time on campus. Besides the national titles, the Saints also won 10 Frontier crowns and set records for attendance at home games.
“In our sport of football he comes from a place that’s done it at the highest level multiple times,” said Rocky football coach Brian Armstrong. “He knows what it takes to do that. I look forward to visiting with him and seeing what we can do to continue to climb in that direction.”
During his press conference, Parker talked about aiming for a 100 percent graduation rate for athletes, instilling a winning attitude, tapping into businesses related to the Bakken oil boom for financial support and “getting people fired up about Rocky Mountain College.
“Everybody can get better, and we’re going to work at that right away,” he said.
While a lot of people have said they were surprised by Parker’s move to Rocky, Kelly wasn’t one of them.
“We do it every day in a lot of jobs,” she said. “We wake up and say ‘wow, wouldn’t it be nice to challenge myself by doing something else.’”
Kelly did it by going from coaching high school volleyball for 30 years to joining the collegiate ranks in 2005 at Miles Community College.
“It’s sometimes refreshing to go somewhere and see what you can do to help programs and kids,” she said. “So I’m not surprised at all.”
Parker, who has nearly 35 years of involvement in athletics at Montana State and Carroll, said one of his immediate priorities is to build a “great relationship” with the Rocky coaches.
“I told them when we had the interview process that I have an open-door policy,” Parker said. “If coaches disagree with me, I invited them to come in and talk about it. I might not change my mind, but there is a chance of that.”
“The big thing is that I know he listens to coaches,” Northrop said. “I know that because he cornered me here about six years ago and asked me what he could do to get the Carroll College golf program to where it needed to be.
“I gave him a few examples, and before I knew it they were beating us.”
No doubt about it, Parker was a very familiar figure at Carroll’s sporting events — home and away — over the years. The Rocky coaches were asked if it would be strange seeing him on the Bears’ sidelines this fall.
“I think it will be a lot stranger for those guys (at Carroll) to look across and see him wearing green,” Armstrong said.
“I’m sure I will do a double take the first time I see him with the big Battlin’ Bear on his shirt or hat,” said Keller.
“People say ‘how are you going to feel when you play the purple?’” Parker noted at his press conference. “I said ‘I want to win.’ I hope I got that across to the coaches: I’m a Rocky Mountain College Bear now.”