Parker returns home to be Rocky's athletic director

2014-06-24T19:00:00Z 2014-06-25T00:23:06Z Parker returns home to be Rocky's athletic directorBy BILL BIGHAUS bbighaus@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Bruce Parker once described his job as athletic director at Carroll College as the "greatest job ever."

While being introduced Tuesday morning as the new athletic director at Rocky Mountain College, Parker said he was confident he would find the same level of joy and success while being in charge of the Battlin' Bears' athletic program.

"The big time is where you're at," Parker said during a press conference in front of a large gathering in the Fortin Center's Hall of Fame Room. "I think I'm at the big time now. I'm a Battlin' Bear, and this is going to be the greatest job."

The 57-year-old Parker, who grew up in Billings, has spent the past 11 years as the athletic director at Frontier Conference rival Carroll, which has one of the most successful athletic programs in the nation.

He will be replacing Robert Beers, who retired in late March after a little more than five years as Rocky's AD.

"This is an exciting day for Rocky Mountain College," school president Bob Wilmouth said in introducing Parker. "Mr. Parker fits exactly the direction we want to go here at this college for the future. We couldn't be more pleased."

Wilmouth, who offered Parker the job late last week after tracking him down at Hilands Golf Club, presented him with gifts, including a Rocky cap, following Tuesday's press conference.

Besides presenting a new challenge, Parker said that accepting the AD job at Rocky was also "an opportunity to come home" for him and his wife, Lisa, who was sitting in the front row and whose parents still live in Billings.

Parker's late brother, Jim, and sister, Colleen, are also graduates of Rocky and competed in athletics at the NAIA school. 

"This is really a dream come true for me," the Billings Senior and Eastern Montana College (now MSUB) graduate said. "It's a little bittersweet because I wasn't looking for a job when this came up. I just felt that this was a great place for Lisa and I to be.

"The coaches that are here are outstanding. That was No. 1 for me. I think you have to have a great coaching staff, and Rocky does. We always worried about playing Rocky when I was wearing the purple up in Helena."

In choosing to make his move to Rocky, Parker also said he feels comfortable with Wilmouth's agenda and vision for the college.

"I just didn't want to come and kind of fade away," he said. "I want to be at a school that wants to be good, that wants to be aggressive, that wants to bring more students in and wants to be more competitive in the athletic field." 

Parker, who has served as AD at Carroll since July 2003, played a key role in the Helena school more than doubling the sports it offered, and also doubling the amount of student-athletes on campus.

At Rocky, where fundraising will be one of his priorities, Parker said he will also look to add new sports and upgrade facilities.

"I do want to say that athletics is not the most important thing on campus, graduation is, academics is," he said. "But I feel that athletics can be the front porch, the window to the institution.

"If we can be successful in what we're doing, people are going to see more of Rocky Mountain College."

At Carroll, the Fighting Saints also captured five of their six national football championships under Parker's reign.

"It was a little bit funny that the first question people asked me was 'Why would you leave Carroll to come to Rocky?'" Parker said. "I finally said, 'don't sell yourself short. This is a great place.' "

Rocky won the Bandy Memorial All-Sports Award in 2013-14, ending Carroll's four-year run as the Frontier's most successful athletic program.

"I changed because you guys won the Bandy. That's why I'm here," Parker said, drawing laughter from the crowd. "I want to be at the No. 1 school in the conference."

There has been plenty of speculation recently that Carroll is considering leaving the NAIA and the Frontier Conference and moving up to the NCAA Division II level and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

Parker had been  involved in the preliminary discussions.

He said Tuesday that Carroll's interest in NCAA Division II status did play a part in his decision to seek the Rocky AD job.

Parker said he was initially "humbled and excited" when the GNAC first approached Carroll. He also said he liked the idea of partnering up with Montana State Billings.

"That was intriguing," Parker said. "The one thing that scared me was the loss of great rivalries, which the Frontier Conference has."

In choosing to remain a part of those rivalries, Parker also decided that there's no place like home.

"I'm a Rocky Mountain College Bear now," he said. "Maybe I will try to dig out my brother's old letterman's jacket and wear it around campus and hang out a little bit."

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