It may not be his first home, or even his second, but Kelly Darragh is exactly where he wants to be.
Darragh, a Butte native and Great Falls CMR graduate, was named the new boys basketball coach at Billings West in an announcement made Thursday by School District 2 activities director Mark Wahl.
It’ll be Darragh’s first head coaching job. He has spent the past 10 seasons as an assistant at West under Doug Robison, who resigned earlier this spring following the State AA basketball tournament.
“This is the only head coaching job I’ve ever considered being a part of,” Darragh said. “This is the only place I wanted to be since the first day I arrived. The minute I came here, I was just drawn into it.”
After playing college basketball at Carroll College, Darragh spent some time in California following his graduation in 2000. Upon deciding to return to Montana, Darragh was able to land a teaching job in Billings. After a one-year stint coaching at Riverside, Robison asked Darragh to join the staff at West and he’s been there ever since.
“I remember calling my mom that first year and saying, ‘I think we’re going to be pretty good,’ ” Darragh said. “We went down to Miles City that year for our first game and lost and I’m like, ‘Wow.’ I had no clue what I was talking about.
“But we wound up going to state that year and immediately I knew Billings West was a special place. I never felt like I wanted to leave here.”
Not only will Darragh try to replace a Montana coaching legend – Robison won 355 games and three state championships in two stints covering 20 seasons – but he’ll also take over a team that has high expectations.
The Bears finished 14-6 last season and won the Eastern AA regular-season title. They reached the semifinals and finished in fourth place at the state tournament, and return a large contingent of key players. Count Darragh as one of those who thinks his team should be playing beyond the semis next season.
“That’s what I love about West, the expectations are always high,” he said. “But I don’t think anybody else’s expectations are going to be higher than my own.”
Darragh said Robison hinted that he might step down following the state tournament. Until that moment, Darragh said, he had never given much thought to being a head coach. But Darragh said he’s ready for the role, and he’s ready for the challenge a program like West presents.
“I always thought the world of Doug, and even when you’re on the opposing team playing against him, you’re thinking that’s the type of coach you’d like to play for,” said Darragh, who has a six-month old son, Dennehy, with his wife, Rachelle. “I don’t think I could have picked a better person to work with or under. He’s just so much more than a coach. He affects so many people in different ways. I knew, if Doug was going to give this up, that it was something I wanted to go after.”