One of the giants of Montana high school basketball is stepping aside.
And that description would fit even if Doug Robison didn’t stand 6-foot-8.
The highly successful and very popular Robison is stepping aside after 20 seasons, 355 wins and three state championships as the boys basketball coach at Billings West. He made the tearful announcement Sunday night at the team's year-end banquet, and he was having no second thoughts on Monday.
“I’m at peace with my decision,” Robison said. “It’s the best time for me personally and professionally to do this. It’s time for a break … time for a change for me. I’m ready to have a little more free time and to spend more time with my wife. I just hope she’s ready for that.”
The 52-year-old Robison coached the Golden Bears for two separate 10-year stints, 1989-99 and 2004-14. In between, he was the West athletic director for five years.
The Golden Bears went to the State AA tournament 19 times in Robison’s 20 seasons — missing only his first season in 1989-90 — and won State AA championships in 2007, 2008 and 2012. Robison’s teams finished as the state runner-up six times, and he guided West to a state-record six consecutive State AA championship games from 2007-12, winning three of the six.
Robison, who will remain at West as a business teacher, leaves with a remarkable career record of 355-109.
The 355 wins ranks fourth all-time among Class AA boys coaches — trailing only John Cheek of Anaconda/Flathead (469), Swede Dahlberg of Butte (407) and Eric Hays of Missoula Hellgate (361) — and his .765 winning percentage ranks second all-time among Class AA boys coaches behind only Lou Rocheleau of Missoula Sentinel (.797).
As he always does, the modest Robison deflected credit to the players and coaches who helped him put up those numbers.
“I don’t think anything about what I did personally is remarkable,” he said. “I consider it an honor and a privilege to have been the coach here at West. I’m fortunate to be in the spot that I was, and fortunate to be blessed with outstanding players, parents and assistant coaches.”
Another of the eye-popping numbers for West under Robison is a 93-7 record in home games in his second 10-year stint (2004-14).
Billings Skyview owns two of those wins — coming in each of the past two seasons — and the significance is not lost on Falcons coach Toby Hill.
“Anytime you can get a win over one of Doug’s teams it feels pretty good. And especially at their gym … that home record is unbelievable,” said Hill. “Both years we’ve won at their place, they came right back and beat us at our place. So it’s not like we’ve had the upper hand … nobody has ever really been able to get the upper hand on Doug.
“He’s such a great coach and such a great person. I’ve learned a lot from Doug both in coaching against him and in conversations we’ve had. I’ve called him when I’ve had big program decisions to make, and he’s always been more than willing to help.”
Robison is a 1979 Billings Senior grad. He played two years of college basketball at Dawson Community College and two years at the College of Great Falls before beginning his coaching career at Geyser (four years) and Missoula Loyola (one year). He came to West in 1989.
As the radio voice of the Golden Bears since the 1993-94 season, Rocky Erickson has called nearly 300 of Robison’s victories — including all three state championship wins. Erickson said of all his great memories of Robison, two stand out the most.
“Doug got a technical foul this season at Billings Central — one of the few technicals he’s ever gotten,” said Erickson. “Before West’s next game, he came over and apologized to me for getting a technical … and he wanted me to know that he didn’t swear.
“The other thing that always stands out about Doug to me is that you see former players in his office before and after almost every game. Not every coach gets that. That tells me what kind of person he is and what he means to those players.”
Two of those former players are Robison's sons, Shane and Danny, who both played on state championship-winning teams in their senior season. Robison’s daughter, Shadra, played on three State AA championship teams with the West girls.
Brady Gustafson has known Doug Robison since he was 12 years old and a teammate of Danny’s on the Billings Regulators club baseball team.
“Doug is just a wonderful guy and an amazing coach,” said Gustafson, who’s now a quarterback for the University of Montana football team. “He was the same guy as my varsity basketball coach as he was when I just knew him as Danny’s dad.
“He knows the game so well and he’s so good at preparing and motivating his players. There’s no wasted time or effort in practice … every drill we did and everything we talked about in practice related directly to what we needed to do in games.”
District 2 athletic director Mark Wahl said the district will begin advertising the position within the next few days and hope to fill the position within the next few weeks.
“I want to thank Doug for all that he has done for West High basketball over the many years,” said Wahl, who coached the Skyview boys before Hill. “Doug has always led his teams with class and integrity. And along with all of the individual and team success he has experienced, he has always accomplished the most important goal of all, which is continuously playing a major role in the growth and development of all the young men who have played for him.”
To say that Robison leaves big shoes to fill is a huge understatement.
“I have no doubt that they will find a great coach and that West will continue to be a great program,” said Hill. “But it’s going to be tough to match what Doug has done. Winning 76 percent of his games and playing in nine state championship games in 20 seasons … that’s legendary stuff.
“Guys like Doug and Mike Cole (the former Bozeman coach who reached nine championship games in 21 seasons), they’re just in a different league than the rest of us. I’m glad to know Doug and glad that I’ve had an opportunity to learn from him.”