David Reeves will be coming back for a sixth season as head football coach at Rocky Mountain College.
And with his contract being extended for another year, his coaching stint will now become the second-longest at the school since Rocky started playing football in 1949.
Only Frank Mathew, who directed the Battlin' Bears from 1949 to 1967, will have prowled the sidelines longer.
That's an interesting statistic, but the 42-year-old Reeves doesn't want longevity to be his legacy. His hope is to revitalize the program.
"We've got some things that we still want to get done," he said this week. "We're getting better. Those last few weeks of the season I think showed which direction we are heading in."
Rocky closed out a 4-7 campaign with back-to-back victories over Eastern Oregon and Montana Western.
"The kids are extremely excited right now," Reeves said. "Two good wins going into the off-season sure helps weightlifting and everything else you're trying to get done."
There's still something missing, though.
"I want that winning season. I think everything does. Not just for me, but for everybody," Reeves said. "This is a place that can have a successful football program. We're close. We're right there on the edge."
That's saying something, considering Rocky has been a gridiron graveyard over the years. The Battlin' Bears haven't had a winning season in football since 1999 - and just 11 since 1949.
Reeves has compiled a 12-43 record in his five years at Rocky. But eight of those wins have come in the past two seasons.
He appreciates that the school has stuck by him.
"Obviously, I think they want more, and that's a good thing," Reeves said. "I think if people were satisfied, that wouldn't be a good thing. We're driving for more, and we want other people to expect more.
"When expectations keep going up, progress has to follow that at some point."
Rocky has gone 1-10, 1-10, 2-9, 4-7 and 4-7 under Reeves, but it showed improvement and was competitive in most of its games this fall. One highlight was beating Montana Tech for the first time since 1999, ending a 16-game losing streak to the Orediggers.
The Battlin' Bears also finished with the top quarterback (Kasey Peters) and wide receiver (Bryce Burton) in the Frontier Conference statistics, and both are juniors. Rocky was second in the NAIA in passing offense, averaging 323 yards per game.
"If you take the last two years, they're both 4-7 years, but they're totally different 4-7 years," Reeves said. "I think we were happy with the first 4-7. If you take this year's 4-7, I think it was frustrating at times."
The Battlin' Bears opened the season with a solid 34-19 win at Dickinson (N.D.) State, but it also lost three games by seven points or fewer before closing out with two victories.
"You look at Dickinson this year and they're in the playoffs," Reeves said. "I thought we did a good job with them in the first game. But they went on and won four or five games by seven points or less. That's most of their (seven) wins, and there's the difference right there. … They got it done in the close games toward the end of the year."
That's a path Rocky would like to follow in 2009. The Battlin' Bears lost just two starters on offense and have some promising returnees and redshirts stashed away on defense.
"I think we learned with this group of kids coming back when to give them a pat on the back and when to kick them in the butt," Reeves said. "Every kid is different in how they respond to that. We know what kind of emotion we need to bring to the games. There are a lot of things we learn as we go through this."
Besides staying on top of the X's and O's and recruiting, part of resurrecting Rocky football also has to do with attitude, Reeves said.
"They don't have a big winning tradition here," he said. "You have to change the culture so when people think of Rocky they think of winning football. That's not an easy thing to do, but we'll keep banging at it until we do get that changed.
"Cultures can be changed," Reeves added. "Look at Montana, look at Rutgers. They're not overnight sensations. There's a long list of other schools out there. Things can happen, but sometimes they take longer than you want."
Reeves came to Rocky from Utah State University and is a former University of Montana assistant coach and player. He said a few weeks ago that he wants to remain as coach of the Battlin' Bears forever.
"It's a job that I love, and I'm just trying to do it the best that I can," he said.
And he is not alone.
"Everyone always points to the head coach, but these assistants put as much - if not more - time in than anybody," Reeves said. He has two full-time assistants in Brian Armstrong and B.J. Robertson, plus a handful of dedicated part-time coaches.
"I think sometimes they don't get recognition for all the hard work that goes on here," he said. "One guy cannot do this."
Reeves said the Rocky administration also is committed to enhancing the program.
"They're making changes with how scholarships are set up and other things," he said. "They're trying to help change the culture as well. At a small college, a football program has such huge numbers and, obviously, that's big for enrollment, big for an alumni base and big for the school.
"Our goal is to get Rocky where we believe it should be. It's the same with all the kids, same with everyone on this campus. I think we're all in this together. You have to be."
Contact Bill Bighaus at email@example.com or 657-1394.