Jamie Stevens has proven he can construct a successful junior college basketball program from scratch.
Now he has a much more difficult task.
To re-build an NCAA Division II men's basketball program and re-energize a fan base that has slowly drifted away in recent years.
The 35-year-old Stevens was introduced Thursday afternoon as the new men's basketball coach at Montana State Billings.
Stevens, a former standout point guard and member of the school's Hall of Fame, becomes the 13th head coach in the 83-year history of the program. He is also the first alum to lead the program. Stevens has both his bachelor's and master's degrees from MSUB.
"Not many guys who play at a school get an opportunity to come back and coach at their alma mater,'' said Stevens, addressing a full conference room that included friends, former teammates, family and the current players.
Always organized as a player, Stevens showed the same skill as a head coach, reading from prepared remarks that thanked everybody from the administration, to family and former coaches for his new job.
"This is home for us,'' he added. "I met my wife (Sarah) 15 ½ years ago here. We have family in this state. I'm excited to get started. And it's an even bigger honor to be given this task."
Stevens inherits a team that finished 8-18 this past season and used a late-season surge to earn the final qualifying spot in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament. Stevens replaces George Pfeifer who was released from his contract following the season. Pfeifer coached the Yellowjackets for three years.
"There is nothing we can do about the past,'' Stevens said. "I don't think this program is in such dire straits as many people say. Our main focus is building this program every day. And the only way to do that is with hard work."
MSUB athletic director Gary Gray said the school had 154 applicants for the job, including some from overseas. There were eight phone interviews conducted and Stevens was the only candidate to have an on-campus interview. Stevens met with the search committee on Tuesday and the players on Wednesday. He also attended the Yellowjacket baseball game at Dehler Park on Wednesday afternoon.
"We only had seven on the search committee this time, so we were able to move quickly,'' said Gray. The previous search committee that hired Pfeifer had 22 members. "I'm really excited Jamie has accepted our offer to lead Yellowjacket basketball into the future. He has a great sense of the program's history. He knows our league and region very well.
"Jamie is a great fit for our program and philosophy."
Prior to becoming the head coach at MSUB, Stevens was the head coach at Central Wyoming College in Riverton, Wyo. He built the program after it came back to CWC after a 17-year absence. Stevens was 53-39 at CWC with three consecutive winning seasons. CWC was 17-15 this past year.
Stevens also spent six years as an assistant coach at Colorado School of Mines for Pryor Orser. It was Orser, also a former standout Yellowjacket point guard, who recruited Stevens from Grants Pass, Ore., to MSUB in 1994.
As a player (1994-99), Stevens helped the Yellowjackets reach the NCAA Division II national tournament twice, including the Sweet 16 in 1997. He is the program's career leader for assists (805) and steals (167) and holds the single-game assists record with 16 in a win over Concordia, Ore., in 1996.
Stevens said he will spend this week evaluating the roster and having individual meetings with returning players. He will also do some recruiting as the NCAA national letter-of-intent signing day is next week.
"I'm kind of at an advantage because past coaches have been hired later in the year,'' Stevens said. "We have to recruit players willing to buy into what we want to do. It can be done with good people who are willing to work hard.
"I'm a former Yellowjacket, this is my home. This program has done a lot for me. It's my time to pay it back."