Don Schillinger says coaching “turned out to be a pretty good career choice.”
The century is young, but that looks like an early candidate for understatement of the century.
Schillinger announced last week that he is stepping down as the football coach in Baker, where he spent the final 29 seasons of a remarkable 37-year coaching career.
“It’s been a good run,” said the always-modest Schillinger, who was in Billings on Saturday to watch the Rocky Mountain College-MSU Northern football game. “I’ve been thinking about this for a year or so … I actually probably made up my mind last summer but I didn’t make the final decision until this past week.
“It just seems like the right time to do it. I’ve enjoyed it for so long and I still enjoy it, but it just seemed like the right time to step aside.”
With a career record of 318-53, Schillinger is a living legend in Montana high school sports.
His 318 wins — 262 at Baker and 56 at Ekalaka, where he began his coaching career from 1974-81 — ranks second in state history, just one behind Great Falls CMR coach Jack Johnson’s 319.
Schillinger’s Baker teams won Class B state championships in 1986, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2007.
The six state titles are only the tip of the iceberg for Schillinger’s amazing numbers. Here are a few more:
• In 37 seasons, he never had a losing season, won 27 conference championships and qualified for the playoffs 31 times.
• Of his 318 wins, 99 of them — a stunning 31 percent — were by shutout.
• Baker had a string of 37 straight road wins — a Montana state record — from 1995 to 2003.
• Baker had a string of 62 consecutive conference wins in District 3B games that ended in this year’s regular-season finale against Colstrip. It was the Spartans’ first conference loss since October of 1997.
While he’ll look back fondly at the wins and the championships, Schillinger said the biggest highlights of his career are the relationships he forged.
“The communication with the kids and my assistant coaches is what I’ll really miss,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know so many kids and made so many friends over a long period of time.
“The state championships are special, obviously. But I’ll miss the relationships with the players and fellow coaches the most.”
One of those players and fellow coaches is Pete Stanton. The 1984 Baker grad, who’s currently an assistant football coach and the head track coach at Dickinson State, N.D., said Schillinger’s success on the football field was no accident.
“One of the things that made Don so successful was his preparation,” said Stanton, whose brothers Jim (Billings Central), Dan (Miles City) and Rob (Billings West) all played for Schillinger and followed him into the coaching ranks. “He always had his teams ready to play and his teams executed so well.
“Another thing was his consistency. Don always did things the right way and had an excellent staff for so many years that were great coaches as well. He adapted his schemes over the years. If it was third down and two, he was still going to call a sweep no matter who was playing, but he adjusted his offense perfectly for the different players that he had over 37 years.”
Another of Schillinger’s former players, current Atlanta Falcons defensive back Shann Schillinger, said he’ll always remember his uncle’s ability to get the most out of his players.
“We didn’t always have the biggest or the fastest players in Baker, but Don always got everything he could get out of his kids,” said Shann, a 2005 Baker grad and former University of Montana standout. “He was always able to make every player productive.
“Don has always been such a great influence on the kids that he coached. The kids respect him so much and you can see that in how hard they played for him.”
Schillinger, a 1965 Circle High School grad (he helped the Wildcats to the 1965 State B basketball championship), arrived in Baker in 1982 after posting a 56-8 record in a eight years as the football coach in Ekalaka.
Prior to being hired in Ekalaka, Schillinger attended Carroll College (where he played basketball and football) and the University of Montana. His stint at UM was interrupted by two years of Army service in Korea (1969-70).
Schillinger, 62, said he plans to stay on as the superintendent in Baker for another four or five years. He added that he feels comfortable with stepping down now because he’s leaving the program on solid ground.
“We just had two seniors this year and we’ve got pretty good numbers in the classes coming up,” he said. “That was a big factor for me ... knowing that the team will be competitive for at least the next few years.”
Shann Schillinger said he’ll always remember his final day as a Spartan football player.
“I remember getting on the bus (in Fort Benton) after we won the state championship my senior year,” he said. “As I was getting on the bus Don took me aside and told me how great it was to watch me grow and mature as a player and that he was proud that he was able to be my coach.
“That is something I will never forget.”