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On Nov. 17, two of the most successful football coaches in Montana history walked off the field for the last time.

Terry Thomas of Dillon and Scott King of Malta have decided to retire as the head football coaches of their respective programs after 20-plus seasons on the job.

“Even the thought of (not coaching) is a very interesting concept,” Thomas said. “Because having played football ever since I was little all the way through college and then coaching, it’s been a very important part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s going to be different.”

King echoed those sentiments.

“I’m sure it’s going to be difficult,” King said of watching games from the stands instead of the sidelines. “There are clearly things that I’m going to miss about coaching.”

The 53-year-old King and 54-year-old Thomas took similar paths on their storied careers, which resulted in 216 career wins for King and 211 for Thomas.

King spent four years at Harlem before joining the coaching staff in Malta, where he spent another four seasons as an assistant before taking over the head job in 1989.

Since becoming the head coach, the Mustangs have reached the playoffs 24 consecutive seasons and won state championships in 1996, 2000, and 2006, while racking up a record of 206 wins and 48 losses.

“When you’re in coaching, you don’t really set out to win 200 games or this many state championships,” King said of the records. “You set out to be a person who can have influence on the lives of young people. The wins and championships become a byproduct of those associations.”

Assistant coach Tad Schye has been on King’s staff since the beginning, and King said he deserves credit for the Mustangs’ success.

“We’ve had a great association with a lot of good men,” King said. “A lot of our success I can attribute to him.

“Tom Schumacher started in the very beginning and was with us for 19 years. But he had coached Mustang football even before that.

“Shawn Bleth, Nick Oxarart, and Delmer Henry are our current guys. Chad Sealey, Russell McCarvell … many numerous coaches that have come through our program that have all had an impact on the success.”

Thomas’ career started with four years at Wolf Point, followed by one season as an assistant coach at Fergus High School in Lewistown. In 1986, he began his tenure as the head coach at Beaverhead County High School in Dillon.

The Beavers reached the playoffs 17 times under Thomas’ guidance and won state championships in 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2011. The Beavers have gone 189-65 over that span. Like King, Thomas was quick to give the rest of his coaching staff credit.

“The coaching staff has been with me forever,” said Thomas, who will continue coaching the boys basketball team. “They’ve been such a tremendous part of my life with their friendships and their loyalty. Just the experiences that I’ve had with them over the years – as well as the players you grow to love as you work with them to the time that they go on to do their own things.”

Rick Nordahl, Brett Carver, Steve Vezina, Gary Ferris, Rex Whitworth, Jim Myers, Josh Keltz, and Brock Myllymaki make up the coaching staff, and Thomas said all of them – with the exception of Keltz – have been on the staff for more than 10 years. Thomas also thanked superintendent Fred Chouinard and athletic director Gary Haverfield for giving his staff “the opportunity to keep pursing excellence.”

That excellence earned both coaches respect throughout the football community for their actions both on and off the field.

Colstrip athletic director and former football coach Mark Ator coached with Thomas and King during various all-star games, knows both men well, and says they’ll be missed in Montana football circles.

“Those are two hall-of-famers and even better people,” Ator said. “They’re as good as I’ve ever seen. They’re just good coaches.”

Said King: “I’ve had a wonderful experience as the head football coach at Malta High School. I’ve always operated under the assumption that we as school leaders are in the business of providing to your students the opportunity to collect positive memories of their time in high school. That’s my hope for our athletes after they come out of Mustang football.

“What’s happened is in return my memory vault is just overflowing with great opportunities, great experiences, great memories of the hundreds of players and dozens of coaches who have come through our program. I’ve been a pretty lucky guy.”

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Online sports editor for The Billings Gazette.