Editor's note: When a child grows up right next to the bench, it's hard not to pass down the love of coaching. For Steve Keller, that love of coaching has translated into two sons following in his coaching footsteps-and all three of them coach in the Frontier Conference.
By Wally Feldt, Director of Media Relations, Frontier Conference
(From left to right: Josh, Steve and Wes Keller)
Steve Keller, University of Montana-Western head men's basketball coach, has had his share of success during more than 30 years of coaching, but not much could match what happened on two nights in Dillon, Mont., this fall when he watched his two sons coach against each other.
Oldest son Wes Keller, associate men's basketball coach and head junior varsity coach at Rocky Mountain College (Mont.), took the court versus youngest son Josh Keller, assistant men's basketball coach and head junior varsity coach at Montana Western.
"It was a proud moment for me," Steve Keller said. "Watching my two sons coach, I tried to be real neutral."
It couldn't have turned out better for Steve. Each son notched a win and each notched a loss as Rocky Mountain College won, 79-62, the first night, and Montana Western won, 58-53, the second night.
"I knew both wanted to win, and I was happy they got the split," the eldest Keller said.
Those games in Dillon were the culmination of a long journey-for father and sons.
Both sons played for their dad at Helena High School where both earned first team all-state honors. During those years, each pair of the Kellers had two distinct relationships-that of father-son and that of player-coach. Sometimes it was a challenge.
"I'm glad I got to do it," Steve Keller noted. "I know I probably wasn't easy on them. I can't say that I consciously went into a game saying that I was going to be harder on my own kids, but I probably was."
Wes Keller was recruited out of high school by Miles Community College, also in Montana. He played there for two years and then transferred to Montana Western. Josh Keller went directly to Montana Western. Both were first team all-conference selections during their collegiate careers at Montana Western, where they were coached by Mark Durham, not Steve Keller.
"It was very nice when they got to college because I got to be a dad," Keller said. "When you are a coach you can't be a dad. Although I wouldn't change anything, any coach who coaches his own kid will tell you that it is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do."
Wes, the first of the two sons to enter the world of coaching, knew coaching was something he was interested in doing from a very young age.
"From the age of four on, Wes would sit directly behind or at the end the bench of every game I coached," Steve Keller said.
"That's where I learned to tie my shoe," Wes noted. "I remember roaring up and yelling 'Hey Dad, I just tied my shoe by myself!' As I got older I knew that is where I wanted to be, I wanted to be around him all the time-at practice, at the games. I was hooked on basketball; that was my love, my passion and I got the chance to spend time with my dad. I got to share something that we both loved."
After his playing career, Wes took a year off from school before returning to Montana Western to complete his social science degree and work as a student assistant under Mark Durham. After graduation, he was an assistant at Miles Community College for two seasons. He left coaching to work for a friend who had just opened up a new business in Great Falls.
"I worked there for a year and a half and made good money," Wes said. "But, something was lacking in my life. I needed something to feed my competitive fire. Coach Neary from Miles (Community College) called and told me that an assistant's job at Rocky was open."
Wes called Rocky Mountain College head coach Bill Dreikosen and set up an interview. That was seven years ago. During that time, Rocky Mountain College made a bit of history in the Frontier Conference when it won the NAIA Men's Division I national championship in 2009, the first Frontier Conference men's program to capture a national title.
"Wes is a very good coach," Steve Keller said. "One of the hardest games for me since I have been at Western is to play Rocky. Wes knows everything we do (here at Montana Western), and they are always well prepared. He is hungry to be a head coach and he is going to be a very good head coach when someone gives him a chance."
Josh Keller's path to coaching had few more twists and turns.
"When he was younger during my games, Josh would run around because he saw no sense in watching a game he wasn't playing in," Steve Keller remembered. "But, there was no doubt Josh would be a good coach. He was a coach on the floor from the fourth grade on. He knows and understands the game, has a great demeanor , and is a lot more calm than either Wes or me."
"When I was younger, I loved basketball and spent most of my younger years in a gym," Josh recalled. "As I got older, I developed interests in the outdoors with hunting and fishing. I married into a family that is really an outdoorsy family. My business and my recreation both revolved around the outdoors."
Josh Keller earned a business degree from Montana Western and for the past few years has been working with his father-in-law. He found success there, but his love of basketball and his desire to spend more time with his family was a major reason for a change in career. Josh is now pursuing a second degree, this one in education.
"I thought about what I could do to maximize my time with my children," Josh said. "That's where teaching comes into play and having the same days off as them, the summers off with them. The coaching thing is not just me motivated to go back into coaching. It's a decision I've made to benefit my family. I kind of thought growing up that it was a hard life to be a coach's kid. But I realize now that it is a pretty good life. There are a lot more positives than negatives."
Josh is on track to complete his secondary education degree in business in two years.
"I'm very proud of both of them," Steve said. "They have good families, they are good fathers and that is more important than anything else."
The common denominator of the three Kellers when it comes to a coaching philosophy is using basketball as a tool to teach student-athletes how to succeed in the game of life. No matter what you do, or what business you get into, you can't succeed without teamwork.
Steve Keller's oldest daughter, Shandi, may top both Wes and Josh when it comes to competitive nature — and she's armed with multi-million dollar equipment. Shandi is a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who went straight from high school into the Army.
"Josh and Wes are very competitive, but not nearly as much as Shandi," Steve said. "She is the most competitive of all. She always wants to win."
She's about to finish up her military service, so schools in the Frontier Conference may want to pay attention. Shandi — who never played for Steve but who clearly also inherited his love for basketball — was a standout basketball player at C.M. Russell High School in Great Falls, Mont., and at Sandpoint High School in Sandpoint, Idaho, prior to her military service.