Competitive drive inspired football coach’s career path

Thursday, August 22, 2019
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Jamie Ausk Crisafulli photo

Red Devil football coach Ryan Buckley instructs player Nathan Gentry during a practice on Monday afternoon. Buckley has been a high school football coach for 15 seasons.

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Jamie Ausk Crisafulli photo

Coach Ryan Buckley, center, is a former Red Devil player who returned to his hometown to lead the Red Devil football team.

Meet the Coach

(Editor’s Note: With fall sports ramping up, we felt it was the perfect time to reintroduce our readers to the people who put in countless hours to prepare DCHS teams and athletes for sucess on and off the competition field. This is the first in a series about Red Devil fall coaches)

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The 2019 football season marks the eighth season of head coach Ryan Buckley’s tenure pacing the sidelines at Dawson County High School, his 11th year overall as a head football coach and his 15th year of coaching at the high school level, but if you think those years of experience make his job any easier, think again.

Every spring he says goodbye to a group of kids he spent four years molding and building productive relationships with and every fall he welcomes a new group of kids to start the process all over again. Thus is the life of a high school football coach.

“I’m not going to lie, it gets harder as I get older,” Buckley said.

Whatever the degree of difficulty, coaching high school football at all is a long way from where Buckley started out in college. He graduated from DCHS in 1996, where he spent two-and-a-half years as the Red Devils’ starting quarterback. But he was a two-sport star, and when he went to college it was actually baseball he ended up playing.

He began his college career playing baseball at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa, then moved back to play for Dawson Community College, then on to Dickinson State University playing ball for the Bluehawks before finishing his undergraduate degree at MSU-Billings.

One thing Buckley did not do in all that time in college was play football, at least not for long.

“I did some spring (football) when I was over in Dickinson that first year, but I figured out pretty quick that trying to do two sports and still do good in school wasn’t working for me, so I decided to go with baseball,” Buckley said.

Going into coaching as a career was also something that did not immediately occur to the young Buckley. He said he started out pursuing a degree in forestry and then “looked into optometry.” It wasn’t until the summer after his third year of college that the thought of becoming a coach entered his mind.

It started back home in Glendive when his former coaches Jim Person and Russ McCarvel asked him to help them with their summer football camp. With the two coaches he respected asking him and his younger brother playing for the Red Devils at the time, he decided to go down and give it a shot, and the result was a new career path being born.

“I just went down there to help out and I kind of enjoyed it, so when I went back to Dickinson in the fall, that’s when I went into teaching/coaching,” Buckley said. “That’s when I decided to move over and give it a shot.”

The other thing that motivated him to pursue coaching was his own innate competitive drive, which, with his college sports career winding down, he knew he would have to find a way to satisfy somehow.

“It was my last year of baseball, and I’m pretty competitive, so I thought how am I going to fill that competitive urge after this,” Buckley said.

Coaching provided that outlet, and 15 years later — with 16 years of teaching to boot — he’s still going. He said though he still very much “loves baseball,” his move over to coaching football had a lot to do with “scheduling,” meaning that baseball is a summer sport and Buckley was looking forward to having the summers off to spend with his family. There’s also the simple fact that the Montana High School Association does not sanction baseball, and therefore there are no high school baseball coaching jobs to be had in the state, so to football it was.

His first head coaching gig came at Park High School in Livingston, where he spent three years as head coach, taking the Rangers to their first playoff appearance in 30 years while there.

Then he came home to Glendive and DCHS, where two years ago he guided the Red Devils to their first playoff appearance — and playoff win — since he was taking snaps under center himself.

Ending those two long playoff droughts for those schools is his proudest onthe-field accomplishment to date.

“One of the things I guess I’m proud of is I took a team in Livingston and brought them to the playoffs for the first time in 30 years, then came over here and built it up and made the first playoffs in 20 years here,” Buckley said. “The outcomes of those two seasons were pretty cool.”

Any on-the-field success he may have is just icing on the cake, however, as Buckley said the thing he really loves about coaching and what keeps him coming back to it are the close relationships he builds up with the young men under his charge.

“The development of the relationships with our kids and our coaching staff (is what I love the most about coaching),” he said. “When you spend that much time with people you’re able to build relationships that you wouldn’t otherwise.”

With the number of years now he’s been in coaching, Buckley added that one of the things he really enjoys is when he runs into his former players, be it a chance meeting on the street or because they invited him to their wedding. Many of the young men he coached are now grown and have families of their own, and Buckley said any time he gets the chance to reconnect with his former players means a great deal to him.

“Those relationships that you’re able to develop and to keep, those are some pretty cool things,” he said.

Coaching, especially at the high school level, also comes with challenges, however. Buckley said when it comes to that, the greatest challenge he faces is the same every summer and fall — having to try to learn the personalities and commitment levels of a whole new crop of kids and figuring out how to best mold them and integrate them into the team in a way that will produce on-field success and off-field harmony.

“I think the biggest challenge is every year you have to figure out the personnel you’re going to have and the types of kids you’re going to have to deal with — trying to find out the level of commitment you have on the team and be able to mold that,” Buckley said. “That can be a challenge sometimes finding a way to make sure we get them all better.”

That’s a challenge that Buckley looks forward to taking on for many more years to come. Those challenges — and the challenge to build a sustained level of on-field success at DCHS — have not lessened his enthusiasm for and love of coaching, and he hopes to build many more lasting relationships with his players, and maybe win a few more playoff games along the way, before he’s ready to hang up his headset for good.

“I hope for a while yet,” Buckley said when asked how long he sees himself coaching. “I know we’ve got some great kids coming up and I look forward to working with them. I’d say it’ll be a while, at least as long as my wife says it’s OK.”

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