This fall O’Brien Byrd will be spending a few more hours a day at the soccer fields at Columbia Falls High School.
Byrd, a Columbia Falls alumnus and former national coach of the year, is the new head coach of the high school girls soccer program. Byrd will tackle double duties and continue as head coach of the boys program, which advanced to the Class A state semifinals last season.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” he said.
The school board approved Byrd’s hire on Feb. 13.
Byrd is taking over for Greg Trenerry, who retired in December after 20 years as head coach. Under Trenerry, the Wildkats were 174-78-26, qualified for the Class A playoffs 16 times and won six of the last eight Northern A conference titles. The team won the state championship in 2004 and placed second in 2014, 2012 and 2001. Last year’s squad finished 7-5-1 overall.
“O’Brien’s coaching career and credentials say it all. The man is a great coach, mentor, and community leader. He has daughters that are coming up through the ranks very soon and he lives and breathes soccer,” Columbia Falls Activities Director Troy Bowman said. “CFHS is blessed to have O’Brien coaching in our district and we could not conceive of a finer person to take the reigns from Coach Greg Trenerry.”
Trenerry, who volunteered as a youth coach for several years before taking over the girls program, is credited with spearheading and promoting the growth of soccer in Columbia Falls.
“He’s really responsible, along with a couple others, for the birth of soccer in Columbia Falls,” Byrd said of Trenerry.
Trenerry had a specific impact on Byrd’s life, too.
When Byrd was a 10-year-old developing a passion for soccer, Trenerry would pick up the young boy and drive him to practice and games, along with other kids in the Canyon.
“My first soccer coach was Greg. If it wasn’t for him, I would have probably fallen off the soccer planet at a very early age because my parents could not take time off work to get me to soccer practices and games,” Byrd said.
Now Byrd has the honor of following in his former coach’s footsteps, and he hopes to achieve similar success with the girls program.
“I have big shoes to fill. I’m replacing a very successful coach, but we’re taking it in a different direction. It’s not any better or worse,” Byrd said. “I hope to fill those big shoes he left.”
Byrd said the logistics work out in a way that he can coach both programs with the help of his strong staff of assistant coaches and co-workers along with the ability to take time off from work when it’s necessary.
“I’m fortunate that I own my own business (O’Brien’s Liquor and Wine). My staff is exceptional and I can step away and totally detach myself from that and completely immerse myself in something like this,” he said.
The boys and girls teams already travel together for games and practice next to each other during the fall season.
“I’m excited that this will push me to be a better coach,” he said.
Byrd, a 1995 Columbia Falls graduate who enjoyed a successful run as head coach of the boys program at Whitefish from 2003 to 2014, was named the top high school soccer coach in the nation in January 2013 following the Bulldogs’ undefeated state championship season. He took over the Columbia Falls boys program in 2015. Last year’s squad went 11-1-1, won the Northern A conference title for the first time in 11 years and advanced to the state semifinals. New stadium lights were installed last year at the high school soccer field, and grandstands are being constructed this spring.
Though uncommon, Columbia Falls has previous experience with double-duty coaches. Cary Finberg led both the boys and girls basketball teams from 2011 to 2015.