“I’m coming home.”
O’Brien Byrd, a former national coach of the year who led the Whitefish Bulldogs soccer team to four state championships and nine conference titles, has stepped down to take over the boys soccer program at his alma mater, Columbia Falls High School.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for years and years,” the Columbia Falls native told the Beacon earlier this week.
The school board approved the hire Monday night.
“We are very excited to have O’Brien on board,” Columbia Falls activities director Troy Bowman said.
Byrd will replace Peter Browne, who resigned this winter after 14 seasons as head coach of the Wildcats.
Byrd played at Columbia Falls High School from 1992-1995 and served as an assistant coach on the Wildcats’ varsity team in 1999 and was also head coach of the junior-varsity squad.
Since taking over the Whitefish program in 2003, Byrd developed one of the most successful teams in the state for any classification. In 12 seasons under Byrd, the Bulldogs were 121-32-15 with four Class A state titles (2006, 2007, 2011 and 2012). The team rode a 43-game undefeated streak between 2006-08.
Byrd was named the top high school soccer coach in the nation in January 2013 following the Bulldogs undefeated state championship season. Byrd earned the Division II National Coach of the Year award at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Convention in Indianapolis.
Last season the boys claimed another Northern A conference championship and advanced to the semifinal round of the Class A playoffs, where the team lost 3-0 to Belgrade.
He will try to rebuild a Columbia Falls program that went 2-10 last season.
“I will never forget my experience and the amazing people I worked with over at Whitefish, and the students and the administration and the community,” he said. “They’ve been just incredibly supportive and they’ve always treated me wonderfully. Without that experience, I would never be the coach I am today.”
Byrd expressed gratitude to all of the current and former players at Whitefish who helped build the tradition of excellence.
“It was a team effort,” he said. “I’m leaving Whitefish High School but I’m proud to say that I’m leaving it in a good condition, where a good coach can come in and have immediate success. The organization, the facility, the tradition, it’s all there. I feel really good about it.”
Byrd said he will remain president of the Flathead Rapids and work to grow the youth program in Columbia Falls.
“I’m ready to put some time in and help this community flourish with exciting sports programs at young ages and inject some new energy and new ideas into the community,” he said.
“This job opening is a dream come true.”
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