Sports

Samson’s Next Step

Flathead's football coach is heading back to college after returning the Braves to prominence

Kyle Samson’s five-year rebuilding project is over.

The exuberant now-former Flathead High School teacher and head football coach left his position last week to become the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Montana Tech.

Samson took over a Braves program that had gone just 23-50 in the seven seasons prior to his arrival and brought his team to the brink of a Class AA state championship in the fall, completing a remarkable turnaround that included three playoff appearances in five years and reestablished Flathead as one of the top programs in Montana.

“I think I’ve left this program in a better spot than when I took it,” Samson said. “But that makes it hard, too.”

Effusive and relentlessly positive, Samson built his program with a mantra of “Flathead family” and was deeply devoted to Braves football, like when he was telling his players he loved them in a perpetually hoarse voice or, on more than one occasion, injuring himself while celebrating a big play. But it was that commitment and buy-in, Samson said, that made it more difficult to leave and chase his lifelong dream of becoming a head coach at the college level.

“It was very hard to leave here with everything we’ve accomplished,” he said. “I felt like I had two good things: I had a great job here and it felt like a great job (at Montana Tech).”

Samson came to Kalispell in 2014 as a 29-year-old with no high school coaching experience after spending the previous seven seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Montana State-Northern. What Samson lacked in experience, however, he made up for in energy and passion, two of the traits that would go on to define his tenure with the Braves.

“We’ve preached as long as I’ve been here that we want relationships (between coaches and their student-athletes),” Bryce Wilson, Flathead’s activities director, said. “But I think he took it to a whole new level. He not only preached Flathead family but he told his coaches, ‘If you’re a position coach and you’re not getting an invitation to (your player)’s graduation, you need to do better.’”

Wilson began his tenure as activities director in 2011, and his role in Samson’s hiring remains probably the most significant move of his career. No sport in the Flathead Valley draws more attention than football, and perhaps no school, simply because of its 115-year history, garners more interest than Flathead. In bringing Samson aboard, Wilson got both a tone-setter for the rest of the coaches under his purview and a fast friend.

“Just getting to know him and having a chance to be a part of the success that he’s brought … has been enriching for me,” Wilson said. “I know the first year we talked every day for an hour. It might be about football and it might be about family. We have a relationship where we talked about everything and I’ll miss that.”

Kyle Samson pumps up the crowd at a Flathead High School pep rally on Nov. 15, 2018. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Samson’s impact on the athletic department did not stop with the football program either. He coached strength and conditioning, and was instrumental in reshaping the way Braves and Bravettes trained in the offseason. He was eager to share his coaching philosophy, too, regularly consulting with the other young Flathead coaches as Wilson made a number of new hires in the past five years. One needs to look no further than this past fall, when Flathead teams across the board — boys and girls soccer, golf, volleyball and cross country — all had strong years.

“All of our programs are having a lot of success and I think that’s a lot tied to (Samson)’s ability to be positive and help mentor other coaches, so it’s not just me talking to them,” Wilson said. “I would say that he has had a direct impact on all of our activities.”

Samson hopes his influence on the football program extends to next fall, as well. He was not shy recommending that one of his assistant coaches earn Flathead’s top job in 2019.

“I’ve been very honest and up front with my administration,” Samson said. “There’s definitely guys who can take over for me and do a great job, and that helps me with this move. I would never want to leave this program where I didn’t feel comfortable with the coaches here. I would love to see an internal hire, and I think our staff would do a great job with that.”

No timeline has been set for hiring Samson’s replacement, but Wilson did not disagree with his former coach’s assessment of the staff still in place.

“You always look for the best coach and the best fit, and I think there are some candidates internally that would fit that bill,” Wilson said.

Samson leaves Flathead with a 27-27 career record, including a 15-8 mark the last two years. He took the Braves to the Class AA state championship game in 2018, snapping an 18-year drought, although his team came up eight yards short of bringing home Flathead’s first title since 1970, losing 20-14 at Billings West.

“I really appreciate the opportunity that (the administration) gave me, taking a chance on a young guy,” Samson said. “I’m really proud of what we’ve done and I’m excited for the future of Flathead … It’s been an absolute honor to be the coach here and something I’ll never forget.”

andy@flatheadbeacon.com

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