Flathead High School’s defensive coordinator is moving up to the big chair.
Matt Upham, the choreographer of the Braves defense for the past four seasons, has been selected as Flathead’s new head football coach, the school announced on Tuesday. His hiring will not become official until the school board approves it.
Flathead Activities Director Bryce Wilson was part of a five-member interview committee that spoke with three finalists, all assistant coaches under former coach Kyle Samson, and he introduced Upham to Braves players at a Tuesday morning meeting.
“When we brought everybody to the auditorium, nobody knew,” Wilson said. “And when I announced it to the kids there was a standing ovation.”
The 28-year-old Upham was recruited to Flathead in 2015 by Samson, and moved to Kalispell one year after graduating from Carroll College when a math teaching position opened at the high school. Upham impressed Samson enough during offseason workouts to earn the defensive coordinator position the following year, and he never relinquished that job, running the Braves’ defense while Samson — now the offensive coordinator at Montana Tech — led the offense.
“He kind of let me take it over and run with it,” Upham said of his former boss. “The early part of the week we were all heavily involved with game plans, and as the weeks went on I was able to prove myself and he let me take over the whole defensive reins.”
Upham and Samson are both Helena natives, and the two coaches first met when Upham, as a middle schooler, watched Samson star as Helena Capital’s quarterback. They are both the sons of football coaches and both grew up in football-centric households. Upham was later recruited by Samson to play quarterback at Montana State-Northern before ultimately ending up at Carroll as a safety.
“I love (football), I love everything about it,” Upham said. “I love all the lessons it teaches, I love the strategies and I love how much work goes into a win. As soon as I got my first taste of coaching I got addicted to it. I can’t let it go.”
The other two finalists for the job were also Flathead assistants — Alex Cummings and Travis Dean — and both Wilson and Upham hope both men will remain part of the program next year.
“One of the things throughout the process is I wanted all of them to remain in the program,” Wilson said. “I know there’s only one ‘yes’ but there’s more than one person that is going to make a program. And we view all three of them as quality guys.”
“I was able to meet with both of those guys when we found out and make sure that we’re all on the same page,” Upham said. “Ultimately what it all comes down to is that we support each other … I wouldn’t trade those guys for the world.”
Upham joined the Flathead staff in Samson’s second season and helped the Braves to three playoff appearances in four years. His vision for the program moving forward mirrors much of what Samson had already established, at least in part because Upham was part of building that program in the first place.
“The nice thing is I’m not a new guy coming in,” Upham said. “A lot of the stuff that we did to build the culture up here and create that positivity around the program is stuff that I helped put in. We did a lot of it together. (Samson) set a great blueprint that I don’t think we need to stray a lot from.”
Upham played for recently retired Carroll coach Mike Van Deist, one of the men he credits most for his development as a coach. Upham’s father, Greg, was himself a longtime coach and school administrator in Helena, and was hired as the superintendent of Billings Public Schools in 2018.