MISSOULA, Mont. - The incoming Montana softball program is getting closer to finding a head coach. The search has been narrowed down to three finalists, all three candidates were in Missoula this past week to interview and meet with the public.
One of the three finalists is Tom Gray, an assistant coach at Oklahoma State. Gray recently completed his fifth season there. During Gray's tenure at Stillwater the Cowgirls have advanced to three NCAA tournaments.
In 2011 Oklahoma State advanced to the Women's College World Series and finished the season with a No. 8 national ranking. Prior to arriving at Oklahoma State, Gray coached at Illinois-Chicago for seven seasons, winning four Horizon League regular season titles and advancing to the NCAA tournament twice.
Monday a forum was held on campus for the public to meet the potential Grizzly coach. Gray says it would be an honor to lead the Montana softball team in their inaugural season.
"This is a phenomenal opportunity," said Gray. "How often do you get to start something from the ground floor? I would be extremely honored to be able to do that I can't imagine a better situation at all than being the first person in the door."
On Tuesday, Mike Smith had his turn to interview and meet with the public. Smith, who has a career record of 708-209, just finished his second season as head coach at McNeese State.
In just his third game at McNeese State, he coached the Cowgirls to a 3-1 upset of defending national champion and preseason No. 1 Arizona State.
McNeese went 34-21 in 2012, then improved to 38-15 last spring, which matched a program record for single-season wins.
Smith was named the Southland Conference Coach of the Year after leading the Cowgirls to a 19-5 league record and the program's first outright conference title since 1983.
Smith says it has been one of his dreams to start up a D-1 softball team.
"Just being able to create our legacy, to be able to create something special. To see it in the eyes of these girls when you win the first game in school history, when you hit the first home run in school history, when we win the first Big Sky Conference championship in history, that's something that you can't take away from these players," said Smith. "Being able to do the first of everything is something pretty exciting."
Smith added that it would be exciting to be a part of history if he were to be chosen as the coach of the Montana softball team.
"I do a thing with my players right now where I have them do history of the numbers that they've worn before them," said smith. "Now I can tell our players that they are the start of history they're the start of legacy they get to be the first ones in the record books on the different things that happen over the year and I think that's pretty exciting."
On Wednesday the 3rd finalist Jamie Pinkerton had his chance to interview and meet with the public. Pinkerton has spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach at Iowa State. Before that he was a head coach at Arkansas and even led the Razorbacks to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances.
Pinkerton has held numerous college coaching positions but says he's excited for Montana to finally have a Division One program.
"The only D-1 program putting in a sport, there has to be a great deal of excitement and that was another reason that I was intrigued," said Pinkerton. "I have coaching friends that are from Missoula and they have told me that there's a great thirst for softball in the area."
The University of Montana hopes to name the Grizzly head coach by the end of the month.