MCCULLERS COLUMN: Thompson has built — and maintained — a dynasty

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There’s only one thing in sports harder to obtain than success — consistent success.

Many a coach has enjoyed a series of triumphs that seems, at the time, like it could precede more of the same, only for the elusive, euphoric feeling that accompanies winning to prove fleeting.

What separates those coaches from the few who turn their first taste of success into something more lasting is the ability to overcome the inevitable obstacles that emerge in the building of a dynasty.

Injuries, strife within the locker room, the departures of star players and valuable assistants. The list goes on.

Jeff Thompson is one of those few.

The seasoned Flathead wrestling head coach, now with six state team championships to his name, has proven over two stints as the Braves’ head coach his ability to not only build a program worthy of the “dynasty” label, but to maintain it.

After taking over the Flathead wrestling program in 2000, Thompson guided the Braves to their first state title in 31 years and was named National Coach of the Year in 2004.

He went on to lead three consecutive state championship teams from 2006-08, the last of which was ranked in the top 10 nationally, contained 10 state finalists and five state champions and racked up a state-record 410 points at the state tournament.

Thompson stepped away from the program at its peak in 2008 to spend more time with his wife and young children, but Flathead’s success continued — even without him at the helm — thanks to wrestlers he’d played a large role in developing.

The first stint alone, though an abbreviated one, would have solidified Thompson as the greatest wrestling coach in Flathead history and placed him among the state’s best ever.

But Thompson returned for another go before the 2016-17 season, and he’s already managed to replicate the immense success he, his staff and Flathead so enjoyed in the late 2000s with two state championships in as many seasons, the latest coming last weekend in Billings.

As an Alabama native who grew up an Auburn fan, I watched (with misery) as Nick Saban transformed the Crimson Tide from a perennially .500 team to one that considers anything less than a championship a disappointment.

He — and other legendary coaches like him — has always fascinated me.

What makes one man stand out so clearly from his peers in such a hyper-competitive field?

An undying work ethic, a dissatisfaction with second place, talented athletes and the ability to manage personalities, among many other characteristics.

If there’s anything his six championships have taught us, it’s that Thompson has them all.

Evan McCullers is a sports reporter and columnist for the Daily Inter Lake. He can be contacted by phone at (406) 758-4463 or by email at emccullers@dailyinterlake.com.

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