Note: Les Meyer of Fairfield is one of the winningest high school football coaches in Montana and led the Eagles last month to the program’s third Class B state championship since 2011. Also the Fairfield superintendent, he has also guided the Eagles to five runner-up finishes in Class B and in his 22 seasons as head coach has compiled an overall record of 172-57. Meyer’s oldest son, Tucker, is an assistant football coach at Rocky Mountain and his other son, Ryder, on Wednesday signed a letter-of-intent with the University of Montana program. Meyer, 48, was in his office working early Thursday morning, which is where Scott Mansch caught up with him for our Sunday Conversation.
Q: Congratulations on Ryder signing with the Griz, Les.
A: Thank you. It’s quite the honor. His Mom (Jolyn) and I, we’re excited, but it’s still a long ways off.
Q: It must be a fantastic feeling that your sons are doing well and love football the way that you do.
A: Yes. People ask me about the boys and that they must have been forced to play football, and joke about it, but I tell them their Mom and I never put any pressure on them. They could choose offense or defense (laughs). But really, we never pushed it on them. It was just something they were going to do from Day One. It’s nice to see them go off and be successful in something they chose to do. You could argue that that’s all they know, and maybe it is, but it was never something that we pushed on them. Once they got into it we said, ‘OK, if you’re going to do it, get in the weight room and do things the right way.’ It’s nice to see them go out into the world and find something they enjoy and are passionate about. I guess we’re fortunate that their interests kind of align with ours. It would be fine if they didn’t, but they do. So, that’s the way we feel about it.
Q: With the coaching change at Rocky Mountain (Chris Stutzriem has been named head coach after Jason Petrino resigned to become defensive coordinator at FCS Southern Illinois), do you know if Tucker will remain on the Bears’ staff?
A: He’s been offered a position there, yes.
Q: That’s good news then.
A: Yes. Tucker has a couple other irons in the fire. He’ll probably see how the new year progresses and will go to the national coaches convention, do some national development and just see how things play out.
Q: What are your expectations for Ryder next year? I suppose a redshirt season? I know he played quarterback and defensive back for you this season. What position will he be playing for Grizzly coach Bobby Hauck?
A: They have him at safety on the defensive side of the ball. Initially they had him as an “athlete” (on the roster). He probably got recognized in the summer camps more as a wide receiver, but I think he’s always seen himself more as a defensive player and we’ve always thought of him more as a defensive player. I’d imagine he will start at safety and probably end there, although you never know. They move people where they need him and where they can find the most success. Coming from a Class B program and needing to learn the ropes a little bit, I would assume he will probably redshirt and try to make his way on the field as a special-teamer as his career begins to unfold.
Q: I’m sure you think all your teams are special. What will you remember the most about this 2018 team (Fairfield finished 12-0, defeating Missoula Loyola 30-13 for the state championship).
A: (laughs) Yes, each year and each team is unique. I guess for the 2018 team it would be along the lines of the fact these guys were always attacking and never really flinched. In the end of it all, we were built and lived by the big play. With our skill positions. You know the (basketball) expression ‘Live by the 3 and die by the 3?’ Well, we were able to stay alive.
Q: You sure were, Les. There were 12 talented seniors on the Fairfield team this season. Will a few of them besides Ryder go on to play college football?
A: I’m not sure. I think there will be some opportunities for a couple of them, if they want. It’s something a couple of them are still entertaining. And a couple are saying ‘No, my career’s complete and I just want to be done.’ A few are weighing to see if the college game is something they really want to do.
Q: Talking about careers, Les, you’re not going to retire from coaching are you? I’ve heard some rumors from up on the Hi-Line that coach Meyer and all of his assistant coaches are going to step down.
A: (laughs) It’s kind of amazing. We’ve been told the same thing. Lots of times (laughs). Evidently people want us fired right away. (laughs) So I don’t know what’s going on there. You never know when looking into the future. All of us are probably closer to the end than to the beginning, so I understand how those rumors start. Ryder’s done and going somewhere else and we have another son down the road coaching, but none of us has said we’re done.
Q: Good deal.
A: (laughs) But yes, we’ve heard that lots of times, too. You know, I wouldn’t blame any of (his assistants) if they stepped down. (RJ Rogers’) middle daughter is graduating, too. She’s in Ryder’s class. And his wife’s coaching volleyball and he has a younger one who’s going to be playing basketball and volleyball. He’s been coaching a long time so I would certainly understand. And Chuck (Brown) has put in lots of years. He just had foot surgery, so he’s been out of school for the last couple of weeks. So I understand where all (the rumors) have come from. And maybe they will, but I think everybody is just trying to soak in the moment and reflect on what was a good season and get through the holidays and go on from there.
Q: The bottom line is you’re still planning to coach, is that right, Les?
A: Yes. Yes.
Q: Both RJ and Chuck have been with you a long time, correct?
A: Yes. This is my 22nd year, and Chuck has been there for 21 and RJ has been there 19. Chuck is our offensive and defensive line coach, and video coordinator, and RJ is our linebackers and wide receivers coach, and defensive coordinator. RJ is from Malta and Chuck is originally from Great Falls High.
Q: I know you’ve told me in the past that you have a high regard for your assistants and they help you substantially.
A: Yes, there’s no question about it. If you can maintain continuity throughout the program, it’s a good thing. We’re fortunate here to have three of them on the staff and in the school. That doesn’t happen everywhere in Class B. We’ve just been fortunate to have that kind of continuity.
Q: What about next season? Will you have another strong team? I know Keeley Bake is a pretty special athlete who will return.
A: Well, what I’m going to tell people is that we lost everybody and it will be a rebuilding year. So we’ll see. But yes, we’ve got a few kids back. Of our linemen, our left tackle is back, our right tackle is back, and we have a sophomore who played both guard and tackle and started some games. And we have another sophomore who was pushing for (playing) time by the end of the year. Up front; that’s where it starts. If you can get those guys going then you have a chance. And having Keeley back would be a boon for any program.
Q: Who are some of those linemen who return?
A: Conor Klick and Thomas Troy both started at tackle for us this year. Colter Bouma (a sophomore) had a lot of reps and actually started at guard in the quarterfinal game (against Manhattan) and also the semifinal game (against Bigfork). Hunter Anderson is another sophomore who was pushing for time. As the JV season went along it was apparent that he improved.
Q: There’s no more Allens, though? (Dawson was a star senior football player this season; older brothers Slade, Landon and Chandler Allen were also fine athletes who played football at Fairfield).
A: There are more Allens, but they’re young (laughs). I think next year there will be another Schenk on the team.
Q: OK. Another last name I’m very familiar with, Coach.
A: That’s right (laughs).
Q: Well Les, can you even remember back to when you were finishing second every year? Lately you’ve been doing nothing but finishing first. (The Eagles were State B runners-up in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Fairfield won state championships in 2011, 2015 and 2018).
A: I tell people we’ve lost a lot of last games, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in that. But at the same time you’ve got to be able to reflect back and find the successes within a season. You know, whether you lose a semifinal or a quarterfinal or the championship, we’ve lost last games more than we’ve won (laughs).
Q: Well, lately you haven’t been losing any championship games. I mean, that 2011 team has to be awfully special for you, when you defeated Malta (53-13) for the title and finally got over the hump.
A: Yes. That’s one thing we’ll probably never forget as coaches. Getting the monkey off the back, I guess. There was no time in that game that we ever relaxed. We were just trying to run the ball (late in the game) and we got into a formation we hadn’t been in, put Chad Barrett in the pistol and ran speed option – the only time we’ve been in that formation and ran that play – and he scored on a 60 or 70-yard touchdown, it was at that point in time that we thought ‘This might happen and we might actually win.’ (laughs)
Q: That had to be a good night at the Meyer household.
A: Yes. There was lots of people there. And I’ll never forget it. My defensive coordinator (during his playing career at Rocky Mountain College) Tom Hauck - we always called him Big T - and he somehow got a hold of our number and called that night. (laughs) It’s funny how you remember certain things from nights like that.
Q: Tom is Bobby’s uncle, right Les?
A: Yes. He left Rocky and was defensive line coach under Bobby for several years with the Grizzlies.
Q: Then I bet your 2015 team (which defeated Huntley Project 27-13 for the title, avenging championship game losses to the Red Devils in both 2008 and 2009) is special in your memory, too. If there’s one word that describes that season, it has to be ‘redemption.’ Isn’t that correct, Les?
A: Les. One thing I remember from that team is it was a pretty mean and competitive group. And a pretty loose group. You know, we went down (13-0) at half and by the time we got into the locker room I think the players had made all the adjustments themselves. (laughs) We didn’t say too much. We’d had one of our players get injured, so we had to get organized. And then, we didn’t score on our first drive of the second half. But we got the ball back and scored, and that got us rolling pretty good.
Q: All three of those state championship teams were undefeated, right?
Q: Not too shabby, Coach. I imagine it’s going to be a Merry Christmas at your place this year, what with Tucker coaching in college and Ryder heading off to the Griz. I’m sure you don’t let these moments go by without being thankful.
A: That’s the big thing you need to do, is take a little time and reflect back and enjoy it. It seems like you play on Friday night and it’s awesome and then by the next afternoon your mind is working on the next opponent all the time. So it’s important to take a little time and reflect and enjoy the moment.
Q: How many other athletes from your program have played at the FCS level?
A: I think Bo Harris (who played at Montana) is the only one who went on to the Cats or Griz. Bo had a very promising to the start of his career, then he got injured and had a hard time putting on weight. It just became something that was going to be difficult to overcome.
Q: There were other Fairfield guys back in the day who played for the Cats or Griz, isn’t that true?
A: Lynn Schenk and John Kinna played for the Cats, yes.
Q: I know, Les, that Fairfield is below the enrollment threshold for Class B and could in fact play Class C football, and chooses not to. I’m wondering why that is.
A: That’s right. That’s a pretty good question. I think in some ways people just assume that’s where we’re going to play (in Class B). There’s some truth to that. At the same time, people don’t necessarily like change, but change does happen. So we’ve just elected, from a school and community standpoint, to stay where we are. You can never project the future, you know, and we’ve said it lots of times: Class B is in a challenging situation. There are lots of ideas and possible solutions – nobody really likes those ideas and solutions but change is inevitable. So …
Q: I guess it’s not wise for any of us to look too far ahead.
A: Yes. Two years out, you look to make sure you have numbers and be able to field a team. It doesn’t have to be one that’s winning it all the time, but if you can be competitive and players can be safe and things of that nature – we’re in a league and an area that we’re familiar with and the community likes it, and we’ve been able to do it. I guess that’s one of the reasons why Fairfield has elected to stay.
Q: Do people treat you differently after a win rather than a loss? What would you say about being the football coach in that community?
A: We’ve been very, very fortunate to have the opportunities that we have in Fairfield. From a personal standpoint and a professional standpoint. At the end of it all, each of us in our family are just members of the community. You know, people congratulate us and wish us well, but at the same time I guess I hope they feel that we’re just one of them. Just members of the same great community.
Q: Thank you, Les. Merry Christmas.
A: Thanks very much, Scott. And the same to you.
Scott Mansch’s Sunday Conversations appear frequently. He can be reached at 791-1481 or email@example.com