Sunday Conversation: Danny Sprinkle using past tenures as Montana State head coach

BOZEMAN — On April 4, 2019 former Montana State standout Danny Sprinkle was hired as the 23rd head men’s basketball coach in Bobcats history. Sprinkle had an assistant coaching tenure that lasted almost 20 years before landing the head coach job with the Bobcats.

Before entering the coaching ranks, Sprinkle was a two-time all-state basketball selection at Helena High School. He then had a Hall of Fame career at Montana State from 1995-99. He played in 29 games as a freshman during the 1995-96 season, averaging 9.8 points per game. He erupted for 30 points in the Bobcats’ 81-70 win over Weber State in the Big Sky Conference championship on his way to tournament MVP honors. Sprinkle helped lead Montana State to the 1996 NCAA Tournament, the Bobcats’ last appearance in the Big Dance.

He now returns to Bozeman as a coach for the second time, having served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for former MSU head coach Brad Huse from 2006-08. Sprinkle also had stops at Cal State Northridge and Cal State Fullerton.

MTN Sports’ Brooke Leonard sat down with the former Bobcat to talk about his time in the blue and gold, recruiting, culture, and the future.

MTN Sports: Walk me through your career at Montana State, in college.

Danny Sprinkle: “The basketball? Obviously I came as a freshman, came into a loaded situation. They already had it rolling, the seniors, Scott Hatler, Adam Leachman, Mike Elliott, Quadre Lollis, and obviously some really other good players, too. So I really stepped into a situation, which was phenomenal for me, because I didn’t know I was ready, so I just came in and had been hurt my senior year so I wasn’t expecting to play. I was going to redshirt. Come October, coach (Mick) Durham called me aside and said, ‘You know, guys don’t want you to redshirt and I don’t want you to redshirt.’ Thank God he did and obviously it was a special year, going to the NCAA Tournament that year. Just being able to — oh, yeah, Nico Harrison, too, can’t forget him, probably one of the most important. Those guys, they taught me so much, just as a freshman. I still remember Nico taking me to Perkins to eat, just me and him and talking. And little things like that, you know, made a huge impact on me and the way I was the rest of my career. Just playing that year and winning the championship and obviously going to the NCAA Tournament, it gave you confidence. It gave you a confidence and something to strive for for the next three years and to really press, and obviously we didn’t get back there, we got close a couple times, but overall it was awesome.”

MTN Sports: In the hiring process, did you feel any pressure after you got hired, as well, that you were on the team that was the last team to make it to the NCAA Tournament? And now you’re coaching at a school where your rival makes it just about every year. So is there pressure behind that?

Sprinkle: “Oh, no question, no question. But that’s why you’re in athletics. There’s a ton of pressure from all the fans, everybody is expecting things to change and that’s our job is to make it change. But nobody puts more pressure on me than myself. I mean, I know what my standard is and, I mean, I know I’m going to work as hard as I can every day, I know I’m going to be able to sleep at night because I’ve done everything I’ve possibly been able to do for our players and our program. No question there’s pressure. There’s going to be pressure on our team, there’s going to be pressure from administration, you know, everything. That’s why they made the change.”

MTN Sports: What has your coaching experience been like since graduating from college, all the stops you made, a long time in California, back in Montana? What has that whole experience spoke to you to get you here?

Sprinkle: “I think everything happens for a reason and obviously I went to California to develop, to get out of my comfort zone. You know, obviously L.A. is a hotbed, southern California is a hotbed for basketball. But just to meet different people. I would never have the connections that I do now if I would have stayed here the whole time. It was really good for me to grow and just get away from everything, family, you have to get on your own. The people I worked for from coach (Bobby) Braswell to Dedrique Taylor or Brad Huse, I’ve learned something and taken something — how they ran their program and the cultures they developed and I’m going to take that into my own program.”

MTN Sports: What’s been the favorite program you’ve worked at?

Sprinkle: “Oh, you’re going to get me in trouble. I can’t … obviously Montana State, so I’d have to stick with that one, but, yeah, I’d get in trouble. Fullerton and Northridge, I have so much love for those people there. They both did so much for me, coach Braswell, coach Taylor, just the administration. The former players, if I said Fullerton, the players at Northridge would be mad, and if I said Northridge, the players at Fullerton would be mad. But they’ve all made a huge impact on me and imprint on me and my career.”

MTN Sports: So since you can’t say your favorite, how about we pick up on, what do you think you’ve learned from each program? What is something different?

Sprinkle: “At Northridge I learned how to really develop culture. Coach Braswell, it’s the hardest job in the league or was when we were there. It’s different now. But it was low resource, it was just staff and the players. That’s what it was. We had a huge chip on our shoulder, we were always the underdog, I liked that. Then at Fullerton, very similar. It’s not the top job in the league, there’s other people that have better facilities and more money to recruit and things like that. You know, you develop that chip on your shoulder, but you also learn how to work without much. You know, it doesn’t matter if you’re at Hawaii, Long Beach State, or at Northridge or Fullerton, everybody is trying to get to the tournament, so even if they do have more money or you have a better facility, it doesn’t matter, you have to find a way to get it done.”

MTN Sports: Who do you think has influenced you the most — whether it was coaches, mentors, players — since you’ve graduated in your coaching career?

Sprinkle: “Obviously my dad. My mom and my dad, different ways. My mom obviously not so much athletically, but my dad obviously because he was a football coach. Then coach Braswell and coach Taylor, just like how much they took pride in developing me. You know, a lot of coaches, they just expect their assistants to work for them, but they worked to help me get better, too. I would see it daily. Even when you thought they were being hard on you, after a week or two you’re like, ‘Oh, now I see why he was doing that. He was doing that because he wants and expects me to be great.’ So I’d say those two, you know, in the coaching profession, coach Taylor and coach Braswell.”

MTN Sports: When you were an assistant, what was your favorite branch of being an assistant coach? Whether it was recruiting or operations, what do you think was the best part about your assistant coaching?

Sprinkle: “Probably recruiting. I was the recruiting coordinator at Northridge and Fullerton. I like traveling different places, you meet different people, get different connections, you see different kids from different areas. It’s amazing how different kids are: You can go from New York to Florida to Texas, L.A., every kid, they’re different. From all the different countries or even overseas, too. Probably recruiting, I think you just get out and experience different things.”

MTN Sports: What kind of kids do you like to recruit?

Sprinkle: “I like to recruit skilled kids, skilled kids that want to be here. Kids that are good in the classroom, kids where basketball is important to them, like, they want to play professionally some day. I want them to have those aspirations, I want them to have the aspirations of getting a degree, playing professionally when they’re done here. I want guys who want to be a great teammate. You know, most importantly, I want unselfish guys that, yeah, I want you to get to the highest level, but I want you to do it the right way.”

MTN Sports: Do you think you recruit kids who are like you?

Sprinkle: “I hope so, because basketball is important to me. I was a gym rat, that was my life growing up, football, basketball. I came from an athletic family where it was always there. My dad was the football coach, so you’re always at games or practices and things like that. I took an enormous amount of pride being from Montana State. I still remember when I was going to school here, you probably couldn’t pick a day when I didn’t have a Montana State basketball shirt on. Whether you’re out in the community, you’re always trying to enhance the brand and I want our players to do that similarly.”

MTN Sports: OK, you said that your goal was to be a head coach by 30 …

Sprinkle: “Yep, didn’t quite happen.”

MTN Sports: What do you think about the timing now?

Sprinkle: “It’s actually perfect, because when you look back on it I know I wasn’t ready at 30. You know, even though I probably thought I was at the time, I wasn’t. Just the experiences I’ve had since then, I would have never gone to Cal State Fullerton and worked for coach Taylor. I would have never been at the NCAA Tournament the second time when we went at Cal State Northridge against Memphis. Things like that happened. After I turned 30 were all the different connections I have more recruiting-wise. I never recruited internationally until I was over 30, which I plan on doing a lot more of. Things like that and just, you know, sometimes in your life it happens at the right time, and I’m a firm believer in that. I just know it’s the right time.”

MTN Sports: So what kind of head coach do you want to be?

Sprinkle: “I want to be a guy that is similar to the guys that I worked for where the players, they’re not scared to come in the office. Come in the office, you know, there’s nothing to be scared of. Come tell me what your problems are, whether it’s on the court or off the court. If you’re having a problem in the dorms or you don’t think you’re eating enough, I want to know. I want to know what I can do to help you get that. I want to have that relationship with the guys that, you know, a lot of head coaches don’t. Because it is a different chair, and I’m sure I’m going to have to adjust to that, where the guys, they’re not coming to your office all the time now anymore. You’re kind of that authoritative figure, but I still want the guys to be comfortable and I want them on the court to feel the same way and play free.”

MTN Sports: Was the goal to always get back home or was it just a head coaching opportunity, and a great one at that?

Sprinkle: “It was just to get a head coaching opportunity, I didn’t care where it was. I would have preferred it to be here because of my roots here, but I was just looking for any head coaching opportunity. There’s only 352 of them in the Division I level, so it’s super competitive and it’s hard to get your foot in. There’s some great coaches who have never been a head coach, never gotten the opportunity, so that’s something I don’t take lightly.”

MTN Sports: The emotions when you were introduced as the head coach, I’ve never seen as much emotion as you had. Walk me through what was going through your head.

Sprinkle: “It is hard when you’re looking right at everybody and you’re seeing your parents, your sister, all of her little kids, my nieces, my nephews, then you see my two best friends from growing up, they went to school here. You see your dad. You see all of the Bobcat fans, they didn’t have to come there on a Friday afternoon. There’s better stuff to do than come see me. But they showed up. That just shows the support, and I hope our players showed that, I want them to have that some day, too, those connections with the community and the fans here. I think it’s a special place and there’s not a lot of places like Bozeman where it’s just a complete college town. You’re going to be remembered forever, whether you do something good or do something bad, and you have to make sure you’re making the right choices along the way.”

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