Missoula Loyola AD selected as head football coach

Bigfork Eagle | August 12, 2020 9:00 AM

For new Vikings head football coach Jim Benn, football is a lot more than just a game. The gridiron is an extension of the classroom, he said. It’s where he learned important life lessons, in addition to plays, from Frenchtown’s Hall of Fame Coach, Tim Racicot.

“Just the impact he had on my life and the lessons he taught beyond football made it a great experience,” Benn said.

And that’s exactly how Benn plans to lead the Vikings.

“The impact you want to make is — are these guys going to be good husbands, fathers? We’re going to talk about those things, what being a good human being is,” Benn said. “If you do the other things, that winning part takes care of itself.”

Benn comes to the Vikings with a decade of head coaching experience, including eight years as head coach at Ronan and two seasons at Malta. During his eight years at Ronan, his record was 34-38 and he went 11-7 in Malta. His coaching career started at an early age — Benn was just 19 when he began running the offense for Manhattan High School in what he called “a trial by fire.” But it was there that his passion for coaching took off as he learned through trial and error alongside another assistant coach. Most recently, Benn, a Frenchtown native, worked as the athletic director for Missoula Loyola, where they put up a quarterfinal finish for the 2019 season.

He relocated to Bigfork in June after accepting a teaching position at Bigfork Middle School to be closer to his family in Ronan. He was named head coach last week when Patrick Munson resigned from the position “for personal reasons” after a single season.

Benn said that although he’s moved a lot in recent years searching for the right balance for his family and career, he hopes to be in Bigfork for the long haul.

“My family’s really fallen in love with Bigfork,” he said. “As long as it’s fun, I could see myself doing this for a long time and obviously this is a beautiful place to live and teach and coach.”

His son Cormac, a senior, will also join the Vikings on the field.

For the 2020 season, Benn said he’ll be focusing on keeping his players in the present.

“We’re going to talk about the idea: We get to do this, because really, at any point, the world could stop again,” Benn said. “We only have today — we don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring. We’re going to focus on today and do the best we can with today, and if we get tomorrow, we’re going to do the same thing.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged most facets of daily life and high school sports is no exception. Practices will look different — players will work in small groups and direct contact will be limited. They’ll also mask-up en route to away games. But as far as Benn’s concerned, following the precautions is worth it to make sure fall sports is a go and that the students have the social interaction that team sports provide, along with a slice of normalcy in strange times.

“There’s a lot of anger in the world right now. And I think part of it is, if you lock people in their houses for three months, those emotions have to go somewhere and it comes out through social media and it comes out in a myriad of ways that are not positive,” he said. “We want to create an experience where the kids have a good time and can push some of those emotions out in a positive way.”

The bottom line for Benn is what’s best for his players, not only physically but mentally, too.

“I think kids really need this. And every coach I’ve talked to around the state said this has been the best summer as far as participation — Kids want something to do,” he said. “If we do this stuff that maybe isn’t fun or maybe doesn’t seem like it’s a good thing we get to [play football]. If they tell me I have to wear a hazmat suit to coach, I’ll do it.” ■