MISSOULA -- Just more than a month ago, the Montana Lady Griz were ousted from the Big Sky Conference tournament in the second round.
Since then, three players -- Gabi Harrington, Kylie Frohlich and Jamie Pickens -- have transferred. On April 1, it was learned that Shannon Schweyen would not be brought back for another contract as head coach.
The university announced three weeks later that assistant coach Mike Petrino would be named the interim head coach and the university would conduct a national coaching search after the 2020-21 season.
Finally, on Wednesday Petrino was officially introduced as the head coach of the Lady Griz as he and athletic director Kent Haslam held a press conference via Zoom.
Petrino has served as a Lady Griz assistant coach for the past four seasons after being brought in with Schweyen in 2016.
"This was definitely an unexpected, emotional three weeks," said Petrino. "I have tremendous respect and admiration for Shannon and the fact that she brought me here. Everyone on last year's team was brought here, either coach or a player, because of her. Her legacy is forever etched in all that she was a part of here."
In those past four seasons the Lady Griz have had to battle through injuries, but, even when healthy this past year, Montana failed to make it past the second round of the Big Sky tournament.
After the Big Sky tournament was canceled, Schweyen and Haslam had talks about her upcoming contract extension. According to Schweyen, Haslam had guaranteed her a new two-year deal. Three weeks later, Schweyen was told she would not be brought back.
"I did have a conversation with Shannon Thursday morning (March 12) and we started the negotiation process for a contract," said Haslam. "A new contract was never formally offered, nor was it circulated for signatures. In the time between that meeting and the time when I made my decision, I just came to understand more the status of our roster and what that would look like going forward and felt like I needed to make a change."
Twenty days after that, UM named Petrino as the interim head coach.
"I have great confidence in Mike," said Haslam. "I've watched him for four years interact in this department work with others, deal with others, and I have tremendous confidence in him. I have tremendous confidence in those assistant coaches. We won't refer to him as the interim head coach, we'll refer to him as the head coach. He's our head coach."
It's Petrino's first stint as a head coach in his NCAA coaching career. He's coached at nearly every level, from high school freshman teams to the Pac-12 Conference with the University of Colorado and everything in between.
In his first season, he'll be coming into what many view as a rebuilding phase for the Lady Griz, after the program lost four players to transfer and three to graduation. There are still a lot of question marks as far as the roster goes for the 2020-21 campaign.
"I'll say this, our roster is fluid," said Petrino. "I think there's a lot of talk out there about what we don't have. Our staff and I are focusing on what we do have to start with. I'm not going to comment individually on anybody on that roster except for the players we know have moved on and committed elsewhere. I can tell you that all the people that signed last fall are here and I can tell you that anybody on that roster that finished the year, I've had communication with them. Some of the communication is a result that they're continuing on (with Montana) and some of that communication is ongoing."
While Petrino may be on a one-year deal, he and his staff of assistant coaches are treating it like any three-year plan a coach would have in college basketball -- on the court and in recruiting during the offseason.
"We've got a good three weeks of recruiting and we know we want," said Petrino. "We know those needs and we're aggressively going after them. We are working on evaluating our roster, building that roster, assessing what we have, making a plan, building a curriculum and executing that curriculum."
Keeping Petrino on board was a decision Haslam made, but UM is also currently on a hiring freeze. Regardless, Haslam is confident in Petrino, and one upside is the fact that UM was able to keep assistant coaches Jordan Sullivan, Nathan Covill and Jace Henderson on the staff for next season.
"One thing about all four of us is, we all have emotional roots in this program and the history here," said Petrino. "We are going to do our best to move forward with it. We think we have a great program here to share with other people and recruits, we've been very aggressive doing that. The people are definitely the strength of this program."
However, Petrino faces yet another challenge in his first stint as head coach: recruiting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Montana just lost four players and its head coach, which isn't exactly a good look for outside recruits. Couple that together with the challenge of virtually recruiting, and it makes for a tough first offseason. But it's a challenge Petrino welcomes.
"This is a perfect storm of challenge and opportunity," said Petrino. "We have become very creative of how we get the message. How do you recruit someone to Missoula who's never been here? It's been a lot of virutal tours, anything we can get into. It's been a very unique challenge and one that's kept us busy."
Throughout the press conference Petrino referenced former coaches Schweyen and Robin Selvig as being big influences in his coaches, but he knows he needs to pave his own path if he wants to succeed.
"In 27 years of coaching here's what I've realized, I know what I am and I know what I'm not," said Petrino. "The first thing you want to do is make sure that your philosophies align with what you believe in and so forth. So, I have to be me."