Whitefish High School has made a big splash in hiring Josh Downey as the new boys basketball coach. Downey coached the Bigfork Vikings to its first state championship last season.
“Josh is what we’re looking for to take our program to the next level,” Whitefish athletic director Aric Harris told the Pilot. “He’s a motivator, brings a lot of accountability, gives kids ownership in the program and makes basketball fun.”
Mark Casazza stepped down as Whitefish’s head coach in March after five seasons leading the team.
Downey, a 1999 graduate of Bigfork High School, was hired as Bigfork’s athletic director and boys basketball coach in 2013. He led a talent-laden Vikings squad to the Class B state championship and a perfect 26-0 season.
Prior to Bigfork, he spent four years as the head boys basketball coach at Timberline High School in Boise, Idaho. He has also been a graduate assistant basketball coach at Gonzaga University and an assistant coach at Concordia College and Whitworth University. His first head coaching job was at Heritage High School in Vancouver, Wash., where in one season he took the team to their first district championship.
“What Josh has been able to do at Bigfork is special,” Harris said. “But equally impressive is what he did out in Washington and then in Boise.”
Downey first applied for the Whitefish head coaching job in 2006 when Eric Stang was hired.
“I’ve always wanted to get to Whitefish,” Downey said. “When I didn’t get the Whitefish job, I was devastated. But it’s almost better I didn’t get it. Since that time I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot.”
He said it will be tough to leave Bigfork after one season, but that his decision came down to family. He and his wife have two young children, including a 2-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl.
“Really, it’s about my family more than anything,” he said. “There’s a lot to like about Whitefish and we want to raise our family there.”
“The kids in Bigfork are great — that’s the hardest thing about it. That’s going to hurt.”
As Whitefish’s coach, Downey says he’ll be fair and respectful, and will demand accountability from the team.
“I’ll coach those kids how I would want to be coached,” he said. “I’ll provide direction and accountability, and I hope those kids will hold themselves accountable. I hope I come in with some creditability with what we did [in Bigfork] last year.”
Harris expects the boys program to “show progress” next season. The Dogs have missed the state playoff for five consecutive seasons. Whitefish last won a state championship in 1991.
“It’s always a goal to win a state championship, but that’s not a reality,” Harris said. “We want to show progress from start to finish. The expectation is that we reach our potential with the group of players we have. That’s a fair expectation for all of our coaches.”
Harris says Downey will play a more active role in developing the basketball program at the younger levels. Downey helped coach the youth basketball camps when Julio Delgado was Whitefish coach.
“If we want to have success, that has to happen,” Downey said. “I want to get those camps going again. I want to get people excited about Whitefish basketball again. I remember the days when all the games were sold out. Those were great times for Whitefish.”
Downey will take a top-down approach to building the program. He says success and winning at the high school level will excite younger kids to pick up a basketball.
Whitefish administrators went through an extensive hiring process before settling on Downey. A committee of eight members interviewed applicants for about 10 hours on Tuesday. The committee included Harris, Whitefish principal Kerry Drown, school board trustees, community members and other coaches.
“We had a great pool of applicants,” Harris said. “I feel good about the quality of applicants and the level of interest we had in the coaching position.”
The school board still has to approve Downey's hiring.
Downey received his bachelor’s in K-12 physical education and health from Concordia and completed his master’s in sport and athletic administration at Gonzaga.
Harris hopes to find Downey a teaching position within the Whitefish district.