One Name Miracle: Rocky’s Duffy Got Battlin’ Bears Football Moving | University
SETTLEMENTS – With Rocky Mountain College’s men’s and women’s programs elevating to new heights over the past 21 seasons, it makes perfect sense that the popular Battlin’ Bears head coach would have blossomed into a single-named Scottish phenomenon, known simply as Duffy is known.
Under the leadership of Richard (yes, that’s his first name) Duffy, Rocky has risen from practically nothing to conference championships, NAIA national rankings, national tournaments and 363 victories since he first took the reins of the women’s team head coach and built his career in 2002 the men’s team from 2009 from scratch.
His men and women are both back in the postseason this season, playing in the Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament that begins Monday in Springfield, Oregon.
His wives also gave him his 200th career win earlier in the fall (his men have 163 wins) and almost no one, especially Rocky players, students, friends and fellow coaches, calls him by his first name – with the notable exception of his wife. Kelly.
“People have been asking me my last name,” Duffy said in an interview with The Billings Gazette this week and 406mtsports.com. “You tend to think my first name is Duffy.”
Duffy, 46, who grew up in Kirkcaldy, Scotland and became a US citizen in 2016, started at Rocky in 2001 as Seth Brown’s assistant women’s coach.
He’s made himself quite comfortable at the small college, where his overall record is 363-205-48, making him one of the school’s greatest coaches of all time.
“I guess everyone called me Duffy growing up, too,” he said. “I had an older brother who was Big Duffy and I was Little Duffy. It kind of got stuck.
“I’m comfortable with that (being called Duffy) and the players are comfortable with that, too,” he added.
An easygoing gentleman on the bench under most circumstances, Duffy has led a total of seven men’s teams and two women’s teams to NAIA national tournaments.
In the men’s category, the Bears made it to the quarterfinals twice, and in the women’s category, they reached the round of sixteen once.
“He just has a passion for teaching the game of football to anyone who is willing to listen,” said men’s assistant coach Jared Dickerson, who has been at Duffy’s side for 17 years. “He’s a great coach and has the patience, drive and compassion for the game.”
Rocky is certainly getting closer to his goal for the year of winning a national championship, especially in the men’s.
“In 2018 we lost 1-0 to the eventual champions in a (quarterfinal) game that we definitely could have won,” said Duffy.
The men and women have combined won nine conference championships in the Frontier and Cascade leagues.
The men have five conference tournament titles, and there are 18 action photos of Rocky’s All-America players (10 of them women) adorning a wall in Duffy’s Alden Hall office on the Rocky campus.
One of them, Oliver Gore, was the 2013 NAIA Men’s National of the Year. One of Duffy’s first inductees in 2002, Jeannie McGonagle, was from England and is inductee into Rocky’s Sports Hall of Fame.
“I like to think my teams are organized and fun to watch,” Duffy said. “I want the players to be creative. I try to prepare the team during the week and at the weekend I let them go out and express themselves on the field.
“The players enjoy being part of this environment and playing like that.”
Sitting alongside Duffy on the bench are longtime assistants and “two of my best friends” Kevin Luse (women) and Dickerson (men).
Luse, who coached the Billings West boys to a state title in 2008, has been with Rocky for 16 years (2002-03 and 2009-22).
“It’s not just me,” Duffy said of the program’s rise. “Having people and players around you can make you successful.”
When the women’s program first competed in 1999, the Rocky women had no field to play on. They practiced in the outfield at a nearby baseball field.
“I drove with the bus. (Duffy) drove the bus,” Luse said of the beginnings. “We were just trying to make a season out of it. It has grown into a very respected program.”
The women qualified for the state championships for the first time in 2008. The men first rose to the ranks in 2012.
“I think when you start coaching it’s all about wins and losses,” Duffy said. “To be honest, that’s all you’re really worried about. How many games can I win and how can I advance my career?
“But the longer you do it, the less it’s about winning and losing. It’s about the kids who go through your programs…the memories made by winning games, winning conference tournaments and going to national tournaments. You evolve the longer you coach. Other things take precedence over winning.”
Duffy, who is also Rocky’s director of football, rarely lets players leave the program before their four years are up.
“His ultimate goal is to get these kids through college with diplomas in hand,” Dickerson said.
They also have a bit of fun along the way, including attending a Portland Trail Blazers game on a recent game trip to Oregon and visiting the beaches at the Alabama and Florida Nationals.
“I love what I do,” Duffy said of managing both teams. “I love the experiences here at Rocky Mountain College. I think it’s a great school that fully supports me and what I want to do.
“So until I feel like I’m getting too old to not be able to, I will continue to do both.”
Duffy said he believes his connections with both teams help create a strong bond between the men and women, who travel and eat together as a group and almost always play at the same venue.
“I think[being together]improves the chemistry and experience of the athletes in our program because they have full support from each other,” he said.
Shaney McCabe, a five-year senior after joining Rocky two years ago, captains the women’s team. She is also from Dundee, Scotland, which is close to Duffy’s hometown.
McCabe said she enjoys hearing Duffy’s slight Scottish accent and appreciates his love of the European style of “one-touch football”. Find your footing and move forward.”
“I think our men’s program is typically about 50% international players on an annual basis,” said Duffy. “I would say our women’s program is 25%. We’ve had quite a bit of success with international players coming into our program.
“It creates a kind of cultural experience for the players in our program.”
“I’m really excited about some of the local talent that we have on our team right now,” said Duffy.
He came to the United States in 1995 as a 19-year-old to play college soccer. Duffy received NAIA All-America recognition from both Husson University in Maine and the University of Mary in North Dakota before beginning his coaching career.
In addition to his work at Rocky, Duffy is also in his fifth year as Director of Coaching for Real Billings FC. His three youngest sons Charlie (13), Lewis (11) and Henry (9) grew up playing Rocky football.
At the moment, Charlie has shown the greatest interest in continuing the game and Duffy has been asked if he will one day join the Battlin’ Bears.
“I hope so,” Duffy said, laughing.
Over the years, international players and several Montanans have been major contributors to Rocky’s success.
“His understanding of the game is totally unique compared to the other coaches I know,” he said Senior Zach Wall von Billings, who played for Duffy during two stints at Rocky. “He has my respect.”
Some of Duffy’s favorites and most influential players over the years include McGonagle (England), Lauren Brophy (Helena), Allie Beckers (Billings), Kirsty Montignani (Scotland) and Lauryn Gamache (St Louis, Missouri) on the women’s side.
For men, his list of top contributors includes Gore (England), Eddie Cass (England), Tulio Melo (Brazil), Jack Clancy (Ireland) and Nick Heffernan (England).
While some of these players are living abroad again, former Bears have stayed in the US and Billings.
Ex-Rocky player Jace Beck and Steph (Jensen) Wagner are senior football coaches. Beck’s boys just played for the AA-class state championship.
Another former player, Chez Keehn, is the girls’ coach at Lockwood. She also coached the older girls.
As an international player, McCabe said she will be “following in Duffy’s footsteps” and staying in Montana.
“He really helped me prepare for my future life here,” she said. “I’ll stay in Montana, I think. Hopefully I live in the Bozeman or Billings area. Duffy really sold Montana for me.
“I’ll cheer for him on the sidelines.”