THREE FORKS — After more than 30 years on the sideline and countless hours in the gym, Three Forks boys basketball coach Mike Sauvageau says it’s time for a change, and is retiring.
“Thirty-one years, I enjoyed it. It’s time for a change,” he said Wednesday morning. “It’s time for some fresh blood. I’ll stick around and be the A.D. and still be at all of the games and be part of it. It’s been awesome. I wouldn’t change my profession for anything. I’m a lot better coach than I was 15 years ago.”
During his three decades of coaching basketball, most of it came in Three Forks where he had a 317-169 record.
Sauvageau, who graduated from Three Forks High School, began his coaching career at Harrison in 1984. He was there for 11 years, then he moved back to Three Forks where he was the boys coach for the past 20 years. Sauvageau has also served as the school’s athletic director and as a physical education teacher — two positions that he’ll remain at moving forward.
As a teacher, athletic director, and coach, Sauvageau often put in 16 hour days during the school year. He also spent 14 years doing double duty, coaching both the high school girls and boys basketball teams when the girls season was still played in the fall.
Prior to Three Forks, Sauvageau also took over the girls program at Harrison in his third year with the Class C School. He coached the girls in the fall and boys in the winter.
“That was the hardest job of leaving Harrison. I had those girls in the elementary school,” said Sauvageau. “We were getting close to getting to state the year I left. We were going to be solid. The year after I left they went to state and got second. That was hard to take.”
Harrison lost to Big Sandy, 65-38, in the 1996-97 State C championship game. While he wasn’t the team’s head coach any more, Sauvageau played a major role in building Harrison into a state tournament team in the ‘90’s.
“They hadn’t won a game in three years (prior to taking over),” he noted.
Sauvageau did the same thing in Three Forks, rebuilding the programs beginning in 1995. The school boasted two of the top programs in Class B, but has hit a rough patch in recent years.
“We had 15 years of winning programs,” said Sauvageau. “The last three years have been the worst.”
Three Forks’s boys were 17-44 over the past three seasons, which includes a 4-16 campaign this past season.
During his first season in Three Forks as the boys coach, the Wolves posted a 13-8 record. Three Forks followed that with a 17-9 mark and finished third at the district tournament and fourth at the divisional tournament.
Three Forks won the conference championship during Sauvageau’s third season. The Wolves then placed second in the district tournament, fourth at the divisional tournament, and fourth at state after losing to Plentywood, 62-46, in the consolation game.
Sauvageau noted that Three Forks’ administration allowed him the freedom to coach his way and success followed.
“They have pretty much kept their hands out of my programs,” he said. “We have had more kids out for girls basketball than any other team in our district. Every year we have had an A, B, and C squad in the 20 years that I have been here. A lot of the schools that are bigger than us, we still have more out in our programs.”
Sauvageau took over the girls program at Three Forks in 1996. The Wolves were coming off a 5-15 season in which just eight players competed.
“In three years we made it to the state tournament. I felt pretty good then,” said Sauvageau. “We made it to state three times.”
Sauvageau’s first year as the girls coach the Wolves went 4-16. They were 10-11 the following year, then in 1998 they were 16-10 and finished second at the district and divisional tournaments en route to reaching state.
In 1999 the Wolves were second at the district tournament and fourth at divisional, finishing with a 17-8 record.
Three Forks went 10-0 in conference play during Sauvageau’s last year as the girls coach in 2000. The Wolves were district and divisional champions before losing out in two games at the state tournament. Three Forks finished the season with a sterling 22-4 record.
Sauvageau gave up coaching girls basketball when his oldest daughter Katie began her high school career.
Sauvageau did not have the chance to play for another coach, his dad Dave, while in high school. The elder Sauvageau retired from coaching when he finished junior high. Sauvageau was a member of the Three Forks team that finished fourth at the state tournament in 1977. He was named to the All-State team, scoring 111 points in four games.
Sauvageau did win a state championship as a coach. His 2000-01 squad beat Wolf Point, 64-52, for the State B crown. The year prior to that the Wolves finished third at state.
Three Forks finished fourth at state in 1997-98, which was also the first year that the Wolves won their first conference title. Since then, Three Forks has won six more conference crowns and were co-champs in 2008-09.
Since taking over the boys program, Three Forks has won six district championships, were second four times and third twice. The Wolves also won four divisional crowns, placed second once, third once, and were fourth three times. Sauvageau’s teams also advanced to the state tournament seven times.
Sauvageau was named Coach of the Year four times — 1997-98, 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2004-05. Each of those years Three Forks won 20 or more games. He is also currently the president of the Montana Coaches Association.
Sauvageau followed in the footsteps of his father and restarted the Little Wolves basketball program. He also began the annual Imerys Classic, which draws about 10 schools (boys and girls) and tips off the high school basketball season each year in Three Forks.
Although he’s retiring, Sauvageau still has two more games to coach. He’ll join University of Montana-Western head coach Steve Keller on the sidelines for next week’s Midland Roundtable Montana-Wyoming All-Star basketball games in Billings and Sheridan, Wyo.
“I’ll coach the Montana-Wyoming game again next week for the fourth week with Keller,” said Sauvageau. “That will be fun. I just hope my body can take it for a few days. But that’ll be fun.”