In Memory

Griff Bye - Class Of 1978 VIEW PROFILE

The sudden death last weekend of Griff Bye was a stunning blow that has caused considerable sadness throughout the Hi-Line and beyond.

“It’s awful,” Scott Sparks said.

“A killer for the Northern C,” Jeff Graham said.

Dustin Gordon paused a few moments to compose himself.

“It’s hard,” he said, “for me to even talk about.”

Bye, a basketball coach whose career in northcentral Montana dated back more than 30 years, died of complications following surgery Saturday night in Great Falls. He was 56.

Bye was a sports junkie whose basketball coaching reputation included Hawaiian print shirts, signature Adidas tennis shoes and countless games. A 1978 Sunburst grad and University of Montana graduate — where he became an intramural basketball and softball legend — Griff ran a family farm with his wife, Reenie, and son, Scotty.

He was a successful farmer, too. But the coaching is what consumed him.

Griff began a coaching career in Rocky Boy, served many years at his alma mater North Toole County High in Sunburst, had a stint at North Star and last winter was the head coach of both the boys’ and girls’ hoop teams at Power.

GORDON, the highly successful Fairfield girls’ coach, knew Griff better than most.

“He is one of my closest friends,” Gordon said “We talked every week.”

When Gordon first moved to Chester two decades ago, he landed a summer job at the Bye farm.

“I was a poor, starving teacher with three kids, and he gave me a job every summer,” Gordon said. “We got to be close.

“This is just a difficult thing.”

Gordon is a championship coach who has enjoyed much more success than Bye ever did. But there are other ways to measure a coach.

“I’m not sure anybody could be more passionate about coaching than that guy,” Gordon said. “Who drives from Kevin, Montana, to Rudyard every day for practice? Or who drives from Kevin, Montana, to Power every day?

“He gave up the job in North Star (two years ago prior to his job at Power), because he wanted to coach both boys and girls. That was ultimately the deciding factor.”

Griff Bye obviously touched Dustin Gordon’s heart. And that of many, many others.

“When I found out where the funeral was,” Gordon said, “my response was to his brother ‘Well, I hope you booked the Four Seasons Arena. Because I don’t think there’s any place big enough for Sunburst or Kevin.’

“No matter where you go in Montana, somebody has heard of Griff Bye.”

Gordon laughed.

“When you’re a coach, there’s a lot of people who don’t like you. That just comes with the job,” Gordon said. “But you couldn’t go anywhere and not find somebody who didn’t like Griff. I don’t think you could find a parent, or another coach or a former player, who didn’t like that man.”

GRAHAM WAS one of Griff’s best friends, too. The superb Belt football and girls’ basketball coach is nothing if not a winner. Graham, of course, was a marvelous athlete at Chester High.

But he didn’t have much on Bye, a quick basketball guard and suberb softball shortstop.

“In high school, Griff started taking me on his good softball teams and we had a lot of great competition,” Graham said. “I got to meet a lot of real good people.”

Griff played shortstop, so the talented and much younger Graham was relegated to third base and second base to begin with.

“He kind of changed the shortstop position,” Graham, 35, said. “Back then the bats weren’t as good and balls didn’t fly as much. He had such a strong arm and he could play back there. He changed how the position was played.”

Graham said Bye was a game-changer in much more significant ways.

“I tried to model myself after how he treats people, not just players but everybody,” Graham said. “He made sure he took time to say hi to everybody and be nice to everybody. The influence he had on so many people was tremendous.

“He was a friend to everybody. I think he’s the best guy I’ve ever met.”

SPARKS IS a basketball and baseball coach in Lewistown. He’s also a former highly successful football and basketball mentor at Denton.

“He was one of the first guys I met when I got into the Northern C in the mid-2000s,” Sparks said. “The thing about Griff is he always went out of his way to get to know new guys and try to make them feel welcome. From the first time I met him, we hit it off really well.

“He was truly one of a kind. Really one of the great ones.”

Like Graham, Sparks played a lot of adult basketball and softball with — and against — Bye.

“The last few years I played softball against him he was about down to a pitcher,” Sparks said. “But man, he’d throw knuckleballs and everything else at you. He was still finding ways to beat you. Still finding ways to play the game and play it well.”

Bye coached over 900 basketball games in his high school coaching career. His record was about .500.

“Here’s the thing about Griff,” Sparks said. “It was about more than wins and losses. He just absolutely loved to coach. Whatever kids he got to come out, he was going to do his best to coach them. I don’t think you’ll find many kids who played for Griff that didn’t love him. He took coaching seriously and tried to be a real good role model for those kids.”

A role model to the kids? OK. But he was also a buddy to his peers.

“You couldn’t have a five-minute phone call with Griff,” Sparks said with a laugh. “It was an hour-long conversation. It really was. Talking about all sports and family, too. And I really wish I’d made the time to make a few more phone calls to him.

“There will never be another Griff Bye. There’s no way. From the Hawaiian shirts to the Adidas shoes. At least he got a new pair the last couple of years. Those duct-taped ones were starting to wear down.”

Sparks laughed softly.

“He’s really gonna be missed.”

IN COLLEGEGriff organized many intramural teams. And often they were named after him.

Stories are told that during basketball season, more than a few times the opposition wouldn’t show up because, you know, they thought they had a “bye.”

Jeff Graham laughs about that.

“It didn’t really matter,” Graham said. “Because if they did show up, they were gonna lose anyway.”

SCOTTY BYE said his family is holding up.

“It’s kinda nice to know at the end of the day that up until that last little spell, he was still him. Nothing was changed,” Scotty said. “He was still the same old guy. The most positive guy to be around.”

Scotty knew his father in different ways, as a coach and a co-worker.

“I woke up every day and went to work with him,” he said.

He chuckled.

“I’m not going to say it wasn’t challenging,” Scotty said. “There were a few arguments. But looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s something I’ll hold onto for a long, long time.”

Scotty, 23, grew up in dugouts and on the basketball bench near his father. He was on Sunburst hoop teams coached by his father.

Another chuckle.

“Three-and-17, I believe, and 1-19 my last two years,” Scotty said. “So I contributed to a few of his losses.”

Full disclosure: I know from personal experience how quick and talented old Griff was on the basketball court. The few times our Tribune teams met squads led by Griff, nobody could guard him.

“I’ve heard that a few times before,” Scotty said.

On the softball field at shortstop, Griff was also usually the best player on the field.

“I’ve heard that more than once, too,” Scotty said softly.

So what will Scotty remember most about his father?

“Oh man,” he said. And then there was a pause.

“Shoot,” he said. Another pause.

“I guess his positive energy. When I was young, I was fairly uptight and always wanted to go, go, go. And he’d make sure to remind me to calm down a bit,” he said.

One last pause.

“But mainly,” Scotty said, “he taught me how to treat people. Be yourself. Be a genuine person. I’ve thought about that the last few days more and more. How he treated people and worked with them was just incredible, I think.”

Services are Monday afternoon at 1 at the farm near Sweet Grass.


People all around the state of Montana are mourning the passing of Power basketball coach Griff Bye.

Loren Dunk, Power Superintendent, spoke to SWX over the phone and told us that Coach Bye passed away Saturday night after complications from prostate cancer surgery.

Coach Bye made himself well known on basketball courts all around the state - as he coached for 30 plus years in more than 900 games. His son Scotty Bye tweeted out a record sheet stating that his father had a 424-493 record in 917 games. Griff repped the head coach title for Sunburst, Valier, North Star, Rocky Boy, and most recently, Power for the last two seasons.

Players, coaches, and fans in Montana have expressed that Coach Bye had an infectious personality and was genuine and positive to all those he knew. Other Northern C coaches have also said that someone like Coach Bye can truly never be forgotten and his impact will last for years to come.

"I think he'll just be remembered for being a good guy. Being a good coach, being a successful coach. Being friends with everyone," said Dominik Dunk, Power junior basketball player. "He'll be remembered differently by different people but I think he definitely made an impact on a lot of people's lives."

"He was a person that was a friend of so many people. Anybody that knew him for a short time, he was there friend for a lifetime," added Loren Dunk. "It affects our school, but it affects all of the schools and all of the players he ever coached and any other coaches he battled against. I know it's just a sad day across the state. It's just a tough loss for everyone."

"To sum it the best. To know him was to love him. It was fun watching him work with kids and what he could do with them and how he could get the best out of almost everyone was fun to watch and trying to pick up from," said Griff's son Scotty Bye.

"I think anybody who played for him was very fortunate for have him touch your life. And then to be able to compete against him and coach with him, and to do all that kind of thing. He was just always reaching out trying to help you if you had a question or anything like that. And the coaching community is so tightly knit anyway. It's just kind of a special thing to be able to hang and coach and be with someone you grew up playing for. You know, that's a pretty neat thing," said Sunburst head basketball coach Nate Aschim.

A memorial service will be held on Monday, May 15, 2017 at Farbo Farms in Sweet Grass, Montana at 1:00 p.m. It is open to the public to attend.

KFBB would like to extend our deepest condolences to those close with Griff - especially to his family and team.

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05/09/17 11:29 AM #1    

Shannon Dunk (1985)

     Griff was such a great friend and a person that was not only a friend to me for so many years, but to many people.  He made a huge impact on lots of lives.  He is someone that would do anything, for anyone, at any given moment and not think anything of it.  I enjoyed the many years and games of softball that I was fortunate enough to play on the same team as Griff.  We played together on first the Exports Inc. team and later the Ammex team.  Lots of fond memories of many tournaments throughout the state of Montana, & in Alberta.  The stories are too numerous to mention, but the memories are going to stick with me forever.  I also had the privilege of coaching one season of high school boys with Griff.  I enjoyed my time as his assistant coach in Sunburst for that one season.  Griff was so fun to be around and the stories and the places that he had been to were numerous.

     Thanks for all that you have done for adults and kids within so many communities.  You did touch some many lives in your time here on earth.  I am honored to call you "my friend."  You will be missed, & your legacy and knowledge of information will be remembered forever.  I will miss the many good times that we shared together whether it was watching the World Series, playing softball, basketball or pitch together.  Every person you were ever around, you left a lasting impression on that person.  Thanks for being a part of my life, & for coaching my son Braydon through his first two years of high school basketball.  You are one of a kind.  The world is a better place because of you.  Thanks my friend and may you rest in peace.


Shannon Dunk

05/12/17 06:16 PM #2    

Kimberly Byrne (Hartmann) (2003)


Most of my high school career was spent managing basketball with you and a lot of times managing you too. Being your 'teacher's aide' as well as your sidekick. That much time together has left a lasting effect. Your intensity and love for the sport, for the athletes, but most of all...for the human in every single one of us. 

I think every person that ever came across you should reflect on how their lives have been impacted by perhaps just a single moment in time. The games, the teaching moments, the electric personality, the heart of gold and your hot pink shirt that we always convinced you to wear for tournaments. Every moment spent with you was a moment like none other; you never knew if there was going to be laughter, a good story to be told, or a lesson that you really deserved to learn. 

You went into the history books far too soon. History has been enlivened by your vibrancy and character. I personally want to thank you for Rest in peace, Griff. You will be missed by many. History books now have an addition of crazy hair, Hawaiian shirts, and a laugh that can be heard for eternity. 

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