HELENA — Longtime Helena High football and track coach Tony Arntson had never thought much about leaving the Bengals.
Since 1994, Arntson compiled a resume highlighted by two state track and field championships, more than 160 wins on the gridiron and four football title game appearances.
But after 24 seasons, an offer came along that he couldn’t refuse — although he won’t be going far.
Arntson, 51, is moving up the college ranks, where he will take over as the Carroll College offensive line coach, pending his contract being finalized.
“This job at Carroll came up fairly quickly, and even though leaving HHS is not something I’ve sat around and contemplated much about, everything fit,” Arntson told 406mtsports.com. “It’s an opportunity for me to coach college football as an assistant and to coach my two sons again, without leaving town.”
Arntson's sons Troy and Ryan will be a fifth-year senior and sophomore next year, respectively. Both were record-breaking Bengals players before going to the Saints.
The move will be a reunion of sorts for Arntson with Saints coach Mike Van Diest, in addition to another connection with Carroll's recently retired O-line coach, Jim Hogan.
“It will be intriguing to go back and work with coach Van Diest, he helped recruit me at the University of Montana, after I finished at CM Russell and he was a Griz assistant,” recounted Arntson. “I coached his two sons, and now he’s coaching my two boys.
“And coach Jim Hogan (who retired last week after 19 years with Carroll) was also an assistant at the UM when I played. ‘Hogie’ leaves some big shoes to fill, I’ll be learning on the job, and he’ll be my number one resource.”
Arntson, who declined an offer to coach at MSU-Northern in December, leaves Helena with a career record of 161-91. His last losing season took place in 2005, and during his final 12 years the Bengals did not miss the playoffs, compiling a 105-36 mark for a .743 winning percentage.
Arntson’s four AA title appearances occurred in 1998, 2001, 2010 and 2017.
“I’ve always had a short list of coaches that I’d like to work with when it comes to full-time positions," Van Diest said. "Tony’s always been on that list.”
Arntson took over as Helena's track coach in 1998, capturing state championships in 2005 and 2015. His athletes also collected three runners-up trophies (1999, 2004, 2014) and two third-place finishes (2016-17).
“The hardest thing to do is leave all the kids in the program, right on down to flag football, and especially our (next year’s) seniors,” Arntson said. “But the timing is as good as ever. We’ve had a great staff of assistant coaches, and without the assistants, there’s no way this program would be what it’s been.
“I’m leaving it in good hands, and maybe it’s time for a new personality to take over, anyway.”
Arntson listed of a litany of “thank yous,” including the school secretaries, teachers and administrators.
“I also want to thank all the Bengal fans and the community of Helena, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to raise my kids,” he said. “You know, when I first accepted this job in 1994, another coach told me I was crazy – that Helena was a ‘coaches graveyard.’
“So I also want to thank (then Helena principle) Ken Stuker and (district A.D.) Jim Opitz, for hiring me and taking a chance on a 26-year old coach.”
Staff writer Erik C. Anderson contributed to this report.