13 Dec 2021 | 08:10 | Baseball
When you think of the Tinkle legacy, Wayne Tinkle actually wants you to think of his family.
His wife, Lisa, was a record-setting Lady Griz player who was the first in the family to be inducted into the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame, back in 2011. Then there are his kids – Joslyn, Elle and Tres – all three who were Division-I basketball players and had plenty of successes of their own.
Then, there’s Wayne Tinkle.
“My wife jokes with me that it’s about time I join her in the hall of fame, and I don’t blame her,” Tinkle said. “She’s the true hall of famer of the family.”
He’s not wrong. Then known as Lisa McLeod, she helped her Lady Griz teams to four Big Sky regular-season championships (1986-89), going 46-2 in league action and advancing to three NCAA tournaments and a WNIT berth during her storied collegiate career. She was a three-time all-conference and Kodak all-district pick and was named the 1989 Big Sky MVP.
McLeod was quite the player, but – whether he wants it to be or not – this story is about Tinkle.
Wayne Tinkle (1985-89) ranks in the top 10 in Montana history for scoring and rebounding.
Wayne Tinkle (1985-89) ranks in the top 10 in Montana history
for scoring and rebounding.
Because he, too, was quite the player.
As a three-time All-Big Sky selection, Tinkle finished his career with 1,500 points and 836 rebounds. More than three decades later, his numbers have stood the test of time.
His point total still ranks 10th in school history while just one Grizzly in the past 30-plus years has surpassed his rebounding mark, which now stands at fourth on Montana’s all-time list. The only other Griz player to ever record 1,500 career points and 800 rebounds would be his former teammate, Larry Krystkowiak.
But Tinkle was quite the coach, too.
He spent 13 years on the Griz bench, the final eight as head coach. His 158 career wins rank second only to George Dahlberg – the man the arena was named after – and he’s the only Griz coach in a long lineage of successful mentors to lead his teams to three NCAA tournament berths.
More than college basketball hall of famers Jud Heathcote and Mike Montgomery. More than his former coach Stew Morrill, who was followed by the legendary Blaine Taylor.
“There’s been an incredible run of coaches at Montana,” Tinkle said. “I’m just blessed to have known or worked with so many of them.”
When you think of Wayne Tinkle, you think of the All-America Tinkle family and the hall-of-fame playing and coaching career he built at Montana.
It’s why you saw the entire community of Missoula rally around him this past spring, when he led Oregon State, his current team, to an historic NCAA Elite Eight berth. (He felt the love from afar, by the way.)
It’s been quite the year for Tinkle. After being picked 12th out of 12 teams in the Pac-12 preseason poll, the Beavers caught lightning at the 2021 Pac-12 tournament with victories over UCLA, Oregon and Colorado.
Then the Beavers knocked off Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And then Oklahoma State. And then Loyola Chicago.
Oregon State was the talk of college basketball nationally, and Griz fans were proud to call Tinkle one of their own.
Tinkle became the face of Corvallis, much like he was celebrated in Missoula a decade prior, and was rewarded with a contract extension. Over the summer, he threw out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game, getting to meet and shoot the breeze with some of his boyhood idols like Billy Williams and Ryne Sandberg.
And then there was the call – the reason this story is being written.
“I was sitting at my office desk and it was early in the morning,” Tinkle recalled. “I had a little bit of a flashback, because I got a call from Kent Haslam, and usually when you get a call from the AD early in the morning, you’re worrying a little bit.
Tinkle was preparing for that day’s practice plan when he received the call from Montana’s athletics director. When he got told news that he was going to be inducted into the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame, the hair on his arms stood up.
“Immediately, I shot up in my chair,” Tinkle said. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s a thrill because the University of Montana just means so much to my family and I.”
That call almost never happened.
Tinkle, after all, was about to cancel his recruiting visit to Missoula back in 1984. He liked what the Montana coaching staff was selling and saw the Griz as a regional power – which they were, and still are – but he wasn’t sure that Missoula and the Treasure State would have enough to offer.
He fell victim to the trap many out-of-staters fall into: What’s there to do in Montana?
He was ready to decline Montana’s invitation to see Missoula in person when his father, also Wayne, asked him a simple question: ‘What do you like about Montana?’
The son’s answer was pretty simple.
Wayne Tinkle (1985-89)
Wayne Tinkle (1985-89)
He liked the connection with the coaching staff, headed by Montgomery and assisted by Morrill and Bob Niehl. It felt genuine and not just a pitch. They showed a vested interest in Tinkle, more so than other offers, like Oklahoma State and Marquette, had.
“The answer was the coaching staff,” Tinkle said. “The process with them was real. Other schools, you know, you’re getting something in the mail every day and it kind of wore me out. The process with the Grizzlies was much more authentic.
“Once I answered my dad’s question, he said, ‘Well you’re kind of telling yourself an answer. I think you at least owe them a visit.'”
So Tinkle came to campus and again experienced what most first-time-visitors experience. He fell in love.
“The town, the campus, it was all so great. I got to know the players better,” Tinkle reflected.” I liked the chip-on-your-shoulder, blue-collar Montana mentality. I was sold.”
Tinkle redshirted his first season in Missoula before flourishing the next four, becoming a double-double machine and a force on both sides of the ball. At the end of his playing career, Tinkle ranked fourth in school history for scoring (now 10th) and third for rebounding (fourth). He led Montana for scoring in both 1988 and 1989 and rebounding three years in a row from 1987-89. The three-time All-Big Sky selection was also a two-time team MVP.
That first season in Missoula is also when his life changed for the better, learning about Lisa at an end-of-season banquet at the UC on campus.
The event was held in conjunction with the Lady Griz banquet, and several Lady Griz recruits were in attendance. Tinkle immediately noticed the girl in the blue and gray top, and as cliché as he admits it sounds, knew there was a future with her.
“The next day I asked Robin (Selvig) about the group of girls, specifically the one I had my eye on,” Tinkle recalled. “He told me they’re all a great group of gals, from Montana, and that they’d all be here next fall.
“It sounds corny and weird, but I had a feeling I was going to end up dating Lisa.”
Wayne Tinkle and Lisa McLeod together in college
Wayne Tinkle and Lisa McLeod together in college.
Fast forward to the next fall, when Lisa was a freshman and Tinkle was in his first season on the court. They met early in the year, but Tinkle didn’t want to come off as arrogant so he tried to play it cool.
“I just kind of nodded my head,” he said. “Turns out she took that as arrogance, but you know, I didn’t want to start blushing around her.”
The next encounter came a few weeks later when a group of men’s basketball players were playing cards in the dorm and a Lady Griz player told Wayne to call Lisa and invite her over.
Shortly after, they started dating. Before his senior season, they were engaged to be married.
“We got married the August after our senior years and it was the best decision I’ve made,” Tinkle said.
The All-America couple left their mark at Montana and then took their next journey overseas. For 12 years, while Tinkle played professionally, the two lived across the globe, spanning Europe in Belgium, Greece, Italy, Spain and Sweden. Abroad, their family grew from two, to three, to four.
Tinkle was preparing for his 13th season overseas when everything changed, though. While back in Missoula over the summer of 2001, Tinkle was working out with a handful of the current Griz players – guys like Matt Williams, Travis Greenwalt and Ryan Slider.
Before Tinkle took another cross-country trip to play, though, Montana assistant coach Pryor Orser took a job at Colorado School of Mines.
“Don Holst called me and told me he didn’t want to go through a big, national search,” Tinkle said. “He told me, ‘I think we’ve got a heck of a coach sitting right here in Missoula, so I want to give you an opportunity.'”
Tinkle would be making less in one year coaching than he did in one month overseas, but couldn’t turn down the opportunity to coach at his alma mater.
He accepted Holst’s offer on a Monday and was at work on Tuesday.
That 2001-02 season, Montana went just 7-7 in Big Sky play but made a run in the Big Sky tournament, knocking off Northern Arizona, Montana State and Eastern Washington to win the league title and advance to the NCAA tournament.
It wasn’t enough, though, for Holst and his staff to save their jobs.
“That year was really tough,” Tinkle said. “We go to the NCAA (tournament) and then we were fired a week and a half later. I was upset and thought, ‘Holy smokes, did I make the right decision?'”
Tinkle was assured by administration that there was a good chance that whoever was hired next would keep him on staff, so he trusted what he was told and stayed put. But after two losing seasons under Pat Kennedy, he was in limbo once again.
“I put some feelers out there (for other positions), but we loved Missoula and our kids were all in school there,” Tinkle said. “It was my alma mater – our alma maters – and I wanted to try and do all I could to get us back to the level we thought it was capable.”
Although the Griz didn’t see much success during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, it’s the time when Tinkle felt like he began to earn his keep. Kennedy was a member of the NABC board, which at times took him away from Missoula. At those points, Tinkle was given more autonomy and really began to grow as a coach.
Montana won back-to-back Big Sky tournament championships in 2005 and 2006 (pictured above).
Former teammates Larry Krystkowiak (far left) and Wayne Tinkle (back right)
reconnected in 2004 on the Griz coaching staff. Montana won back-to-back Big Sky
tournament championships in 2005 and 2006 (pictured above) during the next two seasons.
When Krystkowiak took over the program in 2004-05, the school’s all-time leader for both scoring and rebounding kept his former teammate on staff.
That’s when things really started to take off for both Tinkle and the program. The Griz finished second in the Big Sky during the 2004-05 regular season, but posted three straight wins in the Big Sky tournament to reach the Big Dance, Tinkle’s first as a player or coach. The following year is one that Griz fans remember well, when Montana again blitzed through the Big Sky tournament, and this time kept it going in the NCAA tournament, upsetting No. 12 seed Nevada.
To this day, it’s the last time a Big Sky school has won a game in the NCAA tournament.
After two NCAA tournament berths in two tries, Krystkowiak was off to the NBA, where he became an assistant coach – and one year later head coach – of the Milwaukee Bucks
That opened the door for Tinkle, who just five years into his coaching career had proved he was ready to take the reins.
“It was an incredible moment when I got the job,” Tinkle said. “You can’t imagine what it’s like to be the head coach at your alma mater until you’re in that spot. There was a lot of pride and emotion.”
Behind hired in June, Tinkle and his staff were late to the game. For the first six months or so, he recalled the time being like drinking through a firehose.
Tinkle was .500 through his first two seasons before breaking through in Year 3 with a 17-12 record in 2008-09. Still, Montana was bounced in the first round of the Big Sky tournament, losing to rival Montana State.
That, though, set the stage for the following year, a 22-win campaign that saw Montana beat Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado in the first two rounds of the Big Sky tournament, before knocking off Weber State, 66-65, in Ogden, in what has become known as the Anthony Johnson Game.
Tinkle was going back to the NCAA tournament, this time as a head coach.
“I was trying to be one part Mike Montgomery, one part Stew Morrill, another part Blaine Taylor, Don Holst, Larry Krystkowiak… I needed to be myself and learn how to trust my gut and my instincts, and once we settled in, we had some great success, obviously because of some pretty incredible players,” Tinkle said.
Wayne Tinkle with legendary Griz basketball players
Kareem Jamar (left) and Will Cherry (right).
What followed was a hall-of-fame coaching career: 21 wins and a CBI berth in 2010-11. Fifty-two combined wins in 2011-12 and 2012-13, including Big Sky regular-season championships, Big Sky tournament titles and NCAA tournament berths in both seasons.
The stretch included 25 consecutive Big Sky wins at one point, including a conference-record 19 league wins in 2012-13. To this day, the 52-14 record is the best two-year winning percentage (.788) in school history.
“We had so many injuries over those two years, but we continued to win and set those records,” Tinkle said. “We faced so much adversity, but the guys kept plowing through, we didn’t skip a beat. There were literally times on the bench where our staff would look at each other and say, ‘How in the heck are these guys doing this?’ It was great leadership from them, just a will and want-to, and that’s the Grizzly way.”
Tinkle then posted another winning season in 2013-14, his final year in Missoula, before taking the Oregon State job.
“It’s such a proud program, such a tradition-filled program,” Tinkle said of Montana. “Just to have a hand in it makes me very proud and really validates that, way back when I was that 18-year-old kid, with the help of my folks, I made an incredible decision to choose the University of Montana.”
Wayne Tinkle coaching
Now settled in to his new home in Corvallis and preparing for his eighth season leading the Beavers, Tinkle will sneak away from Corvallis this weekend to return to his true home.
It’s the place where he met his wife and had a superb playing career. The place where he spent 18 seasons suiting up for the Griz, longer than he’s ever lived anywhere in a life that has taken him to residences in five states and even more countries. The place that all three of his children grew up and went to high school.
The place where he will receive the ultimate honor.
“I mean, Montana is a beautiful place with access to everything,” Tinkle said of what makes Missoula special. “But really, just the incredible, genuine, kind-hearted folks. They took us in and helped groom us as we grew up.
Wayne Tinkle and wife
Wayne Tinkle celebrates the 2013 Big Sky
tournament championship with his wife, Lisa.
“You talk about being inducted into the hall of fame, and it’s never by yourself. A lot of people had hands in this process – athletically, academically, helping me grow up – so that’s what’s going to be on the forefront of my mind when I’m back there this weekend, hopefully seeing a lot of those folks that had such a huge part in everything I’ve been able to do. To me, this is really a thank you to everybody who has had a hand in helping me along the way.”
Tinkle is excited to have his family by his side, as they have been courtside for much of his coaching career. He’s eager to see former coaches, teammates and colleagues. He’s looking forward to being back in Missoula, a throwback to what much of his life has been.
And yes, he’s excited to join his wife – the first husband-wife duo in Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame history – so that his friends can finally stop ribbing him about Lisa being the hall of famer of the family.
“Personally, to now be in there with my wife is going to be a pretty neat deal,” Tinkle said, before adding, “but she’s still the better athlete in the family.”