MISSOULA – It started with a second straight loss to the Cats. It ended with a man who took the Griz to more National Championship Games than suffered rivalry losses.
Montana State beat Montana 31-23 on November 18th. Two days later, UM announced it wouldn’t renew head coach Bob Stitt’s contract after back-to-back non-playoff seasons.
Three years ago, Stitt took over a Griz program on probation and digging out of an ugly scandal. His teams went 21-14, including 14-10 in the Big Sky. But expectations are sky high in Missoula – and university officials deemed it wasn’t enough.
Many fans were eager for the change, but some were skeptical. Stitt was a winning coach all three of his years, and ran a basically clean program – principles athletic director Kent Haslam always prioritized.
“I really want to make sure that continues, this culture of team unity, respect, collaboration within the department and outside of the department,” said Haslam. “But I do think we need to get that toughness back, that swagger. I want a coach that will grasp that, and really understand what it’s like to be the head coach at the University of Montana.”
Who would know better, of course, than the winningest coach in program history? In the end, Hauck’s familiarity and style won out as Montana introduced him December 1st as their 37th head football coach.
“Ladies and gentleman it’s appropriate that the 37th head football coach at the University of Montana is a native Montanan, Mr. Bobby Hauck,” Haslam said at the introductory press conference.
A packed room filled with fans, boosters, UM staff, and Bobby Hauck’s family all cheered his return. But the new head coach and the man who hired him wasted no time pointing out the elephant in the room. The debate over whether or not UM should bring Hauck back became very ugly over the prior week, and the two men made sure everyone knew they didn’t appreciate the degrading dialogue from both sides.
“There’s no room for harassment in Griz Nation,” Haslam said. “We can disagree, but there is no reason to belittle, or harass. And I absolutely condemn that behavior.”
“We’re going to all treat each other with dignity and respect around here,” said Hauck. “It’s a core value of this University. It’s a core value of this football program. And it has to be a core value within the fan base, cause we’re all together in this. It’s Griz Nation.”
Hauck didn’t brush the tough issues under the rug. He addressed some of his past mistakes at UM. He took responsibility for a poor relationship with the school newspaper, and apologized for the actions of some of his former players. But that’s a unique fact about a coach returning to his old job – everyone remembers what happened the first time, the good and the bad. And that previous experience made Hauck the right candidate in Haslam’s eyes.
“There are very few people who know exactly what they’re walking into,” Haslam explained. “Bobby does.”
“One of the best things about this place is that there is no apathy here,” said Hauck of his decision to return. “Apathy is the enemy. The only good places to be a college football coach are places where people care.”
When asked about how the Griz would look next year, Hauck didn’t mention x’s and o’s or what formations to expect. He instead preached a philosophy that echoed exactly what Haslam was looking for when he parted ways with Stitt.
“I’m not so much worried about style. I’m worried about temperament, intensity, physical play, toughness. The four goals at this place are going to remain the same. To get your degree, to win the rivalry game, to win the Big Sky championship, and to win the national championship. Together, we’re going to return to dominance here.”