BUTTE — If the state of Montana had a Mount Rushmore of its best coaches, any sport at any level, there’s no doubt two of Butte’s favorite sons would make the cut. Mick Delaney and Mick Dennehy both coached football for more than three decades, with stints on the high school fields, though the majority of time came on the college football sidelines.
Butte born and raised, Delaney and Dennehy are among a select few to have coached at both Montana and Montana State during their careers. The duo coached together at Montana State under fellow Butte native Sonny Lubick in the early 1980s, and each served as head coach of the Montana Grizzlies, Dennehy from 1996-99, Delaney from 2012-14.
Both are now retired, back in Butte and working to perfect their golf games, but late this summer took a short break from the greens to sit down with MTN Sports to chat about their Mining City upbringings, various coaching stints and to once and for all get to the bottom of which Mick is the better golfer.
MTN Sports: The first thing I noticed, we’re reaching out to folks in Butte and saying, “Do you have one of the Micks’ numbers?” I (was given) Mick Delaney’s number, yet Mick Dennehy called me back, so I’m just wondering how often that happens? How often do you guys get mixed up to this day?
Dennehy: “You’d be surprised.”
Delaney: “My comment is always, ‘It could be a lot worse. There are worse guys to get compared to.’ It’s usually the ladies, for some reason or another. They must think he’s a lot better-looking than I am.”
Dennehy: “They all have very good eyesight, Mick.”
Delaney: “They must have. Yeah, and then they always bite their tongue and I say, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s been happening since this Mick was in high school.’ When we coached together, he was ‘Junior’ from the one and only Cliff Hysel. He was ‘Junior’ and I was ‘Mick.'”
MTN Sports: When did your guys’ paths first cross?
Delaney: “They crossed the first time when Mick was a senior in high school and we recruited him. I was at the University of Montana at that time and Jack Elway recruited Mick. I was there as a graduate assistant and had the pleasure of coaching him as a freshman. I tried to ruin his career right off the bat.”
MTN Sports: You were able to overcome that, clearly?
Delaney: “No, not really. He reminds me every day that he hasn’t overcome it.”
Dennehy: “I had shoulder surgery on the second of January and I always blame it on Coach Delaney, simply because when I was a freshman — freshmen couldn’t play, they weren’t eligible to play varsity, so we had a freshman schedule. We played against Montana State the first game and handled them pretty easily, then against the University of Idaho in the second game — it’s amazing how often this happens, being in the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the right time — opening kickoff I was standing too close to Coach Delaney. I’m not on the kickoff team, but there’s only 10 guys out there, so he grabs me and throws me out there. I’m kind of counting to see where I should line up. Anyway, this big, old dude from Idaho trucked me, broke my collarbone, separated my shoulder, dislocated my shoulder in one swoop. I didn’t even slow him down. Anyway, I blame my shoulder surgery last January on Mick Sr.”
Delaney: “Every time he hits a bad golf shot it’s my fault. ‘Oh God, you screwed my shoulder up 35 to 40 years ago.'”
MTN Sports: I was just going to ask how often that comes up when you guys are on the golf course?
Delaney: “Often, let me tell you.”
MTN Sports: When you’re looking back at the careers that both of you have had, the similar upbringings, how much fun is it for you to reminisce about some of those days and sit here and chat about some of these names we’re talking about?
Delaney: “You know, we don’t do it too often. Occasionally, but when we do it’s usually a situation like this, an interview or someone wants to talk specifically about when he was playing, when he was coaching or how I followed him at Montana Western, those types of things. Neither one of us really live in the past, you know? It’s fun at times when somebody mentions it to bring up the guys we’ve been fortunate to coach.”
Dennehy: “I think, probably, we talk more about some of the things that are happening currently, either at the University — of course, I recruited and coached Jeff Choate at Western, and of course he finished up there coaching with Mick and is now at Montana State. We’ve got pretty vested interests in both programs. We’ve both worked at Montana State and the University of Montana and I think we probably are visiting more along the lines of current stuff that goes on instead of the old days.”
MTN Sports: Talking currently then, with ties to both programs and both coaches, how much fun is this right now? As far as Cats and Griz are concerned, this is as much excitement as we’ve seen in a while, just built off all the hype and we haven’t even gotten to November yet.
Delaney: “We will. Mick just mentioned, we were both at Montana State as assistants, we were both at the University of Montana as assistants, head coaches at Montana, my children played at Montana, my son, his two sons played at Montana, so I’m still Montana through and through. There are no ifs, ands or buts about that come that game.”
Dennehy: “Oh no, no question. But I will say this, I think it’s good for football in the state of Montana to have a guy like Jeff Choate down there getting things going again. I think that single-handedly will do a lot in terms of the University of Montana getting a hell of a lot better real fast.”
MTN Sports: The hype and excitement around that program is huge. What about on the opposite side of the state with Bobby Hauck coming back? How big was it for that program to get back on track?
Delaney: “I think it was a a must at this point in time. Bobby says it now, ‘It’s not going to be the exact same when he left 10 years ago,’ whatever it was. It’s going to be a battle, but you do see that emotion, excitement and toughness every single day at the University of Montana. You’ve seen that the last two years under Coach Choate at Montana State.”
Dennehy: “I concur whole-heartedly. I think it’s wonderful, I think the timing is fabulous and obviously, very much-needed. It’s going to make things very interesting.”
Delaney: “I don’t know what it means, but I see about twice per week one or the other of them trolls the other. You tell me, I don’t know what the hell ‘troll’ is, but anyway, their social media, they get after each other pretty good.”
MTN Sports: We’re beyond the age of knowing what troll means on social media, so it’s beyond all of us there. It was fun to watch that. As former coaches, how challenging is it watching as the program was going through some of the struggles they had? From the outside wanting to have some decision making, ‘This is where I would go,’ something like that, how difficult that is being on the outside and not the inside?
Delaney: “It was really difficult the last couple years for a couple reasons. No. 1, I had a grandson who was involved and playing in the program at Montana. It was hard at times to watch the energy and enthusiasm that wasn’t present, as far as I was concerned. Doing some of the TV work, I saw a lot of games and had to be really careful, which I was at that point in time, but now that it’s passed, it was mandatory, I think, to have somebody that understands what the University of Montana is all about.”
Dennehy: “I agree, very frustrating. I think, once again, as Mick said, I think things are in really good hands in terms of the kind of effort we’re seeing and the kind of enthusiasm we’re going to see, kids having fun, and when they’re having fun they’re flying around. I think it will make a real big difference in a real short period of time.”
MTN Sports: Four coaches, you two, Bobby (Hauck) and Don (Read), rank them in terms of that energy and enthusiasm. If we start at the top and go down to the bottom, who was fired up more on the sideline and in those practices and bringing that heat and energy?
Delaney: “I think Mick can speak to Don a lot better than I can because he coached with him and was around him more than I ever was.”
Dennehy: “Don was, he was really, really fantastic to work for. He let us coach, you knew he had your back. There were times on Saturdays where he could be a little bit of a pain in the rear end if we didn’t get a first down when we were supposed to and stuff like that, but we had good coaches that would step between. He was a very competitive guy, a very bright guy, but just an absolutely wonderful guy to work for.”
Delaney: “I think we all had a little different style of emotion, like you say. The times I saw Don, he wasn’t a guy like myself that was half crazy all the time, going and going and going. He was very calm, so to speak, when I saw him and pretty much always had control of his thinking beyond where it was. I wasn’t smart enough to think way, way ahead, so I had to react in the instant.”
MTN Sports: Compare then to now. How much has changed in terms of the coaching process for the head guy? More challenging? More work? Less sleep? Or is it about the same?
Dennehy: “I think the biggest thing that’s changed in coaching and dealing with young people is social media. I think it’s made everybody’s job a whole lot harder. When I was there, people had cell phones, but cameras and videos and instant stuff that went on Facebook, etcetera, etcetera, it wasn’t quite there yet. That in a nutshell has made coaches’ jobs 9,000 percent more difficult than the old days, where you could still do and say stuff in an emotional way at practice and not have it, not have 900,000 views an hour later. That’s a weird dynamic for me.”
MTN Sports: How much would you have loved to have HUDL back then, though? All the recruiting tape right there online.
Delaney: “It would have certainly been an advantage, but work is work, whether you look at it online or you have it on a rack in the building, in your area. Yeah, it probably makes it easier with HUDL and technology. As I was finishing up (my coaching career) I wasn’t quite smart enough to take advantage of all that type of stuff. We were still using a lot of tape, discs and that type of stuff.”
Dennehy: “You still had the same, I mean, we had the end zone shot, the wide shot and we watched it after practice every day. I think it was probably a little more expensive, man-power wise and probably a little more expensive financially doing it the way we used to do it, but you still got the same stuff.”
Delaney: “We were both fortunate enough to coach back in the day where, when you had 16-millimeter film you would be in a room this big and to get what you wanted you had to cut and splice, you would look across the wall and there would be 100 pieces of footage of tape you had to put back together to get what you wanted and things like that. Now you just click, erase it and off you go. I could see working until midnight back in those days, but I’m not big on that anymore.”
MTN Sports: Since retirement, what’s that best trip or most exciting moment you guys have had that coaching didn’t allow you to do?
Delaney: “Outside of coaching?”
MTN Sports: Yeah.
Dennehy: “I’ve taken several. The last one was probably as memorable, my wife and I went to Washington D.C. in April. It was fabulous.”
Delaney: “My wife and I were fortunate when I was at Colorado State. I think we went eight years in a row to Hawaii for a week during spring break. We played golf with a very good friend of ours who had a beautiful place on the big island. It was fantastic, as far as being away from (working). But still, the things through my life, and I’m sure Mick’s, that have been most rewarding and most enjoyable have been because of football: bowl games, huge rivalry games, things like that. Those are the things that you mentioned a while ago that you reminisce about once in a while, how fortunate we were. We played in the Holiday Bowl three times and the Liberty Bowl three times, a national championship in 2008 and 2009 with Bobby (Hauck) when I first came back. Those are the things that are so memorable.”
MTN Sports: How often do you guys golf together? Who wins that?
Delaney: “He’s a better golfer than I am. He’s way younger than I am.”
Dennehy: “He’s playing from the red tees, now. He’s being generous.”
Delaney: “He hits it 150 yards farther than my best drive. Mick is way younger than me. He and my wife are the same age, so he’s a much better golfer.”
MTN Sports: Hole-in-ones? Anything close for either of you?
Delaney: “I have three of them.”
Dennehy: “Two double eagles, no holes-in-one.”
Delaney: “Two at Canyon River and one in Billings years ago. My son was living there, we went out spring recruiting in May and it was snowing and the wind was blowing at Peter Yegen. It was me, him and one maintenance guy on the whole golf course and I bounced one in on a Par 3. The guy did see it, so someone other than my son saw that one. It’s been fun.”
MTN Sports: If we’re building a Mount Rushmore here in Butte, who goes on there besides your faces?
Delaney: “Oh gosh, there are so many. One thing that’s really, I’ve found to be really unique and interesting and I’ve mentioned it before in interviews, coming out of Butte, at the University of Montana and at Montana State there have been five head coaches from Butte, Montana. Mick and I at the University of Montana, George (Jiggs) Dahlberg at the University of Montana, Sonny Lubick and Jim Sweeney at Montana State…”
Dennehy: “Sonny Holland.”
Delaney: “…and Sonny Holland, so that’s (six or) seven is it? All from the Mining City. There’s been a ton of other coaches that have won other places that were so outstanding. To me, this is the breeding grounds of so many great football coaches.”
Dennehy: “There’s no doubt about it. Even when you look into the high school ranks over the last 20, 30 years in Montana, you’ve got guys like (Ron) Lebsock who won state championships, (Paul) Klaboe who won state championships and they’re just all over the place.”
Delaney: “And it’s fun. Again, not living in the past, but looking at what Butte has done for us and just being so humble and proud to have been able to represent Butte, Montana through the years, even though, Mick, you never did coach here in Butte, did you?”
Delaney: “I was at Butte Central for a couple years way back, but still, this is it. This is Butte.”
Dennehy: “I had a chance, right before I graduated, Dewey Allen, who was a Kalispell kid, punter, actually he was an NFL-caliber punter and a friend of mine who was a coach out in Washington. He recommended me for a job in Colton, Washington, because he was moving on to the other side of the state. After my wife and I went for the interview, Dan Peters and John McElroy called and said, ‘Hey, we would like you to come work in Butte.’ I probably would have, the money was a lot better, but it’s one of those things you learn from Butte, you’re loyal and give your word. I had already given my word, so that’s where we started. It ended up fine. Shoot, we had great kids and golly, from that little Class B team kids went and starred at Notre Dame, Washington State, all over the place. It was a good experience, probably good for a lot of reasons. My wife and I were away from everybody for four years and all kinds of things, but we had a chance, passed it all.”
MTN Sports: We’re pushing high-temp golf hours, did we do all right? Your shoulder feels OK and we’re not napping, so we did all right?
Dennehy: “My group is gone, I’m going home to take a nap.”
Delaney: “My group, we’ve been done since 10 o’clock. We start at 7.”