With the announcement of Bob Stitt as the University of Montana’s next head football coach, those Grizzly fans who wanted a breath of fresh air can fill those lungs.
Make that all Griz fans. Breathe in. Now exhale.
Not everyone is happy. Vocal supporters of former coach Bobby Hauck abound, and others wonder if Brent Pease has to turn Coke into Pepsi before he’ll get a shot at coaching the team he set passing records with in 1986.
But in Stitt the Grizzlies found a home-spun, successful Division II head coach who will remind some of Joe Glenn, without the piano and steady diet of B-gap runs.
Stitt, who is to be officially introduced on UM’s campus on Friday, has a tough job. He’ll need to score points, win games, and pack Washington-Grizzly Stadium with fans who actually like the offense.
And all while recruiting student-athletes who complete their graduation requirements and do no worse than chew with their mouths open.
It’s a tough job to enforce discipline anywhere in college football but Montana has had extra scrutiny of late, topped by making national headlines for alleged sexual assaults.
The coaching change in 2012 marked the nadir, but who can say exactly when the program started losing traction on a slippery slope? The same fans who remember a murder charge and a home invasion under Bobby Hauck may not recall a drug conviction of a player under Mick Dennehy or when Joe Glenn booted a running back for an alleged assault.
Certainly they recall Mike Kramer’s ouster from Montana State, after it was revealed a Bobcat player used scholarship money to finance a drug operation. Also notable was local columnist Rial Cummings writing that, “Whenever recruiting is involved, things can get muddy in a hurry.”
That ran in the Missoulian on May 20, 2007. Less than six months later I found myself asking then-UM president George Dennison about Hauck’s future as head coach after three Grizzlies were arrested after a “drug rip.”
Through those trying days and up until Robin Pflugrad and his replacement, Mick Delaney, missed the FCS playoffs with their first teams, the Griz won and won.
You could easily draw a parallel, too, until you boot up Hauck's 2008-09 Grizzly teams that made back-to-back championship runs, mixing in nail-biter and blowout, walk-on and blue-chipper, all while being acceptably milquetoast off the field.
Stitt won a pile of games at Colorado School of Mines while running an offense that is decidedly not vanilla. He did it with petroleum engineering majors playing running back.
In the end most college coaches look to give athletes a chance at an education they might not otherwise have. Stitt, who was an assistant to Glenn at Northern Colorado and has a son named Joe, is an innovator who apparently gets the most out of his recruits.
Connection to Glenn aside, it is impressive that Stitt won 108 games with the Orediggers, a program that doesn’t reach the full DII allotment of 36 scholarships. Portland State, before it joined the FCS and the Big Sky Conference, was a Division II program with a full allotment.
That proud program produced the winningest coach in Griz history, but Don Read’s record in two stints with the Vikings was 39-52-1.
Never mind, a young Kaimin reporter was told in 1986. He’s upbeat, personable and, well, wait until you see his offense.
Before Pease became an excitable offensive coordinator, he earned a shot at the NFL in that offense. “Air Read” transformed a program and put repeated stress on the on-campus stadium, which barely seem to get its concrete settled before the next expansion was planned.
Maybe Bob Stitt isn’t a breath of fresh air after all. Maybe Griz fans have seen this show before: Personable guy beats the bushes of Montana for the best recruits, pushes the envelope on offense and hands out “Stitt Happens” T-shirts.
The place could do a lot worse.
Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 523-5247, at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Fritz_Neighbor.