The meaning of the green hat, the genesis of the headgear worn by Griz football coach Bob Stitt on the Montana sideline on game days that has led to so many questions, so much hand wringing, so many whispers of 'Doesn’t he know we’re maroon?' can trace its roots back to 1988.
Prior to that, Stitt was the star running back for Doane College in Nebraska. Scott Bostwick, the reason for the green hat, was the standout linebacker for Nebraska Wesleyan. Each school was the other’s hated rival and they were, located just 20 miles apart, one in Crete, the other in Lincoln.
Bostwick and Stitt became friends, though. It came at an indoor track and field meet at Wesleyan in the winter of 1988.
There, Stitt bumped into Bostwick, who had just been hired as Wesleyan’s defensive coordinator by new head coach Jim Svoboda. Spying Svoboda, Bostwick called his new boss over and told him, “This is the guy you need to hire to coach our running backs.”
He didn’t know how it would look for Nebraska Wesleyan to hire someone from Doane, but the next morning Svoboda called Stitt and offered him the job.
“I don’t think Jim knew what he was doing at the time, putting Scott and me on the same staff, but thank God he did, because those six month were the foundation of our friendship. It only grew stronger over the next 25 years,” Stitt says.
It was the type of environment that incubated deep friendships. Without family or the money to do anything else, they sat around the office deep into the night discussing X’s and O’s and life. Both Svoboda and Bostwick would be in Stitt’s wedding.
Stitt was at Wesleyan for just one season, barely half a year, before Northern Colorado coach Joe Glenn convinced him to become one of his staff’s graduate assistants.
With Stitt gone to Greeley, he and Bostwick would never again be on the same staff. Still something unbreakable was in place.
It would not only last until Bostwick’s death, but grow stronger over the years.
“I didn’t realize it until the time he died that we had talked at least once a week for more than 20 years. Sometimes it was two times, sometimes it was three," Stitt said. "Every time I’d get on the phone with Bos, my wife would just roll her eyes, because she knew it was going to be an hour."
Stitt got his first head coaching job at Colorado School of Mines.
He and Bostwick, now settled in as the defensive coordinator for Northwest Missouri, put their heads down and got to work. Bostwick's squad lost in the Division II national championship game in 2005, ’06, ’07 and ’08, each time by a touchdown or less, until breaking through for the program's third title in 2009.
After Stitt’s own rough start in Golden, Colorado -- the Orediggers went 2-8 in his debut in 2000 -- Mines would win the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title in 2004, going 8-0 in league and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
A loss to Pittsburg State kept Mines from facing Northwest Missouri -- and Bostwick -- in the national quarterfinals.
“Bos and I were similar in that we could have gone and done different things, but we were focused on building our programs,” said Stitt. “You work hard and do a good job where you’re at, and you might miss out on opportunities, but you don’t even think about it. Then you wake up and it’s 15 years later."
In all that time, Stitt and Bostwick never lost the connection that started in their one season together at Nebraska Wesleyan. To every other coach he would come to know over the years, he was always Stitty. To Bostwick he was always Bobby.
In 2010, Northwest Missouri went 12-2. The Bearcats second loss of the season came in the semifinals. Twenty days later, Bostwick was introduced as Northwest Missouri's new head coach.
Stitt spent time with Bostwick the following May, one head coach mentoring a first-timer who hardly needed it.
One month later, Stitt was the first speaker at Bostwick’s memorial service.
“I think when people go to heaven, they take on what they looked like when they were happiest on earth," Stitt said at the service. "When I see Bos, I think he’ll look exactly like he did when I saw him in May. I’d never seen him so happy.”
As so often happens with the most terrible events in life, Stitt -- now six years later -- remembers clearly the day he got the phone call. Stitt and his family were packing up to take a vacation to Las Vegas.
The memories of the next few days have become hazy, lost in the overwhelming emotions of the news’ aftermath. It just didn’t seem possible, to Stitt or the thousands who showed up that day, fellow coaches, former players and people Bostwick probably didn’t even know he’d inspired.
When Stitt began his part of the eulogy by stepping up to the on-field dais, he put on a red hat. It was the same kind worn by Bostwick on the sideline during games, something that allowed his linebackers to easily spot him -- among all that Bearcat green.
It took time, but finally Stitt started to whisper. It was a cracking voice that revealed to everyone in attendance the depth of the two coaches’ relationship.
“Scott Bostwick was many things to many people. Husband, father, son, brother, coach and friend. And he was my best friend," said Stitt. "If it’s possible to find your soulmate in a friend, I did in Bos."
Stitt had to move on. With his friend on his mind every day that summer in the weeks leading up to the 2011 season at Mines, Stitt mulled different ways he could memorialize Bostwick. Something noticeable but subtle.
What better way than to don a red hat on game day? Not only was it practical -- given his team’s blue and silver colors, his quarterbacks would now be able to pick him out that much quicker in an offense that valued every second of efficiency -- it also was deeply personal.
“Not one person ever asked in my last four seasons at Mines why I wore a red hat,” says Stitt. “I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked about the green hat here.”
In his first spring at Montana, in 2015, Stitt had a problem. He wanted to continue the tradition, but a red hat on a maroon sideline wouldn’t work. He considered yellow, then he came up with an even better solution.
He isn’t asking that you join him, because 26,000 green hats would defeat the purpose. He just hopes you understand why he does it.
It's for the only undefeated coach in Northwest Missouri history who enjoys the only greener pasture that ever could have taken him out of Maryville, Missouri.