This article appeared on Buttesports.com on Nov. 27, 2013.
The first time I met Mick Delaney he made me a sandwich.
It was a good sandwich, too. Turkey on white with lettuce, American and mayo. It also came with a joke.
While his brother Charlie ran the bar at the Vu Villa, Mick was in charge of the pizza and sandwich shop next door.
School at Butte Central Junior High got out at around noon on Fridays. Often about 10 boys would head down the street to the Vu right after school.
Even though we’d typically each order a sandwich instead of making it easier on Mick by ordering a couple pizzas, Mick typically greeted us with a smile.
Those Friday afternoons were some of the most memorable times of junior high. We’d get to play a few arcade games and a little pool until bar patrons started arriving. Then Charlie or bartender Mike Hogart would tell us it was time to scram.
Those days were the first of many good times spent at Delaney’s Vu Villa. I was so fond of the place that people accused me of naming my oldest daughter, Delaney, after the bar. Honestly, I didn’t.
Unless, that is, Mick or Charlie are willing to put her in their will.
So, it was hard not to be happy for Mick Delaney on Saturday afternoon. He had just picked up what had to be the biggest win as a head coach when his Montana Grizzlies beat the Montana State Bobcats 28-14 in Bozeman.
The win, incidentally, came about two years after Delaney had decided it was time to spend more of his life with his wife and on the golf course. Entering his 70s, the coach decided to call it quits to a coaching career that began at Butte Central in 1964.
Coach Delaney had definitely served his time. Aside from the few years at the Vu, Delaney was a coaching lifer, spending time at UM, MSU, Montana Western, Colorado State and UM again.
Then the Grizzly football program fell apart in a very public way. With suspensions, allegations, firings and trials tearing down the great football program, the school was in desperate need of some instant credibility.
In the smartest move the school made in the past decade, the Grizzlies turned to a Butte guy, and Delaney agreed to leave his short-lived retirement and return to the team where he was a successful running back coach the previous four seasons.
Delaney had helped turn Chase Reynolds into a legend, but this job was much bigger. He had to salvage a free-falling team that we had become accustomed to seeing win on a regular basis ever since Don Read rode into Montana in 1986.
While a lot of coaches would have run from the job of jamming a finger into a leaking dam, Delaney embraced the challenge.
With his starting quarterback suspended from the team last year, Delaney’s Grizzlies missed the playoffs. The season came to a sad end with a loss to Montana State in Missoula.
One year later, Delaney turned the tide. And, of course, he deflected the credit after the huge victory.
“The tribute goes to the coaches and players,” Delaney said. “They’ve just hung in there and have taken that old sports cliché so-to-speak — sticking together, being family, caring about each other, and taking care of each other off and on the field. It’s just a great accomplishment by a group of young guys that set some goals in January when we came back for our winter program and have continued to expand upon everything.”
Victory was basically two for one. It sends the Grizzlies to the playoffs, and gave the team a first-round bye. Delaney’s Grizzlies will play at home on Saturday, Dec. 7. A win will likely send them on the road to take on two-time national champion North Dakota State the following week.
The road to a national title is a difficult one, and maybe even an unlikely one for the Grizzlies. Still, after just two seasons in Missoula, it’s fair to say that Coach Delaney has certainly accomplished his mission of restoring the roar of the Grizzlies.
Delaney brought credibility back to the Grizzly program and then some. He surpassed the expectations of even the most unreasonable Griz fans.
Years from now, Delaney will likely be looked at as one of the most important head coaches in the history of the program.
At the very least, he’s definitely the greatest coach in school history when it comes to making a turkey sandwich.
Bill Foley's "Tap 'er Light" columns appear weekly at Buttesports.com.