New Grizzly offensive coordinator Ron Richards says he has no plans to reinvent Montana's healthy offense

If he's heard it once, he's heard it 100,000 times. Everyone who meets Ron Richards these days wants to know his master plan.

That's the nature of the beast when you're the new offensive coordinator of the University of Montana football team.

"I think I've been asked what I'm gonna do 100,000 times, I truly do," said Richards as he chomped on a cigar after the Grizzlies' first spring practice on Saturday. "Everybody says I exaggerate, but I think in the months I've been here it's been 100,000 times."

His answer? "When I get those questions, I say we're not gonna change something that isn't broken."

Montana's offense didn't appear to need fixing after last season. The Griz finished second in the nation in passing, total yards and points per game. Eight starters, including All-American quarterback Drew Miller, are expected to return to the unit.

Anything less than a repeat performance in 2000 and boosters probably will be grumbling loudly in Richards' direction. That's not something he's worried about.

"I don't look at the expectations of the offense at the University of Montana as being pressure," said Richards, who is approaching 50. "I look at it as an opportunity."

Bob Cole was in a similar situation last spring. Cole left Portland State to become UM's offensive coordinator and added new life to team that had watched its numbers decline for three straight years under Brent Pease. Cole went to Utah State with former Montana coach Mick Dennehy in December.

Richards was one of the first people new Montana coach Joe Glenn called when he accepted the Griz coaching job in December. The two have known each other for years, and Richards' oldest son, Ryan, played for Glenn at Northern Colorado.

Richards spent the last two seasons building a program at South Dakota Tech, an NAIA school. Before that, he was the offensive coordinator for Montana Tech for 13 seasons.

During his tenure, the Orediggers broke 20 school records and the 1997 team led the NAIA in total offense, averaging 521.6 yards per game.

"The decision to come to the University of Montana was not difficult," Richards said. "I was torn because I went to South Dakota to do a job and see the end product. That would've taken five years to really reap any benefits. I felt bad about leaving that. But this is the place I've always wanted to coach."

Richards came to Montana after graduating from Butte High in 1968. He was an offensive lineman for the Griz teams that went to the Camellia Bowl in 1969 and 1970. His senior year he garnered all-conference honors.

This actually is Richards' second stint at a Griz assistant. After graduating, he spent two years as an assistant under Jack Swarthout.

He then headed back to the Mining City and became Butte's offensive line coach. He introduced the Bulldogs to the Wishbone offense, which was highly successful for Swarthout's Grizzlies.

The Wishbone, though, is a thing of the past. Richards likes the no-huddle and shotgun, but he still wants to strive for balance, something Cole emphasized last season. The Griz averaged 147.4 rushing yards per game, one of its highest totals in recent memory.

The 1999 offense featured less shotgun, more use of the tight end as a blocking and passing threat, and a variety of new formations.

"I do know that what happened here offensively one year ago has made it easier for me," Richards said. "It moved toward the direction of balance, which I like. The fans are good with that."

"What I see here at the University of Montana in the future is that we're going to continue to recruit to the passing side," he added. "While were striving for balance, we're always gonna be skewed toward the pass rather than the run."

Richards isn't sure how much the he'll use the no-huddle and the shotgun in 2000. He said the team will begin working with the no-huddle in a couple of weeks.

"The changes will happen, will happen slowly," he said. "Fans are not gonna see a great change. The offense really isn't Ron Richards', it's the University of Montana's and the players. My signature on it will be very light. What's going to happen will happen though evolution; it's not something that's gonna be radical. Our personalities will be expressed as time goes on."

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