University of Montana Athletic Director Kent Haslam could not have chosen a more controversial figure than Bobby Hauck, a former head coach for the Griz football team, to become the new head coach for the Grizzlies football team.
When Hauck left UM for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in 2009 after coaching the Griz through seven winning seasons, he left behind a cloud of negative publicity and suspicion that lingered for years after.
Now, eight years and three head coaches later, some in Missoula remember that time fondly while others see it as a dark stain on the history of the football program. Some love Hauck. Some hate him. Some see Hauck as responsible for allowing players to run amok. Some swear he did more than most coaches to set a good example and keep his players in line.
His success on the field and his good regard with his players are not in dispute. During his time with the Griz, the team scored seven Big Sky Conference titles in a row, and made it to the FCS title game three times. Hauck was named Big Sky Coach of the Year three times as well.
Yet no one petitioned UM against hiring any of its previous head coaches, while a petition urging Haslam to reject Hauck garnered more than 600 signatures in less than a week. The creator of that petition, a Griz fan herself, then became the target of the worst kind of personal attacks on social media from other avowed Griz fans.
Haslam set the right tone in his response to these attacks. Immediately after he was made aware of them, Haslam directed one of his administration’s employees to contact the man who posted personal information and particularly threatening messages, and demand that he remove the comment thread from maroonblood.com. Further, the man was told that if his boorish behavior continued, he would lose his season tickets and tailgating permits.
That’s an exemplary lead that Hauck would be wise to follow. In a press conference announcing his hiring on Friday, Hauck certainly set the right tone with unequivocal comments condemning sexual assault and promising to improve his relationship with reporters.
Now, Hauck must follow through and show Missoula that things will be different this time.
A lot has changed in the years since Hauck was last at UM. The university, the city police and county prosecutors, as well as Missoula as a community, have become leaders on sexual assault response. But this progress came at a steep price, with the U.S. Department of Justice and national media attention focused on a problem that is by no means unique to our community.
As part of its agreement with the Justice Department, the University of Montana has made core changes to the way it handles sexual harassment and assault reports. It has taken pains to increase awareness among faculty, staff and the student body; increase training and resources; and follow strict disciplinary steps when warranted.
Hauck must now be at the forefront of this progress. He must show the larger community that he is committed to it by being a vocal advocate for sexual assault prevention. He must show his players that he means it when he says criminal behavior will not be tolerated.
This means holding his players accountable if they commit a serious crime or otherwise hurt someone. And it means holding himself accountable, by making himself available to journalists no matter whether they are from the student newspaper or an international news organization.
Like Haslam, Hauck also can speak directly to the worst behavior from Griz fans. No, he’s not accountable for any of the oafish posts on social media; he is, however, in a prime position to push back against it.
Hauck's contract is expected to be approved by Montana Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian without delay. He will once again be a public employee, employed by the people of Montana, and as such, he must remember that he has a responsibility to his fellow Montanans to be transparent. As a prominent community leader of a beloved football team and de facto leader of all of Griz Nation, he has a moral and social responsibility as well.
Even more than final football scores, those are the standards to which Hauck will be held.