SPOKANE — Several big changes hit the Big Sky Conference's football programs in the past eight months.
North Dakota is now an FCS Independent school. Idaho has rejoined the league. And Bobby Hauck is back leading the Grizzlies.
Hauck's return to the Big Sky is full of friendly faces.
He's worked on the same staffs as Idaho State's Rob Phenicie (UCLA 1991-92, Montana 2003-09, UNLV 2010-14) and Northern Arizona's Jerome Souers (Montana 1988-89). He's also coached against several league skippers, too.
When Hauck led UNLV, he coached against Northern Colorado's Earnest Collins Jr. in 2014 and faced Souers in 2012. When Hauck was at UM last time, he played Tim Walsh's Portland State teams four times and Walsh's Cal Poly team in 2009. Souers' crews played Hauck's Montana teams seven times.
Of course, there are some new faces too, like Southern Utah's Demario Warren — but Warren is well aware of who Hauck is.
"He was the standard when I first got into coaching," Warren said of Hauck. "We weren't in the Big Sky, we were in the Great West, but I knew of him. I didn't know many FCS coaches but we knew who Bobby Hauck was."
The following is a Q & A with several head football coaches in the Big Sky Conference about Hauck's return to the league. Those coaches are Cal Poly's Tim Walsh, Idaho's Paul Petrino, Portland State's Bruce Barnum, Sacramento State's Jody Sears, Southern Utah's Demario Warren, UC Davis' Dan Hawkins and Montana State's Jeff Choate.
Editor's Note: All of the interviews in this story occurred during the Big Sky's football kickoff event in July in Spokane.
What were your initial thoughts when Hauck was hired back in December?
Walsh: "If you're going to make a coaching change, I think they picked the right person. Bobby Hauck, he understands Missoula. He understands the University of Montana. He's had great success there in the past. He brings confidence back to the team and the community. I think that's scary. We all know who Montana is as a football program."
Warren: "When he got hired, it was awesome. We get to compete against one of the best coaches that's ever coached in this league. It's another chance to really test yourself against some of the best coaches, and obviously, he's one of the best that's ever done it."
Choate: "I think (his return will be) probably more impactful in-state with Montana State because I think what's going to happen is we're going to see more intense in-state recruiting battles because I know he values Montana kids and we'll go toe-to-toe on the best and the brightest in the state. I think that might be one of the things that changes for us directly at Montana State. I think it's hard to make a rivalry as good as the Montana State-Montana game any better, but I do think the emphasis he places on that game and winning the in-state recruiting battles and knowing how important that game is and winning those battles will make a great game even better."
What does Hauck add to the league's fraternity of coaches?
Sears: "He's proven. He adds leadership. He's been there, done that. He's had success. I think all of us, including myself, I think we can all learn by watching how he runs his program and the success that he has. I think it's a nice added dimension to the conference, obviously to Montana, too. He's a great friend except for one day of the year when we battle it out. Lot of great experience and leadership for sure."
Barnum: "Professionalism. He's been FBS. He's been to all the different levels of college football and he's had success already. I know why they interview for head coaching jobs, I know why they say 'Head coaching experience required' because there's so much that you learn in that first time. He's already learned it at Montana. He made a run at it back then. I'm glad he's back. I know Timm Rosenbach (Montana's offensive coordinator). It'll be a different, tactical game. But playing Montana, that's not going to change. You've got Griz Nation. They're a proud program."
Walsh: "Everybody has a lot of respect for Bobby. I think there's a lot of mutual respect. No offense to some of the guys who are newer coaches, but there was a group of us that became good friends. It's a good atmosphere for college athletics because it broods the fact that, 'I respect you. You respect me.' The old thing about sportsmanship and those things. I think it's created by getting to know people and know who they are as people as well as coaches. I've gotten to know Bobby over the years and I have a lot of respect for him, not only as a football coach but as a person, a family man, a father."
Warren: "He has a ton of experience and a ton of winning. He adds a winning culture. You have him and Dan Hawkins who have won, I don't know how many games now. Getting to compete against those type of coaches and you have Tim Walsh who's another guy that's been around. Paul Petrino. There's some great coaches in this conference and now Jay Hill is coming up as one of the new, young coaches. Each week you're getting a chance to challenge yourself against the latest schemes, the best schematic coaches, the best game-management coaches. It'll be exciting to see him, along with the other coaches in the conference."
Hawkins: "I think it's great. He brings a lot of credibility. He has a great resume, strong ties to Montana. Then you have Paul Petrino coming in as well. The experience level, the success level, the credentials, it ups the whole league. You start looking around here, there's darn good coaches with darn good resumes in this league."
Choate: "I think there's a lot of exceptional coaches in this league. The league's very different than when Coach Hauck was here originally. I think it'll be interesting to see how the changes within the conference maybe affect him more. I don't think he's going to be any different. I think he is who he is. He's got a success track record at that university and knows the brand of football he wants to play and how he wants to go about his business."
Petrino: "He's won in this league before, so he knows how to get it done. He's had experience. He has a bunch of Montana ties, so that's going to help greatly in recruiting. Everyone knows his family in that state. He's going to bring all sorts of experience and ties in all aspects. The Grizzlies are really lucky to have him back and he's going to do a great job there."