MISSOULA — Montana athletic director Kent Haslam wasn’t in town for the Grizzlies’ heartbreaking loss to Montana State in their season finale.
Haslam was in Indianapolis, serving as one of 10 FCS playoff selection committee members representing the auto-bid conferences who put together the 24-team bracket. He didn’t have to worry about recusing himself from any conversation about the Griz since they were eliminated from postseason discussion following the loss to the Cats.
Montana finished the season 6-5 overall and 4-4 in conference play in head coach Bobby Hauck’s return to Missoula after serving in the same role from 2003-09.
The season included the Grizzlies' first three-game losing streak since 1992, their first time losing three consecutive home games in the same season since 1983, their first three-game losing streak to the Cats since 1983-85 and their largest margin of defeat at home since 1985.
There were positives with a season-opening win over future playoff team Northern Iowa, the first road win at Cal Poly since 2008 and a blowout win over Idaho in the first battle for the Little Brown Stein since 2003.
406mtsports.com recently sat down with Haslam to discuss the Brawl of the Wild ending, how he viewed Hauck’s first season, the projection for the football program and his first year on the FCS playoff selection committee.
Q: What was the ending of the Cat-Griz game like for you watching it from afar?
A: I certainly couldn’t pace as much because I was in a chair working on selections. But it’s a different perspective. It really is. It’s a home game I saw on TV for the first time in a long time. It’s amazing how that looks and how that portrays onto TV.
Outcome was obviously sickening. Your stomach drops, and you wonder if you saw that right. That was obviously very difficult. (You) start thinking of student-athletes and coaches and everybody else. But it was, maybe for my nerves, it might have been even a little better to be not right here in the stadium.
Q: Serving on the FCS selection committee, how would you sum up that experience?
A: It was great. Really enlightening for me. You recognize quickly how well thought of the Big Sky Conference is. We’re certainly out here by ourselves. The closest (athletic directors) geographically to us in that room were probably Kyle Moats from Missouri State and Brad Teague from Central Arkansas. So the rest are pretty much from the eastern part of the country.
But it was really good. It was good to get to know colleagues and learn and listen and go through that process. The NCAA as an organization is obviously very, very good at running tournaments. That’s their forte. They’ve got it down to a science, so the technology you have access to and the way you vote and the process by which you do it is pretty fine-tuned. But it was a good experience. I’m looking forward to kind of understanding it a little more over these next few years and doing it.
Q: Could you walk me through what the day was like for you?
A: Saturday, we started at noon, and you just start watching games. And then first you set the seeds. And then go through the process of selecting the at-large teams. That lasted until about midnight Eastern Time when all the games were done. Got them selected. Got them seeded. Got them placed. And then slept on it.
Came back the next morning early, like 7 in the morning and just took a fresh look at it. And then opened the budgets to see who would host those first-round games just based on who put in the best bids. And then when you go back through the process of selecting at-large teams and matching them up, then you look geographically trying to keep as many bus trips as you can. So the NCAA staff is letting you know how many miles it is from point A to point B. If it’s under 400, then you can put them on a bus.
The tournament really is a geographical tournament. It’s a national tournament, but it’s geographically based. So you do look at teams that can bus. Now, out west, you’re pretty much, any team into Eastern (Washington) was going to have to fly. Any team into (UC) Davis was going to have to fly. Any team into Weber (State) was going to have to fly. But, yeah, it’s a long process. It’s tiring. You don’t sleep a whole lot. But it was fun. Good experience.
Q: How many more years do you have on the committee?
A: Three years after this. It’s a four-year appointment. There were five of us that were new to the committee. So that took a little bit of education in the process and the voting system that you use because we each have a screen in front of us, the teams come up, you vote. Those are all tabulated and they come back out and you see where they’re ranked. So you don’t know who else is voting for who. If Montana’s discussed, I leave the room. Learning just that system and the process, that will be helpful in the future.
And then, as part of the assignment, you’re a site rep for the NCAA games. So, I was in Bozeman for the first week and then I went to Cheney (Washington) the second week and then I went to Weber (State) the next week. So you’re there as the site rep as the official NCAA rep.
Q: What do you do in that role?
A: You just make sure that rosters are set. You make sure the logos are correct. You make sure that the game’s operated from a championship experience. Make sure the manual’s being followed. Just simple stuff like the host team’s supposed to provide 150 towels for the visiting team. You make sure that’s done. And you make sure that Powerade’s the one that’s being used on the sidelines. You make sure that that referees are there, and you coordinate ESPN. You coordinate if there’s any weather issues, if there was an unsportsmanlike issue, misconduct issue, games committee issue, power went out, couldn’t finish it. What are you going to do?
Q: Looking at the Griz season, a 6-5 record, a couple surprising home losses. How do you evaluate Bobby’s first season?
A: I think he did a great job. Bobby’s surrounded himself with great coaches. I’m just appreciative of the approach that he has, the understanding that he has of the value of the University of Montana football program. I appreciate his discipline, the way he recruits. There were losses, certainly, that were very, very disappointing. There’s no doubt about it. But overall, I’m glad he’s leading our football program.
Q: Which losses were the most disappointing to you?
A: Griz-Cat, obviously, is disappointing. Losing homecoming was tough, to Portland State. We had some wins that were pretty outstanding, too. When you beat Northern Iowa, that was an amazing win. To go win at Cal Poly, we hadn’t done that in a long time. That win at Idaho, I mean, there’s not been many Montana football teams that have gone into the Kibbie Dome and beat Idaho like that. I’m excited for the future. I’m excited for what we’ve got going on. And looking forward to what lies ahead, that’s for sure.
Q: What do you see as the progression of the football team going forward?
A: We certainly want to be competing for conference championships and playing in the playoffs. The best way to keep me from being a site rep is to keep playing. We have high expectations here. We all know that. Our fans have them. I have them. Our university president has them.
But there’s nobody that has any higher expectations than our coaching staff and our student-athletes. I don’t ever worry about Bobby Hauck and his staff not having extremely high expectations of themselves and our student-athletes. We know. We want to be in the playoffs. We want to be competing for conference championships. There’s no doubt about it.
Q: How far away do you think that is from being a reality?
A: Oh, he’d (Hauck would) know that better than me. I’m not the general manager. I’m not the president and the director of player personnel. I’m not in there on their whiteboard looking at who they’re recruiting. That’s a coach’s job, and that’s why you hire them. My job’s to manage the entire athletic department and keep us moving towards graduation and raising some money. I’m excited. No doubt about it.