Last fall, when the Montana football team released its preseason practice schedule, a Griz staffer remarked about the program's shift from workouts at the Riverbowl Fields toward practices exclusively inside the confines of Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
"When you've got the Taj Mahal," he quipped.
Well the Griz can't set foot in their gridiron temple right now. It's getting its floors redone.
The Griz will hold their first week of practices at the Riverbowl, just a few hundred yards northwest of their stadium home, while artificial turf replacement at Wa-Griz concludes this week. The first practice -- set for Tuesday at 9 a.m. -- comes two weeks into a three-week installation process that's flying by at lightning speed.
"If we had done this earlier in the summer, I don't think we would have moved at as frenetic of a pace," said Kent Haslam, Montana athletic director.
The cause for the rush, obviously, is to get the Griz back to their normal routine ahead of the Sept. 3 home opener against Saint Francis. But the reason the project didn't start until July 25 is a little more complicated.
UM athletics required approval from the Montana University System Board of Regents -- because the project cost was in excess of $350,000 -- to replace its football turf one year ahead of schedule. Haslam said the final bid from FieldTurf, the company contracted to provide all artificial playing surfaces in Montana, was $478,000.
The Griz got the OK on July 19 because the current surface was beginning to be a safety concern, Haslam said, and because FieldTurf agreed to delay billing until 2018. That gives UM time to earn its $625,000 paycheck from playing at Washington in 2017 and hand the majority of it off to FieldTurf.
FieldTurf worked on four football fields in Montana this summer. Wa-Griz is on the list with Rocky Mountain College's Herb Klindt Field and Daylis Stadium in Billings, Butte High's Naranche Stadium and Missoula County Stadium here in town.
Installation at Washington-Grizzly should be complete by Monday, Aug. 15 just in time for the Grizzlies' first scrimmage. That 4 p.m. contest is open to the public and inside the stadium.
Fans that day will get the first look at the state-of-the-art surface and its new field design.
Still patrolling midfield is the massive grizzly bear logo, the image measuring 13 yards by 9 yards. When FieldTurf and Grizzly athletics were toying with ideas for the logo, the current bear was too hard to ditch, Haslam said.
"It's iconic. I didn't want to be the one to take that out," he said, adding other discussed options included a script "Griz" logo, bear paw or state of Montana outline.
The field will also feature an 8-yard-long Big Sky Conference logo across each 25-yard-line, a mandate from the league that only Montana had not adhered to previously, and two more subtle logos at the 37-yard-line.
The maroon circles are the brainchild of associate AD Chuck Maes as a way of honoring Montana's No. 37 legacy jersey that's passed down among Treasure Staters on the defensive side of the ball. Helena native Caleb Kidder currently holds the heralded jersey.
Maroon end zones with white all-caps "MONTANA" and "GRIZZLIES" stand at opposite ends of the field separated by 100 yards of alternating light and dark green 5-yard strips.
"Two-toned green is the new thing right now," Haslam said. "I'm an old baseball guy so I love looking at the turf and the colors and how it's mowed and all that."
Of course the artificial grass at Wa-Griz won't need to be mowed. The field consists of plastic fibers that mimic grass with a newly laser-leveled base of sand and rubber filling below. FieldTurf had initially anticipated adding a layer of cork on top as a more advanced cooling system, but Montana's time crunch kept that from happening.
"We'll get the turf in now and do it at a later date. We backed them into a corner (with the schedule)," said Haslam, who expects the addition after the season.
It's also because of that time schedule that the old turf has already been rolled up and hauled away to be repurposed by FieldTurf, Haslam lamented. Unlike when the field was last replaced in 2008, sections were not cut out prior to removal as keepsakes for fans.
A chunk was saved as a memento for the athletic department's use, Haslam said, but every inch of the strip is spoken for.