Ty Gregorak has been a part of a variety of ways to chase and win Big Sky titles.
The third-year Montana defensive coordinator has been at UM for all but one season since 2003. He’s helped coach linebackers and coordinator defenses for Bobby Hauck (2003-2009), Robin Pflugrad (2010-11), Mick Delaney (2012-2014) and now he’ll be the head of the defense for new UM head coach Bob Stitt.
The energetic, highly recommended Stitt is starkly different than Hauck, a general who demanded excellence at every turn and enforced his arrogance and unwavering desire to win without fail. Stitt wants to run an up-tempo offense like Pflugrad did, but their personalities are night and day different. And Stitt is certainly a fast-forward from Delaney, the definition of an old-school coach who was quick to discipline and even quicker to build a player back up.
As Montana finishes its first week of fall camp, the Grizzlies have more than 20 practices under their belts with Stitt at the helm. The transition took some time to get used to but now that Stitt has been around for the better part of his first year, things seem to be rolling right along.
“We are up early and we are going early,” said Gregorak, who’s coached 26 all-conference players in his time working with UM’s linebackers. “They go to practice, they go to ice baths. They go to ice baths, they go to shower. As soon as they shower, they are hurrying over to lunch. I like the tempo. And when dinner hits, they are done. It’s not like some camps where you have a 9:30 walk through and everyone is unconscious. I love it. He’s pounding home a sense of urgency which I really appreciate. I’ve been through four head coaches now. I’ve seen it all. There’s a lot of ways to win games.
“The boys are flying from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. and then they get to go home and watch (ESPN reporters) Sal Palantonio and Ed Werder and Jets camp and Eagles camp. That’s what I’m telling them. Go home, be a football fan. We got football on tonight. Life is good. It’s cool outside. There’s no smoke. This camp couldn’t have started better.”
Caleb Kidder committed to Pflugrad and his staff after earning Montana Gatorade Player of the Year honors at Helena Capital in 2011. Now he’s on his third head coach as he enters his fourth season. The mountain of a defensive tackle likens Stitt’s no-nonsense style to working in a high-intensity environment.
“He runs this like a business,” Kidder said. “He doesn’t like time wasted. He wants things fast tempo. He’s always stressing to do the little things, be on time, this and that. I think it’s good. He’s keeping us accountable and on our toes.”
Derek Crittendon is Montana’s newly minted defensive captain. The senior from Whitefish is a 2014 Academic All-America and a standout defensive end expected to shine with Zack Wagenmann gone to the NFL. He’s on his third coaching staff as well. He likens Stitt’s style to something completely different.
“It took a long time for us to adjust to Coach Stitt because he expects us to do everything and to go above and beyond that,” Crittendon said. “That’s how it should be done. He’s a really strict guy. He wants everything done really militaristic if you will. That’s how a football program should be run. We have 95 guys and we have to be on the same page. Coach Stitt is really good at getting us on the same page.”
Stitt’s staff is made up of several holdovers from Delaney’s staff and several more coaches he brought with him from Colorado School of Mines. Running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Justin Green is the lone holdover on offense, although Stitt hired former UM offensive lineman Chad Germer to coach his offensive line and former UM wide receiver Mike Ferriter to coach his inside receivers. Defensively, Gregorak and defensive line coach Legi Suiaunoa were retained.
Stitt brought defensive ends coach Brian Hendricks, outside receivers coach Nolan Swett, and former Mines defensive coordinator Jason Semore (now UM’s secondary coach) with him. He also hired former Colorado graduate assistant J.B. Hall to coach cornerbacks and former Griz quarterback Andrew Selle as a quality control assistant.
“Any time you have change, it’s going to be different and uncomfortable at first,” said Tyrone Holmes, a senior who will enter his third year as a starter at defensive end this fall. “Stitt, he brings a lot of energy and he knows football. That’s clear. All the guys he’s brought with him are young, high-energy guys who love football.”
Stitt came to Montana after 15 mostly successful seasons at Colorado Mines, a Division II school in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Stitt led the Orediggers to 108 win and three league titles during his stay in Golden. He won the Montana job largely because of his much-heralded offense, an attack that averaged more than 35 points per game seven times in 15 seasons, including 42 points per game in 2001. The attack, which includes quick reads, inside and outside screens and Stitt’s vaunted fly sweep, also produced four seasons of producing more than 490 yards per game, including a high of 526 per outing in 2014.
It would be the cliché to say that the timing was right for Stitt to leave a place he seemingly maxed out his success. But that’s not the case.
“The timing actually wasn’t right because we just opened a $21 million football complex I helped design,” Stitt said. “That was hard to talk away from. But when you have what I think is the top football program in the FCS and you have a chance to take that program over, you don’t think twice. It had nothing to do with timing. It was just about the opportunity.”
In an effort to revamp his team’s conditioning and transition from the pro-style offense Montana ran under Delaney, Stitt did an overhaul of Montana’s off-season strength and conditioning program.
“It’s less Olympic lifts and higher reps,” Stitt said. “I’m not concerned with how much weight you are lifting but how many times you can lift it. We spend as much time out on the field as we do in the weight room doing a lot of different football-specific movements. Our kids are leaner. Their body fat is going down even though they are keeping their weight on. You can just see the transformation of our players. They are in better shape.”
Stitt played at Doane College in the late 1980s, the same place where former Montana head coach Joe Glenn got his start. Stitt’s first graduate assistant job in 1989 came on Glenn’s staff at Northern Colorado. Like Stitt, Glenn spent more than a decade at D-II UNC, with the difference Glenn led the Bears to back-to-back Division II national championships. Glenn took over for Montana in 2000. After two national title game trips and a 2001 national championship, he jumped ship to Wyoming.
“I talked to Joe over the years about Montana and that’s how I knew so much about Montana,” Stitt said. “I always knew it was a great place. I never thought I’d have a shot at it because I have no Montana ties.”
Since Don Read took over in 1986, Montana has hired from the Grizzly lineage and success has followed. Read gave way to Mick Dennehy, who led Montana to the 1996 national title game. Dennehy gave way to Glenn, who then gave way to Hauck, who won seven straight Big Sky titles and lost in the national title game in 2004, 2008 and 2009. Pflugrad helped the Griz win the Big Sky in 2011 and advance to the FCS semifinals before getting fired amid a myriad of controversy. Delaney experienced UM’s first losing season in a generation in 2012 but righted the ship for back-to-back playoff appearances before retiring.
Names like Brent Pease (Washington wide receivers coach, UM alum), Beau Baldwin (Eastern Washington head coach) and Hauck were rumored to be in the mix. Then Stitt came out of nowhere to become the 36th coach in Montana’s storied lineage.
“I haven’t really heard any skepticism, although I’m sure there is some,” Holmes said. “We as a team just thought this guy has won, football is football so if he can do it there, he should be able to do it here. I had the utmost faith in him.”
photo courtesy UM Athletics.