By COLTER NUANEZ & KYLE SAMPLE
MISSOULA — One of the most successful and polarizing coaches in Montana history is returning to lead the Griz.
Bobby Hauck, the man who led UM to seven straight Big Sky Conference championships between 2003 and 2009, has been named the 37th head coach in University of Montana history, Skyline Sports confirmed through eight sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Hauck’s hiring comes 11 days after Montana athletic director Kent Haslam chose not to extend the contract of former coach Bob Stitt. Stitt’s three-year tenure, which ended Nov. 20, was mired by inconsistent results that included a win on national television over eventual FCS champion North Dakota State in his first game. But the Griz were just 14-10 in conference play under Stitt and ended the final two seasons with losses to rival Montana State that kept them from reaching the postseason.
Despite a collection of young talent that initially had Haslam ready to extend Stitt, the on-field results irked boosters who longed to see the Griz return to the dominance they experienced under Don Read, Mick Dennehy, Joe Glenn and ultimately Hauck. Skyline Sports learned from various sources that three influential boosters lobbied for Hauck in the days leading up to Haslam’s decision to let Stitt go.
Hauck’s contract is pending approval from the Commissioner of Higher Education, yet an official announcement from the Montana athletic department occurred on Friday. Clayton Christian, the commissioner of higher education, was a part of Montana’s interview process and is expected to approve the contract.
In seven seasons at Montana, Hauck posted an 80-17 record that included a 47-6 mark in Big Sky play. He was the conference’s coach of the year in 2006, 2007 and 2009, winning 31 of his final 32 games in league play.
From 2006 until 2009, Montana posted a 51-6 overall record, advanced to three FCS Final Fours and made the 2008 and 2009 national championship games. Montana lost 24-7 in the 2008 FCS title game to Richmond and 23-21 in the 2009 national title game to Villanova.
Hauck also steered the program to the 2004 national championship, losing 31-21 to James Madison. Montana won a college football record 119 games between 2000 and 2009.
“Coach Hauck was an extremely competitive guy,” former UM All-Big Sky safety and Montana’s safeties coach the last two seasons Shann Schillinger said in an interview last spring. “He wanted to win more than anyone. Practice reflected that. We practiced hard. Everything we did, we talked about the ultimate goal. Off-season, we talked about conference championships. Winter conditioning, we talked about national championships. It all led up to a plan of action. We had a group of really competitive guys who all had one common goal.”
Hauck’s prowess as recruiter is well known after he helped develop a collection of Griz into NFL talent. Hauck recruits Justin Green (5th round, Baltimore Ravens, 2005), Kroy Biermann (5th round, Atlanta Falcons, 2008), Lex Hilliard (6th round, Miami Dolphins, 2008), Shann Schillinger (6th round, Atlanta Falcons, 2010), Marc Mariani (7th round, Tennessee Titans, 2010), Jimmy Wilson (7th round, Miami Dolphins, 2011), Trumaine Johnson (3rd round, St. Louis Rams, 2012), Caleb McSurdy (7th round, 2012, Dallas Cowboys) and Jordan Tripp (fifth round, Miami Dolphins, 2014) all came to Montana to play for Hauck before being selected in the NFL Draft. Dylan McFarland (7th round, Buffalo Bills, 2004) played his senior year for Hauck.
Hauck also recruited and developed successful non-drafted NFL player like Tuff Harris (2007-2010), Colt Anderson (NFL 2009-present), Brock Coyle (2014-present), Chase Reynolds (2011-present), Dan Carpenter (2008-2016), Cory Procter (2006 – 2010) and Levi Horn (2011-2012). Harris, defensive end Mike Stadnyk, kicker Brody McKnight and quarterback Cole Bergquist each spent stints in the CFL as well.
“We get together and talk about why they aren’t dominating as much as we used to and I think it’s a lot of things,” said Bergquist, who spent a stint with the San Diego Chargers before playing four seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL, said in September. “I remember Bobby Hauck recruiting me in my living room and the guy had a gift. It started from there even before you make it into the program.”
“I had an offer at Wyoming and Washington State and Montana pulled me because they seemed like they wanted me, seemed like Bobby had his act together. He was pulling those lower tier 1-A guys, FBS guys.”
Hauck had a penchant for taking walk-ons like Anderson (Butte) and Mariani (Havre) or partial scholarship players like Biermann (Hardin) and Reynolds (Drummond) from small Montana towns and turning them into All-Americans. Many went on to successful NFL careers like Hauck’s brother, Tim, a 13-year NFL veteran who starred at Montana in the late 1980s.
“The expectation, he expected the best from you and you feared that if you didn’t do that, you were going to pay the consequences,” said Anderson, one of Montana’s richest stories after going from walk-on to All-American to now with the Buffalo Bills in his ninth season in the NFL. “Personally, I never wanted to let Coach down. I didn’t want to let my teammates down.
“I never thought I was the best player on our team or the best safety on our team, let alone. I always challenged myself and that was because of Coach Hauck. He would give you praise but he would also give you criticism. He continued to push us and I still live by that motto now: never be satisfied.”
Hauck has also had a hand in developing an impressive coaching tree that includes former UM head coaches Robin Pflugrad and Mick Delaney, Montana State defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak (UM’s linebackers coach from 2003-09) and Idaho State head coach Rob Phenicie (Hauck’s OC at Montana and UNLV). Former NFL assistant Brandon Fisher (Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams) along with incumbent UM coaches Green (recruiting coordinator/running backs), Schillinger (safeties), wide receivers coach Mike Ferriter and quarterbacks’ coach Andrew Selle were All-Big Sky players for Hauck during his first stint at Montana.
In 2010, Hauck took the head coaching job at UNLV. He posted three straight two-win seasons before a 7-6 campaign in 2013 gave the Rebels their first bowl bid since 2000. Hauck went 2-11 in 2014, electing to resign after the season.
He applied for the Montana job that off-season before Haslam hired Stitt.
Hauck was hired as Rocky Long’s special teams coordinator at San Diego State in January of 2015. In February of 2016, Long named Hauck his associate head coach. Hauck’s 2017 salary was $209,255 base with maximum bonus of $99,002.
According to a copy of Stitt’s contract, the maximum salary for a Griz head coach if he were to reach all the academic and athletic incentives in his contract is $356,000.
At SDSU, Hauck’s special teams had similar success to the dominating ST units he led at Montana. The Aztecs lead the FBS since 2015 with nine kick returns for touchdowns. They also have two punt returns for scores during that span.
A source with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed that Haslam and the entire football staff had a meeting on the morning of Nov. 20. Later that day at a press conference announcing the decision to let Stitt’s contract expire, Haslam did not name an interim head coach but appointed longtime offensive line coach Chad Germer as the “lead”. He also identified recruiting coordinator and running backs coach Justin Green to “help steer” the recruiting process.
Highlights and dominance in Hauck’s first stint at Montana were sometimes overshadowed by the coach’s bouts with the media and his players’ run-ins with the law. His first confrontation with the media came in 2004 when he fired team chaplain Father Hogan after Hogan refused to conduct team Mass. The Missoulian reported the firing and Hauck expressed his distaste for the story.
Vernon Smith, a 2002 All-American, was arrested in January of 2004 for pointing a gun at a person outside a local bar. Hauck initially suspended Smith but Smith needed to graduate by August in order to regain a season of eligibility that he lost because he failed to qualify academically out of high school. Smith was dismissed and finished his career at Eastern Oregon. He is now the cornerbacks’ coach at Northern Arizona.
The most high profile of the cases under Hauck: Defensive back Jimmy Wilson was charged by the Los Angeles County district attorney with murder in the summer of 2007. Wilson was later acquitted of the accusation on grounds of self-defense. Wilson was suspended indefinitely initially. After an 18-month stint in LA County Jail awaiting trial, a court session that resulted in a mistrial and eventually an acquittal, Wilson returned to Montana in 2010 after Hauck had left. Wilson was a 7th round draft pick in 2011 who played six seasons in the NFL.
In 2006, defensive back Qwenton Freeman (who was with Wilson during the incident in California) was charged with throwing a beer bottle at a Missoula bowling alley. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and received a deferred sentence. After another similar incident for which he was acquitted, he was dismissed from the team.
In November of 2007, Michael Sheldon, Greg Coleman and Jeremy Pate were arrested and charged with felony kidnapping, assault with a weapon and robbery charges.
In 2008, three freshmen Grizzlies — Andrew Douglass, Cody von Appen and Justin Montelius — were arrested on felony assault charges after beating a UM student unconscious outside a Montana dormitory.
In May of 2008, All-Big Sky offensive lineman J.D. Quinn was arrested for the second time in a year for driving under the influence. The second DUI charge was dropped.
Aside from Wilson, who returned to the team three years after his initial jailing, and Quinn, who served a one-game suspension, each player was removed from the program. Those who played for Hauck remember him as a strict disciplinarian who had a zero tolerance policy for behavior that jeopardized team success.
“He was a tough love kind of guy but ultimately, you kind of feared him,” Anderson said. “You feared showing up to a meeting five seconds late. There was no grey area with Coach Hauck. It was black or white and you did things wrong. When you were wrong, you paid the consequences. From showing up to class a minute late or showing up to meetings a minute late, missing an assignment for Coach Hauck — missing class was just as important or detrimental to missing an assignment in a game. Every little detail, he had his way. He wanted guys to be accountable, do things right and if you didn’t, you knew you were going to pay the price.”
In 2009, Hauck’s sometimes tenuous relationship with the local press boiled over. After a string of questions from Montana Kaimin (the UM student newspaper) Griz football beat writer Tyson Alger about the incident outside the dorms, Hauck boycotted Alger and the rest of the Kaimin staff. The rest of the Griz followed suit, causing attention from the national media including a column by Sports Illustrated football writer Jeff Pearlman. The boycott lasted through UM’s run to the 2009 national title game.
According to an email exchange with reporters at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, none of Hauck’s players had any notable run-ins with the law during Hauck’s five years in Las Vegas.
The most recent loss to the Bobcats stamped UM’s first two-game losing streak to its rival since 2002 and 2003, Joe Glenn’s final season and Hauck’s first. The defeat ensured Montana would not make the playoffs for the second straight season, it’s first two-year postseason drought since 1991 and 1992.
The non-renewal means Stitt’s tenure at Montana ends with a 21-16 record overall. Stitt posted a 1-2 record against Montana State and a 1-2 record against Eastern Washington, UM’s two primary rivals in the league.
Hauck also lost to MSU in 2005 before ripping off four straight wins over Montana’s fierce rival for an overall 5-2 record. Hauck posted a 6-1 record against EWU.
Montana opens its 2018 season on Sept. 1 at home against Northern Iowa, a Missouri Valley Conference team that is one of 16 teams still alive in the current FCS playoff field.
“Coach Hauck is a Montana guy,” Anderson said. “He understands what it means to be a Grizzly. I don’t think we were the most talent team on the field. But we played with so much energy and pride. Every week seemed like it was a rivalry week. Every week seemed like it was the championship game, like this is THE GAME and at the college level, that’s so important because you can’t let any game slip.
“For Coach Hauck, that’s what he did best – teaching the importance for every game and that it does mean something to play for the Montana Grizzlies.”
Kyle Sample, Colter Nuanez and Brooks Nuanez contributed to the reporting of this story.