With the look of a man fighting a lack of sleep and the cough of one battling a cold, Montana head coach Bob Stitt promised on Monday a top-to-bottom reevaluation of the Grizzlies football program after it missed the playoffs following a 6-5 season.
Speaking to local media in his final news conference of the season, Stitt opened with a long and ranging opening statement that lasted nearly six minutes and touched on a number of subjects but primarily focused on the coach’s plan to perform an offseason autopsy of the program. Montana missed the playoff for the third time since 2010 after a late-season tumble resulted in three losses in four games.
Montana entered the last two weeks of the season in playoff contention, but the program’s first loss to Northern Colorado in 40 years and a surprise 24-17 defeat to rival Montana State in Missoula on Saturday have raised questions within a few different camps. Primary among them: the head coach’s office.
“As a head coach when you’re running a program you gotta sit back and I’ve been sitting around thinking about it all weekend,” said Stitt, who is 14-10 in his two seasons at Montana. “You have to look in the mirror. You gotta figure out how do we get this thing forward because we have awesome kids. That’s the big thing.”
Stitt was asked questions ranging from his future quarterback plans, to why the defense wasn’t able to stop the Bobcats’ ground game, to how the program will handle another team dependent on fresh faces in 2017. When asked specifically what he meant by looking at “at every little aspect of what we do” Stitt didn’t promise wholesale changes, but said everything including possible schematic changes, simplifying offensive and defensive responsibilities, pregame approach and team effort are on the examination table.
After beginning 5-1, Montana’s defense, which added to its coverage packages in mid October, became prone to giving up big plays and surrendered an average of 35 points per game during the tailspin. Against the ’Cats, a rushing defense that had been stout throughout the year allowed a season-high 368 yards, including 142 to true freshman quarterback Chris Murray.
The offense, which scored at least 60 points in three games for the first time in program history, got off to slow starts against Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado and Montana State and couldn’t finish opportunities in a loss at Eastern Washington.
Both units were said to be heavily reliant on pre-snap reads and demanded players make the correct decisions based on the formations the opposition was aligned in and the personnel it was using. Stitt wondered Monday — and by the looks of it during the days that preceded the news conference — if coaches were asking too much of players.
“That’s a typical example of we’re talking about, OK, is it the play call?” he rhetorically asked. “Is it the scheme? Maybe do we have too much on the plate for these guys because they didn’t execute it. So do we have too much? That’s what you have to look at. That’s coaching.”
Various reasons have been identified throughout the season for the Grizzlies’ lackluster play on the road, where they lost four of their five games. Montana heavily relied on players with little playing experience and are in the midst of a roster overhaul, but Stitt said there was one place to start looking for answers.
“When things don’t go right there is a lot of reasons why things don’t go right, but ultimately it’s me,” he said. “It’s me. I have to get it done. I’ve done a lot of thinking and soul searching.”
When he was introduced as head coach 23 months ago, Stitt said the level of expectation was part of the reason he left Colorado School of Mines for Montana. He said that he wasn’t going to leave the town where he raised his family for just any job.
“It does matter at Montana,” he said in December 2014.
On Monday, it was clear that Stitt hasn’t forgot why he left Golden, Colorado behind.
“This is not an easy job, but I love it,” Montana’s coach said. “What makes it awesome makes it hard too because there is a lot of passion. I want to please people. I want people to be happy that I’m the head football coach.
“I believe in the direction we’re going, but we have to win,” he later added. “We have to win football games, we gotta give ourselves a chance. I’ve got to help our team have a chance to win ball games. I will do everything I possibly can to do that and we’re addressing it right now. We’ve got like eight and half months to get these guys ready to go and we’re going to do that.”