Taking a Step Back: Part II The Locker Room

When I was a senior at the University of Montana, I was playing basketball in the west auxiliary gym with a bunch of Grizzly football players. At one point between games, several of the players started in on unflattering characterizations of Mick Dennehey. My first response was to laugh and the second was wave of horror washed over me. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. A couple of the players went as far as running up and down the floor after missed shots or stupid plays and mocked not only Dennehy but also other coaches and even some of their own teammates. After a while I didn’t know how to respond.

The Locker room.

In my 20 years of being around sports it is hard for me to explain locker room dynamics. I sure as heck didn’t understand them when I was in high school (call me oblivious) and I didn’t when I was in college. I was a rule follower and I sure as heck didn’t speak ill of coaches and teams in public. So I was mortified then of the players choice to engage in the activities they did, but after 15 years coaching football I have come to understand that locker rooms are complex spaces with its own unique social codes and standards.

I have seen some sketchy stuff over those years and stuff that I couldn’t in anyway describe to anyone who didn’t know how football locker rooms operated. Everything from hazing to ritual sacrifice. Observed some sociopathic behavior on occasion (ritual sacrifice) and some attempts to establish a level of humanity. There is no rhyme or reason to what goes on in locker rooms, and the vast majority of them are defined by the individuals within it.

Culture is an interesting concept, because much like political sociology it leans on the group as a whole rather than dependence on particular rules or edifices. Coaches can spend years defining the culture of a locker room, but it really depends upon the players to accept and embrace the structure.

Culture in the locker room:

Now, especially within the last ten or fifteen years, I think football culture has morphed from a culture of assimilation to it takes all kinds. For those who played the game prior to the mid 90’s, I think we still assume that football locker rooms are chock full of manly stuff with a dependence on obedience and order. I doubt they ever really were, but conformity and uniformity were imposed for any number of reasons either implicitly or explicitly.

Blame it on any number of things, #thanksobama/trump, but football and the culture surrounding it has changed significantly in recent years. As such so has the locker room environment. I don’t think there is a standard of how they look or should operate, but it is far less coach and standard controlled than you would think. They are less unified, less structured and much more ‘soft’ about player behavior or even responses to coaching attitudes.

I think that is why ultimately the fascist dictator, Mike Ditka role of the head coach doesn’t play in most modern locker rooms. Kids are motivated by so many different things that ‘playing for the brand,’ or ‘the tradition’ has less play. Kids aren’t softer on the field, but what motivates them off of it is completely different.

That is why I tend to gravel at the concept of coaches losing locker rooms or having locker rooms. Head coaches have to find a way to motivate kids to excel on the field, but much of it focuses around reaching intrinsic areas rather than extrinsic. Players will find out sooner or later whether their coaches are authentic or not, whether they are their friend, a screamer, or removed.

The best one I have ever been around unified itself over the hatred of the head coach. I was the JV head coach at the time and had the ability to see the varsity program from afar while being on the inside. He (the head coach) was a grade A tool, an asshole of the highest order, and found ways to demean kids and fellow coaches on a daily basis.

Most locker room’s are like a bad teenage experience film. They are clique-filled environment with a lot of mutual loathing and objectification going on. Tons of ego, tons of jealousy, and distrust. Coaches are generally wasting their time to try to control locker room dynamics. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to create a common focus, but how every player in the room arrives at it is going to be different. Conformity isn’t a good play in the locker room. Some conformity works, in that there must be a set of rules, but it isn’t a rigid environment.

Cult of Personality:

Stitt and Delaney couldn’t be more different to be honest and I think that is part of the issue. These kids all have different personalities and need different things from the coaching staff. Yet and I have rarely knew locker rooms that would shoot off their nose to spite their face. In other words their desire to compete generally overrides their dislike of a coach or wariness of the message. They want to do things right.

So there can be players who ‘hate’ Bob Stitt, but rarely unless they are outside of the room (meaning they left) they might express frustration, maybe throw some shade, but they wouldn’t willingly give less than 100% because of other guys in the room. Because that says a lot more about you than it does the coach if you willingly bag it over disagreements with the coach.

For all of those people who are complaining about Stitt losing the locker room, he might not have had it to begin with. Might very well be his style. There are coaches that struggle with locker room dynamics. Generally it is the acidic culture within the room, among players that brings down the success on the field. That too is coach related, in the sense that they don’t know what is going on in there, and has happened to me before.

Senior Leadership:

I wasn’t out of touch with the players, I had great interpersonal relationships with them, but I was out of touch with the dynamic within the room. Seniors provided resistance at every moment and I gave them too much latitude. That was apparent after the fact. You give leadership to Seniors because they have earned it but in some cases that leadership isn’t earned because they have shown they can lead but rather by seniority they are the default leader.

What it comes down to honestly is the message being received in the locker room and are they working with you versus against you. You need to have more advocates in the room than you have detractors.  Again it really doesn’t matter if they like you, or you have the room or not, or even if they are buying what you are selling, but rather if they are buying the message.

One of the greater issues I have seen in recent years is forgoing the individual for the group. I think that is where leadership of any kind is important in the locker room. Calling out behaviors that are negative to the team concept. Yet when your leaders in the locker room aren’t leaders on the field, it doesn’t matter what inroads you have made. Because one or the other can tear it apart.

Those seniors I had spent a good time on the field ‘acting’ the part, but they weren’t in the locker room. If coaches either aren’t aware or aren’t approachable in regards to those issues, any culture can decay no matter how much you promote it. You need to cultivate leadership that not only is from players that are going to be looked to on the field on game days, but also provide the type of leadership in the locker room that doesn’t degrade from your culture and your on-field play.

I over estimated the character of my seniors. I had three senior leaders and two of them were poor choice in retrospect. Two were bitter about their role, the other because of some personal issues, wasn’t as effective as he normally would have been. That more than anything else can tear apart a locker room more than anything else.

Good v. Bad:

Some teams win in spite of themselves. Brawls start in the locker room, guys date other guys girl friends, or just aren’t trustworthy but they still find ways to win. My high school baseball team was that way. We pretty much hated each other, but on the field we found a way to turn it on. As I noted before the best football locker room I ever had been a part of was one that unified in hatred of the head coach.

Yet the teams with the most potential and great kids were undone not because of on the field behaviors because they couldn’t coalesce into one group. No matter how hard they tried, we tried as coaches, they just didn’t trust themselves or anyone else when it came to on the field. They liked each other outside of the locker room but they didn’t in the locker room, undone by petty jealously and bitterness about roles and statistics.

I think you have to convince kids there is a common good. What each coach does to get them there is unique to themselves. You might be a lombardi, or you might be stiff and aloof. Forcing kids to abandon themselves is a difficult scheme even in the best environment. Yet getting players to buy into a team concept, abandoning behaviors that degrade from those team goals can be accomplished.

Some of that is Tradition. The weight of those who came before you and upholding it. You don’t want to be that guy, or that team who breaks it. I think the difficulty in recent years is that the UM has had a break in that tradition, that culture and whoever the coach is has struggled in establishing a locker room environment that might create positive results.

If there is a drawback from Stitt’s personality, rumor is that he is a manager more than hands on, is that it was a sharp divergence from Delaney’s desire to know each player on a personal level. Some guys can’t handle that as a head guy or are not built that way, but that is what assistants are for. That was true to a degree under Hauck and most definitely true under Dennehy. They just have to be able to buy into the message, no matter who is giving it.

The culture of expectations is one that is developed by procedure and practice and not rule. If players aren’t receptive to the rules then you have to find a way through the things you do elsewhere to create the accountability and expectations that you can’t develop by tradition. If there is ever a disconnect in the development is the message is there but the follow through either on the coaches end or the players end isn’t there.

I doubt significantly the expectations or even the message was a significant turn from Delaney or even Pflugrad, but who and how the message is delivered might have been. Administrating and dispensing justice might be different. I don’t know. Those who got axed, punished, promoted or lauded does effect the locker room, but most of it is always mitigated by clear communication. Good locker rooms, despite the character of it, are generally better because people do communicate.


No matter how much players bitch outside of the locker room because kids have to vent, complain, and bitch about things there is a limited amount you know about the locker room until you spend time in it. Dysfunction is to be expected because you have 100 kids in the locker room, and the baggage they bring is so varied.

Coaches can bring the locker room together through message, communication and expectation but the players themselves are responsible in carrying it out. You hope that message is being received, and if it isn’t you have to find a way to make sure it is. That isn’t always easy, it isn’t always genuine, and there is no standard way to do it.

In the end you have to do what you need to do to get the locker room on your side, to get them to compete. I don’t know that you absolutely have to have it to be successful, but it surely doesn’t hurt.


Taking a step back: Part I

Part of my great wish for the world is that we weren’t so driven by emotion. Anger forces us to make some pretty foolish decisions in the name of it. I am way too analytical, objective and pragmatic. The aftermath of the Grizzly loss to Montana State on Saturday was a testament to the power of emotion and the power of anger. I understand people’s desire to be angry about the loss, not making the play offs, but I’d rather you use your brains and not something else.

Part of my desire is to not belittle people and their ignorance but you have to know that I can’t stand willing and knowing ignorance. Ignorance is a choice or a condition, but not a terminal diagnosis. For all my years of being around the knee jerk emotional reaction to losses like this, and there have been a great many, most of the time with time and a little bit of consideration cooler heads prevail.

I don’t claim to have all life’s knowledge and I sure as heck don’t have all the answers in regards to Grizzly football. My point of view is surely as political as being Republican or Democrat. I have twenty years of coaching experience that has tempered my emotional responses to wins and losses, and a similar length of education and knowledge that has led me to evaluate the game of football in an entirely different way.

The summation of my knowledge about the game is still roughly what it was when I started coaching 15 years ago. There is far more that I don’t know than what I don’t know. Football isn’t a sport that requires a degree in particle physics. I am going to offend some people with this, but the sport does require you to use your damn brain every once in while. There is so much more than Montana boys, a particular scheme, whether they are in a two point or three, or who you have at QB that determine success and failure.

Look if you want simple answers for complex problems listen to Donald Trump or spend your time on the message boards. There is no one simple answer that is going to make Montana a national title contender next year. We haven’t been one for six years now. There is likely no coach, no position player or scheme by itself that is going to return Montana to where we as fans want it to be.

The amount of rampant speculation that follows awful endings like the one on Saturday should be handled with great caution, but people can’t help themselves.  Grizzly fans have a ‘right’ to be angry, to be frustrated, to howl at the moon over how the season ends. But how many times do you have to have the same conversation, the same exasperating conversation over and over again.

I could say that you guys are all wet about a thousand and one things but if you stick to your same agenda over and over again, and don’t open your minds to other possibilities, then what is the point of reading. To make yourself more angry? I could provide 300 power points, videos and breakdowns of schemes, plays, player performance evaluations and the likelihood is you are still going to believe what you want to believe.

So much of the complaints about the Grizzly program could be surmised in what we think we know, versus  what we actually know. There are real concerns about the program, things to truly focus upon over the next days and months and there are issues that are to me non-issues.  The next few blogs I will pen will focus on varying components of both commonly held concerns (real or perceived) as well as some assessments of issues that flagged the program as I saw it this year.

I’ll provide the information and you can choose what you want to do with it. You can continue to get all hot and bothered, or you can choose to take a step back and rationally assess the information. I suggest the latter, but if you still want to howl at the moon by all means be my guest.

Big Sky Round-Up: Week 12

Big Sky

The final week of the regular season is here and we’re onto the playoffs. The last week of the regular season didn’t do anything too surprising.. unless you live in Missoula. Top ranked Eastern Washington survived a near scare on Friday night by holding off a pesky Portland State team who was determined to beat the Eagles. However, in true Eastern fashion they put up more points than Portland and won. The Eagles, however, played much of the game without star receiver Cooper Kupp who ended the game in a sling on the sideline with a shoulder injury.

In the annual Brawl of the Wild Montana State’s young quarterback Chris Murray came to Missoula ready to play and took the game over with his feet in an impressive performance to defeat Montana 24-17. Murray had 142 yards and two scores for the Bobcats. Southern Utah knocked down the Big Sky’s hottest team by 27 points in Flagstaff on Saturday. Southern Utah quarterback Patrick Tyler took over the game with 278 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Thunderbirds to a win.

UC-Davis won their rivalry game, the Causeway Classic, over Sacramento State 48-30 in Davis. Davis quarterback Ben Scott threw for 292 yards and five touchdowns, while Manusamoa Luuga rushed for 249 yards and one score. Davis receiver Keelan Doss finished with 207 yards and four touchdowns for the Aggies. Weber State escaped Pocatello with a win over the Bengals. The win pushed the Wildcats into the playoffs. In the finale of the week Cal Poly and Northern Colorado engaged in a track meet. The teams combined for 1198 total yards and 103 points and in the end Cal Poly punched their ticket to the playoffs.

Speaking of playoffs, they start this weekend! The only two Big Sky teams in action are Weber State and Cal Poly. Weber will hit the road to take on Chattanooga. The Mocs are coming off of a tough game against Alabama, whom they were leading 3-0 after one quarter. Cal Poly will host Pioneer League champion San Diego for the second time this season. The Mustangs won the previous meeting 38-16 back in September. The Toreros defeated Campbell in their regular season finale. North Dakota and Eastern Washington earned bye’s for the first round.


Eastern Washington 35
Portland State 28

Montana State 24
Montana 17

Southern Utah 48
Northern Arizona 21

Sacramento State 30
UC-Davis 48

Weber State 34
Idaho State 28

Northern Colorado 48
Cal Poly 55

Big Sky Player of the Week

This week’s Big Sky player of the week is Manusamoa Luuga of UC-Davis. Luuga rushed for 249 yards in a win vs Sacramento State.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington. 24/41, 304 yards, 3 touchdown. 10 rushes, 42 yards.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington. 6 receptions, 67 yards.
Joe Protheroe, RB, Cal Poly. 24 carries, 110 yards, 1 touchdown. 1 reception, 38 yards.

Big Sky Power Rankings

1. Eastern Washington.
2. North Dakota
3. Cal Poly
4. Weber State
5. Northern Arizona
6. Northern Colorado
7. Montana
8. Southern Utah
9. Montana State
10. Portland State
11. Idaho State
12. UC-Davis
13. Sacramento State

Looking Ahead to the Playoffs

Weber State will travel to Tennessee to take on Chattanooga. Cal Poly will be hosting San Diego for the second time this season. Both games can be seen on ESPN3 this weekend. Eastern Washington will host the winner of Central Arkansas and Illinois State in the second round. North Dakota will host the winner of Richmond and North Carolina A&T in the second round. Weber State, with a win, would face Sam Houston State. Cal Poly would face North Dakota State with a win.

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

– Early prediction: North Dakota State and Eastern Washington lock horns in Frisco.

– Weber State has a tough draw. That Chattanooga team is better than their seed. A couple of late losses in the season sunk them from being a seeded team.

– A 6-5 team made the playoffs for the second straight year. This time it was Illinois State. I haven’t done a ton of research on their team, but that’s an odd one to me.

– I have a feeling Sam Houston could be in for a long day if Chattanooga comes to town.

– I’m really curious about North Carolina A&T. I’ve wondered how good they actually are all season long, I guess this weekend we’ll see as they take on Richmond.

– And since it’s the last week of the regular season it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t take a shot at North Dakota. Way to go scheduling a bye for the second week in a row.

End of the Road

There is a shocking lack of institutional memory when it comes to dysfunction, sloppy play and bad losses. Probably no more so than on days like this. Losing a game to Montana State, and in the way they did will leave a lot of room for criticism, complaint and heavy amounts of drinking.

Montana limped through the last five weeks of the season with a 1-4 record, finished 3-5 in conference and missed the playoffs for the third time in six years. There are assessments that are fair and justified, and there are those that are not.

In my 15 years as a football coach there is nothing more awful, difficult, and heart wrenching than a locker room when the realization sets in there are no more games to play. There is nothing you can say to those young men that you have coached to console them or bring comfort who now realize their time there is now over. The game matters.

They might not like everyone in the room, they might not like you as a coach, and it might impact their attitude and occasionally their effort, but you should never question their heart. All you do is have to look at their faces after the game today to recognize that it matters than more than you will ever know.

We are all guilty of imposing ourselves into the dynamic of coaches, players, and administration. We put our spin and create narratives about the football program that help us putt in a nice neat package so we sleep well at night. I think it allows us to take short cuts and ignore facts and the truths staring us in the face.

We aren’t an elite FCS program anymore. I think it is time for us to stop pretending that we are. That conclusion isn’t really all that shocking. We have lost contact with the upper reaches of the division and have a lot of work in order to return to the upper levels of the division.

No ONE person is to blame for this. No one outside of Missoula feels sorry for the plight of the program. You can continue to lash out, whether at Stitt, Haslam or Engstrom, but 2011 isn’t returning nor is Robin Pflugrad. We can’t hit the reset button. Simple answers to complex problems are too good to be true. You can find answers in the locker room, in coaches offices, in the athletic department and in main hall, but my guess they are going to make you feel good but it won’t fix a damn thing.

There are no quick fixes. Judging by the past five weeks, I think there is plenty of blame to go around. I think you can look at talent, coaching, scheme, and the culture in the locker room and find things to fix.

Any good program finds itself in this position and makes plans, actionable and achievable ones, and finds a way to make it happen. I get that Griz fans want the quick fix, the easy answer to make it all better here again.

Tradition isn’t plan for success. You have to do in your own way, but this continued idea of looking back into the past for answers for current problems is a futile endeavor. We have a great tradition of quality football in the past 30 years, but it isn’t a birthright. Maybe that is why some fans behave like petulant little children after games like this because they feel like it being the FCS semi’s is in fact a birth right.

One last note on seniors….

I always hated seeing seniors leave. You spend four to five years with them, you end up loving the best parts of them and at the same time being really annoyed with their worst. In a strange way it is an arranged marriage with a specific expiration date. Each group has their own eccentric characteristic and become in some ways emblematic of the success or failures you have in a given year.

Yet despite the struggles, frustrations with the shortcomings of the class or the teams success or failure in that given season, you want to linger a bit longer and take it all in. You want those few extra minutes with those guys because you know it is over.  No matter the season, no matter the conclusion, walking into that locker room and seeing those seniors eyes was the hardest. 

Part of why it is so hard is that you can’t help but wish that you could have done more. The best piece of advice I ever got in regards to this, was from a senior on one of those nights. He said to me as we walked off the field, I am paraphrasing here because it might have been filled with expletives, “You did everything you could do, I know I gave everything that I could, and it just wasn’t enough. But the fact that we did give it all, is all that matters.”

Thanks to the Grizzly seniors who provided such enjoyment over the years. Thanks for giving it all. Much appreciated. Best of luck in whatever life brings you.

Thanks for reading.



Big Sky Round-Up: Week 11

Big Sky

Another exciting week of Big Sky football is in the books and we’re now just a few short days away from playoff announcements. The playoff race in the Big Sky isn’t exactly the clearest picture. Right now all we can definitely say is that Eastern Washington and North Dakota are the only definite teams in. After that there is a race between Cal Poly, Weber State, Montana, and Northern Colorado. All of those teams are sitting with six wins. The odd team out in that scenario is Montana who have lost to Poly and Northern Colorado. This weekend Northern Colorado and Poly will lock up to see who gets the seventh win.

Weber State can get to seven wins if they beat Idaho State on the road, a task they should be able to complete. Montana can get to seven wins with a win over Montana State in Missoula this weekend. The above scenario will leave the playoff committee weighing Montana, Cal Poly/Northern Colorado, and Weber State and their playoff resumes. Northern Colorado could be odd man out with only six division one wins. The other three teams played scheduled made up of only division one teams.

That’s not to discredit the job that Ernest Collins has done at Northern Colorado, he’s been phenomenal for the Bears thus far. This will once again record another winning season during his tenure. They will also finish with a  .500 record or better in conference play for the first time since 2012.

If you’re Montana you need to be hitting the panic button right now. The Griz will finish the season, at best, 4-4 in Big Sky conference play. The loss to Northern Colorado was killer. Despite the Griz’s woes this season their season is still alive. Cal Poly fans have to be sweating a little bit as well, after a loss to Weber State this past weekend. Sunday is going to be heartbreaking for a couple of fan bases in the Big Sky.

In other Big Sky news, North Dakota overcame a 21 point deficit at home to come back and beat Northern Arizona. Deion Harris intercepted a Blake Kemp and took it back 40 yards to seal the win for the Fighting Hawks. The Fighting Hawks will share a piece of the Big Sky championship for the first time since joining the conference.

BYU handily took care of business against Southern Utah in Provo this past weekend. Montana State took down UC-Davis. Eastern Washington continued their march towards the top of the FCS rankings by beating Idaho State. Sacramento State made a play to climb up the power poll and beat Portland State.

Onto rivalry week!


Montana 25
Northern Colorado 28

Northern Arizona 31
North Dakota 38

Cal Poly 15
Weber State 22

Southern Utah 7
BYU 37

UC Davis 13
Montana 27

Idaho State 17
Eastern Washington 48

Portland State 35
Sacramento State 42

Big Sky Player of the Week

This week’s Big Sky player of the week is Sacramento State running back Jordan Robinson. Robinson rushed for 262 yards and four touchdowns in their win vs Portland State.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington. 16/27, 212 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington. 7 catches, 70 yards.
Joe Protheroe, RB, Cal Poly. 18 carries, 62 yards and 1 touchdown.

Big Sky Power Rankings

1. Eastern Washington
2. North Dakota
3. Weber State
4. Cal Poly
5. Northern Arizona
6. Northern Colorado
7. Montana
8. Southern Utah
9. Portland State
10. Idaho State
11. Sacramento State
12. Montana State
13. UC Davis

Looking Ahead to Week 12

The Big Sky football week kicks off with Eastern Washington headed to Portland to take on the Vikings. Montana State will travel across the Continental Divide to take on Montana in the Brawl of the Wild. Sacramento State is headed to across the causeway to take on UC-Davis. Weber State will travel up I-15 to take on Idaho State. Southern Utah is going south to take on Northern Arizona. In the night cap Northern Colorado takes on Cal Poly in a game that could have some playoff implication.

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

– Four teams headed into the final week of the regular season fighting for one or two playoff spots. Something will have to give between Montana, Cal Poly, Weber State, and Northern Colorado.

– My prediction for the playoffs: Eastern Washington, North Dakota, Montana, Cal Poly are in.

– Rivalry week in the Big Sky is a week, even if your team isn’t good.

– If you’re North Dakota how do you score a bye week for the last week of the regular season plus that schedule. The Fighting Hawks have basically two weeks to rest up and get ready for a playoff push. Could be a dangerous team with fresh legs heading into the first rounds.

– I’ll go out on a short limb here and say the Cooper Kupp will be the Big Sky MVP this season. His teammate Gage Gabrud will be the runner-up.

So you are saying there is a chance?

When I started coaching 15 years ago, I was a varsity assistant when we played Frenchtown in the playoffs. Frenchtown was at the class B level then and Tim Raccicot had as he always had a well tuned program. For Three quarters and about ten minutes of it, Thompson Falls had its number. Yet as true as the sun coming up in the morning, Frenchtown found a way to march the field and win the game. You could see it coming. Inevitable.

The inevitable demise of the 2016 Grizzly football program seemingly began with an innocuous opening touchdown drive by Mississippi Valley state. That drive with max protection and passes designed to take advantage of zero coverage quickly put MVSU on the board. The score proved otherwise as it did in the next game against Sacramento State. NAU however who had better personnel both offensively and defensively exposed the Grizzly offense and defense. Then followed with Eastern Washington and then the shot to the proverbial junk the loss on the road to Northern Colorado.

So as we enter Cat-Grizzly week, both Montana programs are in a strange position. The Cats were eliminated long ago from post season contention and the Grizzlies most likely are eliminated from playoff consideration with a winless record on the road in Big Sky Conference play. At 6-4 currently, with only significant victories over St. Francis and UNI on its record, Montana is going to have to hope it’s legacy will provide the merit to play beyond this week. The record is far from strong, and the UM is going to need a lot of help to get into the 24 team playoffs.

So why was it inevitable? I don’t believe it was, in that it wasn’t a correctable path, but after the NAU game it seemed like this was the fitting end.

I am a believer that no scheme can band aid personnel deficiencies. You have to create a scheme that is the best for your personnel, but no scheme is user proof. Whether you argue Semore and Stitt’s respective schemes are to blame, there isn’t one that you could replace it would have fixed all the problems or surfaced other issues unique to those schemes.

Offensively speaking it became evident, especially after the injury departures of Horner in the middle of the field, along with Calhoun in the backfield this offense wasn’t nearly as deep as it was before. Yet the UM has struggled for differing reasons in several games (UNI being the first, UNC the last) of getting any semblance of consistency out of its receiving corps. In recent games the O-Line has struggled to protect consistently and the quarterback play has significantly weakened in recent weeks. Regardless of whether it was Chalich at the helm or Gustafson.

In the UNC game Montana tried to lean on the run game to help take the air out of the game. As it was against EWU, receivers struggled catching the ball and the quarterbacks struggled to put the ball into the places where receivers were.

Defensively teams figured out how to game Semore. The reality was probably they werent good enough to play wholly man or wholly zone on the back end of the  his scheme all year. More importantly for as good as the linebacking and defensive line corps was at the beginning of the year, they were less so as the season went on. Teams were able to protect the five or six man pressure, and take advantage of the skill advantage their perimeter players (especially true with NAU and EWU) had with one v. One matchups.

Special Teams which had shown growth since the beginning of year was short of abominable in the UNC game. A missed extra point, missed field goal, and a blocked punt (mishandled snap) and some coverage lapses. Whatever caused Smenza to develop the yips, it unhinged the field goal kicking unit for the rest of the year.

On top of that what had slowly disappeared much of the end of last year and the first five or six games this year was the 1/11the philosophy that undermined unit play under Delaney and Stitt. Whether it was stupid penalties or inability to carry out assigned responsibilities or just full effort, the road losses at NAU and UNC exposed the individual weaknesses in attitude, attention span and effort.

You can’t put any of the three losses on any one unit, player or even scheme, because it hasn’t been consistent. Frankly it seems a bit random and you can’t justify a single explanation as to why the team can’t win on the road or produce consistent effort or results on the same. Just not staff, not the locker room or scheme.

So can the UM make the playoffs? Yes. Even at 7-4.

What needs to happen.

1. Win on Saturday. What seemed to be a foregone conclusion weeks before, it is obviously much less so now. UM is better than MSU, and should win at home.

2. Some help in the Big Sky. EWU, UND are in for sure. CP is in with a win. NAU probably is out, but a loss would help anyway. Weber State finds a way to lose at ISU. Hard to make an argument to leave a team with a 6-2 conference record out who meets the 7 win guideline. I think CP winning helps as well because it puts Northern Colorado short both in victories and would have the same record in conference.

I don’t think, unless the committee sees our wins against UNI and St Francis as favorable (not a guarantee) that we get in with a 4-4 conference record over 6-2 Weber State. Weber State absolutely has to win, despite their conference record to get in, because they didn’t win a FCS game out of conference.

Right now UND, EWU, WSU, CP all have better resumes than the Grizzlies in conference. If UNC wins on Saturday, there would likely be another.

3. Get some help outside of conference. As long as there is an imbalance of western teams, it helps for first round matchups. Right now there are three BSC teams with a resume and two of them are potential week one bye teams. UND is fringish but it depends on what happens with the rest of the landscape.

It is really difficult to measure the rest of conferences outside of the Southern, OHVC and MVC.

Big South (1): Charleston Southern, Liberty might have an argument with a victory this weekend.

Colonial: (3) James Madison, Richmond, Villanova are in. New Hampshire and Maine need victories to ensure attendance and they play each other. Hard to imagine either of these teams gets in with a 6-5 record. Albany has an outside shot but needs to win as well.

MEAC: (1) North Carolina A&T is in. Unsure of where North Carolina Central sits with an 8-2 record.

MVC: (3) YSU, SDSU, NDSU are likely in. Western Illinois needs a victory likely to make it to the playoffs.

Northeast: (1) St. Francis. Hard to peg where they sit with a second seed as it is with the MEAC. If a second team is considered, Duquesne might be considered.

OHV: (2) Jacksonville State. Ten- Martin has an argument to get in with a 7-4 record but again, hard to see how they committee sees their record. Being in the OHV does help.

Patriot: (1) Lehigh is in and fordham has an argument as a second bid team.

Pioneer: (1) San Diego for sure. Dayton could be the second in a traditionally one bid no-scholarship league.

Southern: (4) Citadel, Chatanooga, Samford and Wofford all likely in.

Southland: (2) SHSU and Central Arkansas are in.

As it stands, I see 19 teams in. That leaves 4 spots to fight over. The MVC was weird this year, because it isnt a guarantee that they get an easy four or five.

Teams that need to lose to help the UM:

  1. Western Illinois loses. Should they lose with a UNI win, that makes the UM record look a bit better.
  2. Liberty loses to Coastal Carolina. This one would go a long way in helping the Griz out.
  3. Albany loses to Stony Brook.
  4. Weber State loses to Idaho State.
  5. Cal Poly beats Northern Colorado

This was a mediocre year in FCS football. If the Griz win, with a 4-4 record, there is an argument that can be made. Not a very good argument but with the lack of clear cut playoff teams from the power conferences, UM might get in on name and bidding. Doesnt matter as much as it did in the 90’s, but name could play.

I dont think the odds are good especially if CP and WSU both win. if there was a year for a 5th BSC team it might be this year.

Win saturday and things might take care of itself.





Big Sky Round-Up: Week 10

Big Sky

Week 10 is now completed in Big Sky Conference play and there are two teams left standing at the top of the conference and we’re no closer to deciding a champion. The picture could become clearer this weekend with North Dakota hosting a red hot Northern Arizona team. Depending on the result of that game we could see Eastern Washington heading into the final week of the season with the conference lead. Yes, Idaho State fans, I’m saying you probably have no chance of beating Eastern Washington on the road this week.

Eastern Washington continued their dominance of the Big Sky by taking down a tough Cal Poly team on the road. That was a big hurdle for the Eagles to clear on their path to the top of the Big Sky. Poly got big games from Dano Graves and Joe Protheroe, however, the Mustangs discovered that slowing down the Eastern Washington offense is an exercise in futility.

Northern Arizona continued to end their season on a high note by dispatching a talented Weber State team on the road. The Lumberjacks got up on the Wildcats early and didn’t quit piling on points after that. If only Northern Arizona hadn’t had such a collapse to start the season. After getting off to a slightly slow start Southern Utah put it together and put up a lot of points on a pretty helpless Montana State team. Montana State quarterback Chris Murray accounted for three touchdown.. but also three turnovers. The Cats rushed for 214 yards on the Thunderbirds but that doesn’t matter when you lost by 17 points.

To wrap up the weekend Montana and Idaho State had a track meet in Missoula. For much of the game it felt like the first to 80 was going to be the winner. Neither team made it to 80, but if you like offense there was plenty of that! Chad Chalich threw for a Montana record seven touchdowns, and rushed for one other. He was in for started Brady Gustafson who was injured. Portland State quickly dispatched UC-Davis in the Big Sky pillow fight of the week.


Montana State 21
Southern Utah 38

Northern Arizona 33
Weber State 20

North Dakota 23
Northern Colorado 13

Portland State 51
UC-Davis 29

Idaho State 44
Montana 62

Eastern Washington 42
Cal Poly 21

Big Sky Player of the Week

Chad Chalich, quarterback, Montana. Chalich was 21-27 for 388 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 52 yards and one touchdown as the Griz defeated Idaho State this past weekend in relief of the injured Brady Gustafson.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington. 27/37, 357 yards, 4 touchdowns. 40 yards rushing.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington. 11 receptions, 154 yards, 1 touchdown.
Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona. 9 receptions, 157 yards.
Joe Protheroe, RB, Cal Poly. 23 carries, 116 yards, 1 touchdown.

Big Sky Power Rankings

1. Eastern Washington
2. North Dakota
3. Cal Poly
4. Northern Arizona
5. Montana
6. Weber State
7. Southern Utah
8. Northern Colorado
9. Portland State
10. Idaho State
11. UC-Davis
12. Sacramento State
13. Montana State

Looking Ahead to Week 11

Three games have noon kickoffs this week, if you live in the Mountain time zone. Montana will travel to Greeley to take on Northern Colorado. Northern Arizona will make the long trip north to take on North Dakota in what should be the Big Sky game of the week. Cal Poly will head to Utah to take on Weber State. Southern Utah will cruise up the interstate to take on BYU in Provo. Idaho State will head to Cheney to take on Eastern Washington. To cap the week Portland State will bus down to Sacramento to take on the Hornets.

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

– In my eyes the MVP race is down to two candidates, Gage Gabrud and Cooper Kupp. I have no idea who would win between those two, but I feel like Kupp might have the edge in that race.

– North Dakota and Northern Arizona could be a lot of fun next weekend. Northern Arizona is streaking, and North Dakota just wants a shot at the Big Sky auto-bid.

– At this point it’s probably safe to say that Montana, Weber State, and Cal Poly are probably out of the running for the Big Sky title. #analysis

– This is a historically bad Montana State team we’re seeing. They just aren’t doing anything right. Chris Murray has had some bright spots, but he’s got some learnin’ to do.

– Montana should get that defense thing ironed out, the last three weeks have been pretty bad. They went from being one of the top defenses in FCS to … well, not that caliber anymore.

– Then again, this is the Big Sky conference. Pretty much every team needs to fix their defense. Perhaps it would be appropriate if the pie in the sky dream of reviving the WAC would include mostly Big Sky teams. It’d return the WAC to its roots.

– North Dakota fans.. don’t worry, I hate your team equally as much as the rest.

– Except Montana. [heart emoji]

Big Sky Round Up: Week 9

Big Sky

The Big Sky week nine schedule is complete and two teams are left standing among the undefeated in the conference. Both North Dakota and Eastern Washington held off both of their opponents and will go into November at the top of the conference with three left to play. North Dakota held off a pesky Weber State team at home after falling behind early to the Wildcats. Eastern Washington got a kick in the teeth from the Griz offense right away then Cooper Kupp and Gage Gabrud took the game over. That’s basically the tl;dr of the Eastern/Montana game.

Northern Colorado kept their playoff hopes alive with a win over Portland State this weekend. The game found itself in overtime after the teams inexplicably ended the game at 49 apiece. Northern Colorado had a 29 point third quarter. Brandon Cartagena put this defensive struggle to bed with a ten yard run in overtime. Cal Poly kept its roll going with another defensive struggle against 1-8 Sacramento State. The Mustangs and Hornets combined for 47 points in the fourth quarter but when it was said and done the Mustangs continue their march to the playoffs.

The Big Sky MVP race is starting to tighten up and below it’s listed out for you to read. However, this comes down to basically three players. Gage Gabrud, Cooper Kupp, and Joe Protheroe. Of those three, it really comes down to two, and it’s between the two Eastern Washington players. At this point there is no one going to rip that away from them. My hunch right now is that Gabrud is probably the leader in the clubhouse, but I don’t have a vote so my opinion counts about as much as the money used to buy Baltic Avenue.


Weber State 19
North Dakota 27

Montana 16
Eastern Washington 35

Southern Utah 52
Idaho State 27

Northern Colorado 56
Portland State 49

Cal Poly 59
Sacramento State 47

Big Sky Player of the Week

I could give this to Cooper Kupp and that’d be the easy thing to do. However, I’m going to deviate. This week’s Big Sky player of the week is Northern Colorado quarterback Kyle Sloter. Sloter was 20/31 for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns in the UNC victory over Portland State. He also added one rushing touchdown on 45 yards.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington. 21/37, 327 yards and four touchdown, 2 INTs.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington. 8 receptions for 140 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona. Idle.
Joe Protheroe, RB, Cal Poly. 25 carries, 168 yards, 1 touchdown. 1 reception, 4 yards, 1 touchdown.
Caleb Kidder, LB, Montana. 3 tackles.

Big Sky Power Rankings

1. Eastern Washington
2. North Dakota
3. Cal Poly
4. Northern Arizona
5. Northern Colorado
6. Montana
7. Weber State
8. Southern Utah
9. Portland State
10. Idaho State
11. UC-Davis
12. Sacramento State
13. Montana State

Looking Ahead to Week 10

Montana State will kick the week off by traveling to Cedar City to take on Southern Utah. Northern Arizona will head north to take on Weber State. North Dakota will make the trek to Greeley to take on North Dakota in what could be a surprisingly good game. Portland State will cruise south to take on UC-Davis. Eastern Washington will hit the road to take on Cal Poly in what should be a good matchup. Idaho State will be in Missoula to take on the Griz.

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

– Not a great two weeks, Griz fans. But fear not, two of the next three games feature two of the worst teams in the conference.

– The top six in the Big Sky conference are all still fighting for a playoff spot. Eastern Washington basically has their spot locked up. Northern Arizona may be in too deep of a hole to get into the playoffs. Weber State, Montana, Northern Colorado and Cal Poly are all fighting for their spot. Only two or three of those teams are going to get an invite. The November race is going to be a tight one.

– Cooper Kupp, after watching him play both of the last two weeks, I think I’ve decided that I’d probably draft him onto my football team if I was a person who had a football team to draft players to.

– Seriously, how does anyone slow down Kupp, Shaq Hill and Kendrick Bourne? What a trio of weapons at the fingertips of Gage Gabrud. If Beau Baldwin could figure out that whole “not gonna play defense” thing the Eagles could be serious contenders for a national title.

– It’s a shame that North Dakota didn’t get to see Eastern Washington and Montana this season. It would be interesting to see how that team matched up against two of the better teams in the conference. I wonder if their record would stand as it does right now.

– That leads me to my next point. It’s time to change FCS football. Sit down, this is a hot take coming. With the title game being moved to after New Year’s why aren’t we pushing the playoffs back a week and having conference championships for those who need it? Divide these massive conferences such as the Big Sky, CAA, MEAC, Missouri Valley, OVC, Pioneer, Southland, and SWAC into divisions, hold a true conference championship. By doing so you can get your true auto bid team. Plus with divisions you get the chance to play your division plus 2-3 teams from the other division. You solve a lot of schedule problems, as well as playoff seeding, this way. /rant

– Seems like Washington State needs a Big Sky team to kick them in the teeth to get their team motivated. Last year Portland State, this year Eastern Washington, and the Cougars are now in the hunt for the Pac12 North title. Strange times in Pullman.