Here are a few tidbits for you to gnaw on as you try to recover from the Grizzly loss at Montana State yesterday.
- Yesterday marked the first time since 02-03 that MSU had won two games in a row. That bridged the Glenn-Hauck eras.
- The loss yesterday marked the first time since 2005 that UM lost to MSU in Bozeman.
- The loss will most likely end up causing the University of Montana to miss the playoffs in consecutive years since 91-92.
- Stitt is the first Montana coach to lose to MSU in consecutive years since Larry Donovan. (1984-85)
- Montana suffered three or more conference losses in consecutive years for the first time since 86-87
- Montana has not won the Big Sky Conference officially since 2009.
Those are the type of stats that make you want to start drinking at 7am on a Sunday morning. I’m not, but you can. Even with all of the those stats, Bob Stitt should wake up on Monday morning and be the head coach of the University of Montana football program. He should be the coach there until he isn’t anymore.
The words that fill my blog will likely never include words, phrases, clauses that ask for coaches to be fired. That doesn’t mean coaches should be fired, or have merited a second look into their performance by the powers that be. Again if Bob Stitt is the coach on Monday morning, he should be until he isn’t anymore.
I have to imagine the weight of the air, the power of the silence, inside the halls, lockers and offices of Washington-Grizzly Stadium is overwhelming this morning. That is NOT a comfortable feeling. You don’t want to be in those places that remind you of your shortcomings, failures, and inadequacies. Whether you are a coach or a player, you have to face them eventually, but the idea of being there right now is likely crushing under the weight of that failure.
For the coaches and the players, those returning, will use it to fuel their off-season. For those who are walking out for the last time, it’ll haunt them for many years to come. The weight of things not done, not achieved, are not easily lifted or erased away. That is baggage you don’t want to leave University of Montana as a football player or a coach with.
Yet while there is silence inside Washington-Grizzly, the cacophony of critics asking, wanting, demanding change is deafening. The barbarians are at the gate and Emperor Haslam has some tough decisions to make. There are omnipresent issues afoot that must be addressed. Declining attendance. Declining performance. Losing to the Bobcats. Department shortfalls. Booster Support. A new main hall administration.
Lets make this clear. Bob Stitt was a great hire in 2015, and still is. That results are less than overwhelming is something that you could not possibly have known. Some claim you can by looking deep into Stitt’s record at the Colorado School of Mines and know. Great coaches with pedigree fail, and fail all the time. Bill Belichick and Nick Saban failed. At this point, the only failure Bob Stitt has on his record at the University of Montana, is his inability to live up to the ghosts of Grizzlies past and the standards of an impatient Grizzly booster and fanbase.
Stitt has done A Lot of things right. That won’t matter in the end. Petulant fans and boosters have a way of getting their way. They shouldn’t, but the salvage yard of programs done in by hyper vigilant fan bases and super sensitive administrations is long and distinguished. Texas. Nebraska. Tennessee. Florida. The trail is pretty narrow and administrators have tough jobs. A great hire puts you at the top of the mountain. A bad one and you fall off into the valley to do.
There are reasons to fire coaches. Stitt hasn’t done much to merit being fired. Yet he hasn’t done much to merit being kept either. Those points listed above matter to Griz fans, boosters and administration. The constant drive to meet an almost unattainable standard can wear upon not only players, but coaches and administration.
The problem is optics. Jeff Choate has 9 total wins in his first two years in Bozeman. He has a total of 7 conference wins. He only carries two significant victories and that is all that matters. He is 2-0 against the Griz, and has taken them to the woodshed like no other team has in Stitts tenure. Their rah-rah Friday night style sure contrasts rather sharply with Stitts cerebral and reserved style. Choate owns Bozeman now, and Stitt with largely a better resume may very well be looking for a job Monday morning. Administrations shouldn’t make decisions based upon narratives of fans but they do.
Rarely does firing coaches for better than industry performance work out well for the institution or the fan bases that represent them. Stitt is 8 games above .500 in his tenure, averages 7 wins a year, and even has a playoff win under his belt. His teams played maybe 7 bad quarters this year, and they resulted in 3 losses. They competed. Won games with three different quarterbacks at the helm. They improved the model from a year before. But. They missed the playoffs and lost to Montana State. That is enough to get Bob Stitt fired, and he probably knows it too.
If the decision is to retain Stitt, it’ll be the right one. I don’t envy the decisions that need to be made. Will there be sacrificial lambs (Semore, Neikamp?). Stitt made a ton of concessions last year. An uniformed eye saw the improvement. Yet, it might not be enough. There were maddening inconsistencies, continued flat play at inopportune times.
Coaches are deeply self-aware. The stuff not accomplished keeps them in their offices until 3am with only the glare of the TV monitor lighting the room. They’ll replay the same clip a hundred times over, and over again to find the flaw. The mistake. Yet some flaws are not easily found within the film, nor are others correctable. Some only can be removed only by removing themselves. For the detailed oriented nature of Stitt, the meticulous nature of how and why he does everything, there are lingering details that seem obvious from the outside that seem to be ignored. Seem to be ignored. Maybe those details were addressed, but not successfully so.
Maybe those details are outside or even above the ability of this coaching staff. Doubt it, as at least with my limited interaction, this coaching staff is one of the most intelligent staffs I have encountered. Sometimes that doesn’t translate.
Lou Holtz said many years ago that ability gets you only so far. In the end it is attitude that determines how far and how high you go. There is some legitimacy to that assertion at least from a player perspective. I don’t think attitude replaces ability in coaching. Way too much success and failure in coaching is in the details. That it matters to fans that Choate is a rah-rah guy, personable, over actual results is revealing. Both programs have similar roster make-ups, 2/3rds of the roster are Redshirts, Freshman or Sophomores. Both start similar amounts of seniors, collected in different areas or get playing time from upper classmen. Choate is 9-13 in two seasons. Bob Stitt is 13-9.
Again 0-2 and missing the playoffs are the only narratives that matter outside the offices of Kent Haslam and Bob Stitt. They matter inside, but there is substantively more. Ex-players can cry foul. Boosters can pull money. Fixing what ails Montana football isn’t as easy as bringing another coach in. You can replace Stitt with a rah-rah guy and end up in the same place in three years. You know what you have in the coaches offices right now. You don’t know what is walking in. You think you might know, but you really don’t. Ask Texas, Florida, and Tennessee.
Montana will be in a better place in three years with Stitt, than Montana State will be with Choate. Fans won’t like that. Wasn’t as if Ash left the cupboard completely bare. Many elements of his recruiting were elemental in winning these last two Cat-Griz games. All of those young guys still led Choate to 9 wins in two years. Choose your narrative and run with it. Gresh Jensen is a better quarterback as Freshman, than Murray is a sophomore.
Whether Stitt is the coach tomorrow or not, just replacing the coach isn’t a guarantee. The roster and that locker room are poised, and in a much better situation to build upon the success and failures of this season. There is a great foundation for the future. Whomever that leads them on the field in 2018, is likely inheriting or has a squad poised on potential alone capable of taking the next step.
The silence in Washington Grizzly is just as deafening as the clamoring outside of it today. That is problem and there isn’t an easy solution. Changes need to be made. Diagnoses are easy, prescriptions and cures aren’t. Who Haslam listens to over the next 24 hours will be interesting. Here is hoping that he listens to common sense within room, versus the barbarians at the gate.