Ferrari’s, Fauxraris, and college staffing decisions

When I was in college, I remember driving down Broadway towards the University for some class that I needed to be that morning. I pulled up to the Broadway and Russel Street light and I saw in front to me what appeared to be a older model Ferrari. Had all the decals. Looked immaculate from the rear. Then as I passed the car, I began to realize not only by visuals, but by sound this wasn’t your regular run of the mill Ferrari. In fact it was a Fauxrari. Those kits were popular back in the day, where you could convert your four cylinder Yugo with a little time, effort and bondo into a sexy looking car that could get you all the chicks.

What has been telling about the firing and hiring process, to some fans, is that some still are under the illusion that University of Montana football program is a Ferrari or minimally a Cadillac. Maybe it is, but there are some elements maybe to the casual fan are obscured behind the nice body that prevent the program from being truly a high end sports car.

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Bobby Ball 2.0

Lets not pretend the potential rehiring of Bobby Hauck is all conference titles, playoff wins and packed stadiums. Bobby brings a lot of baggage. Should Bobby taken to task for things that happened nearly ten years ago? Certainly. This is the world that we live in, just sweeping things under the rug, or burying our head in the sand for the sake of victories is no longer tolerable.

Consider what happened to Greg Schiano at Tennessee in the past 48 hours. He was all set to become the next Vol head coach and was unceremoniously dumped on the side of the street because of lingering allegations of cover up of sexual assault while at Penn State. Should Bobby receive similar treatment? Probably not, but his potential hire should be paired with tough questions about program behavior, his own behavior and the relationship between football and the campus and community.

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A Sad Day in Grizzlyville…

The business of football was and is always a cruel one. Today that business got more cruel. Montana fired a football coach, fans abroad cheered, and I became a bit more hardened in my heart. For today, a man was fired for being good at his job.

His problem? He wasn’t great. Coaching is a hard sport to be in, because all the good advice you get rarely prepares you for those handful of people you can’t please. What Bob Stitt didn’t know when taking the job, he was going to walk into a stadium chalk full of people he couldn’t please. Constant pining for the next great quarterback. The next national championship.

I remember all of those days in as I listened to people joke about the obsessives in the Grizzly fanbase. Just laughed. Sending Tony Moss, Craig Haley and others hate mail for picking against the Griz.  Started to believe it a bit more when I heard it in the crowd during the Dennehy tenure, more so when Drew Miller limped off the field, the numerous throngs of Hauck haters. The cacophony negative nellies only grew larger and more emboldened after Pflugrad was let go.

Coaches don’t sign up for a job that treats them as some piece of replaceable merchandise. They don’t sign up to receive all sorts of hate mail. Verbal abuse from fans, boosters and parents. They sacrifice a great amount, in order to provide a product in the best way they know how. Only to be continuously second guessed by a bunch of drunk know-it-alls who can’t find their way in after half time.

Am I frustrated and angry that it came to this in Missoula? Sure as hell I am. Kent Haslam can say he wants to get the toughness back into Grizzly football. As fans applauded that, do they have the slightest clue what it looks like? I think there are a number of Grizzly football players who might have taken umbrage with that statement. The Gresch Jensen’s,  Justin Strong’s and Josh Sandry’s who played multiple games with injuries. To win games for their teammates, their coaches and the fans that support them.

I have been a supporter through thick and thin of the University of Montana football program. As long as we continue to chase ghosts, to chase the past, no one is ever going to be good enough. Hell Bobby Hauck wasn’t good enough. If we bring Hauck back, there is no guarantee that he’ll be as good as he was before.

So you can offer your platitudes to the coaches and their families. But they knew what they were getting into. Bullshit. I have experienced this twice in my life. Happened nearly the same way. You can’t prepare for this ever. What is worse is that people, even in administration, are never fully honest with you. They can’t.  You can’t fight back. There is no point. So you are generous, while at the same time you are angry and on the verge of tears.

If Skyline’s reporting is correct, and I don’t have a reason to believe that it isn’t, then it makes our program and the athletic department look pretty small and petty. The optics are bad. The luster is gone from the program, and Stitt wasn’t responsible for that.

Stitt obviously put himself into this position by not winning enough. He didn’t put the program into the stratosphere quick enough.  The adage is, if you didn’t do enough to keep your job, then you open yourself up to losing it. This was always a tough job, but it wasn’t unreasonable. Now it is. Montana puts itself in the company of Tennessee, Texas and Florida. Places where the incessant need to win has forced them into one bad decision after the next. I don’t think think this is a great decision, but time will only tell if my opinion of this transaction is vindicated or not.

That incessant need to win has a cost. In some ways that is how we got here. Coaches who weren’t acceptable in 2015 suddenly are?  We had ethics in 2015 and wanted a coach who would lead a program of fine young men. Now? F-it. Lets win. While that is overstatement, I don’t believe that it is far from the truth.

I just hope people can wake up in the morning and look themselves in the mirror. I am not talking about Haslam.  Today Grizzly football was defined by those who were timid and weak. I am sorry that Bob Stitt paid the price for that. Just makes me sick to my stomach. There is nothing to celebrate here. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Best of luck to Coach Stitt, his staff and their families. I can’t help but think they deserved a little better than they got.

Thanks again for reading.

GF24.

24 Hour Rule: Weber State

I went to Sea World with my family. Yesterday was maybe the 10th or so time I had been to Sea World in the last year. One of the advantages of living in San Diego is that you can frequent places like Sea World, and do so cheaply. So we went, while the Griz were playing Weber State.

I’ll clue you in on something. Sea World doesn’t change much from the first to the 100th time you visit. Same exhibits, same animals, rides and shows. I have watch Clyde and Semour the Sea Lion show at least a half dozen times this year, and it is the same stuff.

So why the discussion about Sea World? I had been clued into something about the Griz for a while now, nothing nefarious or anything, but what the Griz are.

What makes a person go back to the same place weekend after weekend, year after year? 

The players will change, so will the coaches, but the uniforms, the crowd, the experience rarely do. I had been going to Griz games pretty regularly since the late 80’s. I grew up with the Griz, went to college with the Griz and got into middle ages with the Griz.

On the literal eve of my 42nd birthday and watching twitter, egriz and maroonblood once again descend into utter chaos over the loss. Yes the Griz looked horrible in the first half, absolutely horrible. Wasn’t the first time it happened in recent years, or ever. I remember watching the Vandals run Dave Dickenson and the Griz out of the Kibbie dome in 1995. They gave up 49 points in the first half on that day.

I was on the escalator in the shark exhibit and watching the lemon shark lurk over the top of us. The shark only likely knew that exhibit. It just swam around and around. Was it happy? Did it swim to amuse the tourists? Did it somehow feel like it was letting us down by not zig-zagging or jetting in a menacing way towards an unknown object?

I don’t think my love for the shark exhibit would diminish if I knew the Lemon shark was going through the motions. That the Sea World attendant didn’t throw fish in the right way to get the most out of their charges for the day. We just don’t judge Sea World that way. We know it is entertainment, maybe we expect a little in return, that we enjoy ourselves. Yet there is no perfect scenario at enjoyment inside Sea World, it is up to you to determine how you want to experience it.

I don’t know if people enjoy Grizzly football anymore. Has the novelty worn off for some that all we see is those poor lemon sharks going through the motions? 

I’ll admit the product hasn’t been great inside Washington Grizzly for almost ten years now. Montana is no longer the banner program of FCS or even of its own conference. There are at least a dozen programs in FCS that claim to have a better pedigree over the past decade.

Is winning that all that matters? Is the enjoyment only rooted in how or who we defeat? Impatience is a human condition rooted in selfishness. That you demand a better product, even after you have been provided it, only to complain because it doesn’t fit your standards.

I won’t sit here and insult your intelligence, Stitt’s product over his three years in Missoula has been far from ideal. Yet, in comparison I just don’t know that his product was or is any worse than some of the stuff Read ran out pre-1995 or Dennehy ran out in 98-99. I just don’t know that it is.

If you walk into place expected to be disappointed, my guess is that you probably will. Oh they still have that damn Clyde in the sea otter show. How lame! Why can’t the dolphins do double twisting double somersaults? WTF?

For me, you can’t argue and you can’t debate unreasonable expectations. I have tried for almost ten years now and nothing seems to work. There are reasonable expectations and there are those who can’t unwind their own absurd expectations. I guess why spend money on something that is going to make you angry all the time.

I like Sea World in the same way that I enjoy Griz games. They are relaxing escapes from the drudgery of daily demands. If anyone tells me they’d rather grade 100 vocabulary assignments than watching a bunch of guys run around on a field for three hours or watch domesticated sharks swim around for the same, you are insane.

I get that people want the Griz to win, so do I. I just don’t see the merit in being a negative nancy either. I hope everyone has a great week. If I am not at work, I’ll be at Sea World watching the sharks swim in a circle.

 

 

 

Taking A Step Back Part III: Staying the Course

I know that much of what I will write here will alienate some people because that is what facts and information do these days. Why not build a narrative, support it with tangential and correlative evidence? Seems pretty easy these days, in and outside of the realm of sports. We elected Donald Trump in a post-truth era, so why not create a narrative that gets our venerable head coach fired.

Seems appropriate. Doesn’t make it right, but this is the world that we live in. Most of you that read this blog regularly know that I am a social studies educator as well as a football coach. For much of my professional career, I have always thought of myself as a coach second and an educator first.

That perspective affords me the ability to engage in coaching from an entirely non-emotive perspective. Just as importantly that perspective has allowed me over the years to take an evidence based approach in evaluating the programs, personnel and philosophies of the sports that I have coached.

Maybe the best piece of advice I ever received from a college professor was, “just because you want to believe it doesn’t make it true, just because you know its true doesn’t mean you can prove it.”

We should lock up Bob Stitt for another three years. 

Do it now. Without delay. Not because he is Vince Lombardi, Tom Osborne, Bill Walsh or Don Read. Do it because it is what is best for the program now, and for the future of it.

We want simple answers for complex problems and hence why we elected a man with grand answers but no solutions. Drain the swamp? Nope, he is going to flood it. Firing Bob Stitt right now or after year three is akin to electing Donald Trump president. Yup I said it.

We have arrived at this point in Grizzly football because many people, including fans, administrators and coaches put an emphasis on the present without a consideration for the future. We can spend the next twenty years debating how the cadillac became a Dodge Neon, but that doesn’t get us any closer of getting the vehicle in the shop and fixing it.

We want change without complete understanding what that change indicates. We want immediate results in a situation that cannot provide it. Firing Bob Stitt now or next year isn’t a plan to restore Grizzly football to its highest peaks, it is merely believing a narrative that isn’t necessarily backed up by the right information.

I’ll use a historical analogy. Andrew Jackson became convinced the 2nd National Bank was the implement of the rich to shackle the poor. Might have been partially true, in that it was nearly impossible for a common person to get loans of any significant amount in the 1830’s, but there were more things at play than the 2nd National Bank limiting access to wealth creation.

Despite cogent advice from his own political and economic advisors Jackson killed the bank. The result was as Jackson intended, allow common citizens greater access to capital, but there were a thousand after effects that did more harm than good. Jackson satisfied a short term goal, but with significant short and long term impacts. A run on banks, an inflationary spiral and a depression were the result. People had their money, but it came with a significant cost which was the destruction of the American economy that lasted nearly a decade.

Stylistically Bob Stitt was always going to provide a sharp dichotomy from the Delaney era, and maybe Stitt couldn’t offer as much early success as he promised. You can make an argument that Stitt’s ego might have been a big role in that, but the program frankly is no worse off than it was two years ago. In other words, it was highly unlikely the program would have been any better off or even worse off with Delaney or anyone else at the helm. Yet Stitt at least perceptively and narratively seems to be the nadir of the program when it was showing signs of decline far before it.

Not enough success, not enough Montana kids, not enough defense, not enough offense. Whatever your stylistic complaint might be, we get wrapped up in a narrative that you have come to believe is true even when it isn’t backed up by facts. Perceptively the same criticisms the same individuals have had of the last five Grizzly football coaches (Dennehey, Glenn, Hauck, Pflugrad, and Delaney) are levied upon Stitt. We like who we like, and we hate who we hate. Never mind the same criticisms are true of all.  I think it is high time people recognized that. Until the criticisms evolve beyond the standard and stylistic, there isn’t much merit to the removal conversation.

We can live in a post-truth world and just inundate our opposition in a litany of ‘facts’ but we have to trust those people who actually hold the cards and the information. I believe we have to trust Kent Haslam, and that he has a plan for the success of the program. If that part of the success of the program is signing up Stitt for another three years then we have to do it.

Firing Stitt at this point or a year into the future only fixes the short term problems, but it does nothing to fix the long term challenges of the program. Bringing in a power offense and defensive minded coach isn’t going to create immediate results. Again that is stylistic not substantive.

Just as many laud the Board of Regents for axing Engstrom in early December, again that is a largely stylistic fire that won’t correct the structural problems facing the University of Montana. Substantive issues that not only did Engstrom ignore, but President Dennison and the Board of Regents ignored as well. Sometimes you fire the guy to cover up your own ignorance and ineptitude.

That isn’t the case here. First there is a tremendous amount of supportive data that says Kent Haslam has a plan, he knows how to effect the type of change necessary and who to lead those individual programs. He has hired a bevy of office personnel, several coaches and overseen transformation of an athletic department out of a mom and pop operation into one that will help each of its individual athletic programs and mission succeed in both the short term, and in the long term. He doesn’t need to be muscled by a bunch of petulant boosters who have capital only in the monetary sense to promote a political agenda that isn’t backed up actual facts. At least facts that are defensible in an objective sense of the word.

Despite the impression otherwise, Stitt doesn’t win at Mines with the personnel he had without understanding how to make it work within the unequal academic expectations of his peer institutions. Stitt may not be everything and a bag of chips, he may not even Beau Baldwin, but he was longitudinally able have success in a place that was not the easiest place to have success. Stitt has shown a willingness to think outside of the box, to eschew traditional modalities (which makes him a fan in my world) and to take ownership for his and his staff’s own short comings.

He may not arrived at the UM with a scheme and style capable of producing immediate results, but again I don’t think you turn a Neon into a Caddy or high performance model car by merely replacing a few fenders and a new paint job. You don’t necessarily achieve it by buying a brand new cadillac either.

What made ‘Montana,’ Montana was there was an understanding that tradition and continuity made up a significant portion of the recipe of success. The tradition is only here in name only anymore and is spoken of in past tense and continuity was thrown out the window with three coaches in the past seven years, three offensive styles, the same defensively, and a bevy of turnover in staff and players.

I don’t think Stitt necessarily has the answer, but I think he should be given the opportunity along with his staff to see if his recipe works. Stitt has taken the car into the shop, whether we like it or not, and decided to overhaul the whole thing. Thrown out just about everything from the last two regimes and has decided to build his own model, his own style of vehicle. He doesn’t want a Cadillac, maybe he wants a Tesla. I don’t know.

When you commit to hiring a coach who advocates an overhaul you better let him complete the overhaul. I don’t see him taking short cuts or changing course midstream, rather he seems to have adjusted his methodology and willing to make some hard decisions about the factors of production here. Stitt won the job over a large pool of very qualified applicants because he convinced them (Administration and boosters included) that he could rebuild the program.

He recognized as many others did that a paint job wasn’t going to fix the program. Haslam did as well. Haslam has engaged in an all out offensive to help not only the football program be more competitive but the rest of the programs in the Big Sky. Montana used to be enough in basketball and football to win more than not. That isn’t enough to Haslam. He wants the program to be competitively regionally and he has a plan to achieve that goal. Stitt is a part of that, as is the champions center, student-athlete complex, and the myriad of other personnel, places and entities. I don’t think Haslam will cut-bait unless he sees a sharp deviation from that goal.

Stitt still has a mountain to climb, the disappointing end of the year makes it more difficult, and is mostly likely very aware the type of expectations that he has to meet. The best thing at this point is to allow not only Stitt enough time to fully show his chops but to give him the time to complete the overhaul. At this point, I am of the belief you can’t cut bait unless it is completely aware that his regime and his message aren’t working. I don’t necessarily believe the late season swoon was fatigue of message, though I am quite sure some have made that argument.

For the best interests of the program, I think you have to give Stitt and his staff five years to implement his vision. There are obviously things that will short circuit that plan, but I haven’t seen much over the past two years that is indicative of the type of institutional failure is imminent next year.

 

 

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.

Conclusions:

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.

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.

GF24

 

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 8

Big Sky

The top of the Big Sky race didn’t change a considerable amount after this weekend’s action, but Montana might have found themselves in a hole they may not be able to dig out of. The Griz went on the road to face a surging Northern Arizona squad and came away with an eleven point loss to the Lumberjacks. Northern Arizona relied on throwing the ball downfield much of the game to beat the Griz secondary to setup their scores. Northern Arizona was surprisingly dominant on both sides of the line of scrimmage and kept the Griz offense off balance most of the game. The Lumberjacks are now the winners of three in a row and heading into a bye week. It’s not improbable they could win out and force the playoff committee into some decisions.

Big Sky co-leader North Dakota got more than they bargained for on Saturday when they took on the mostly hapless Idaho State. The Bengals have been mostly non-competitive in their losses this year but somehow managed to stay close with the Fighting Hawks. The game was tied at halftime with North Dakota finally pulling ahead for good in the third quarter. North Dakota got a conference win on the road, and it was ugly, but it happened.

Southern Utah appeared to have their contest with Weber State wrapped up and was going to hand Weber their first conference loss. Someone forgot to mention to the Wildcats that the game was over. Up 22 points in the 4th quarter Southern Utah inexplicably gave up 23 unanswered points and allowed Weber to come back and win 37-36. Jadrian Clark threw a touchdown pass to Darryl Denby with :31 left on the clock to seal the victory for the Wildcats. Next weekend sets up a big matchup between Weber State and North Dakota in Grand Forks.

There is now a log jam at the top of the Big Sky standings with North Dakota, Eastern Washington, and Weber State all tied at the top. One of those teams will drop from the rank of unbeaten next weekend. One game behind is Cal Poly, two games behind is Montana, Northern Arizona, and Northern Colorado. Could chaos happen and there be six teams eligible for the top of the Big Sky heading into the final two weeks? Unlikely, but it’s the Big Sky, everything is possible.

Scores

Eastern Washington 41
Montana State 17

Sacramento State 19
Northern Colorado 27

North Dakota 28
Idaho State 21

Montana 34
Northern Arizona 45

Weber State 37
Southern Utah 36

UC-Davis 16
Cal Poly 21

Big Sky Player of the Week

Jadrian Clark, QB, Weber State. Clark was 31/52 for 436 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, plus 30 rushing yards in a comeback victory over Southern Utah.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington. 37/51, 520 yards, 4 touchdowns.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington. 13 receptions, 154 yards, 1 touchdown.
Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona.  4 receptions, 75 yards.
Joe Protheroe, RB, Cal Poly. 27 carries, 141 yards, 1 touchdown.
Caleb Kidder, LB, Montana. 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss.

Big Sky Power Rankings

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

Looking Ahead to Week 9

Weber State will head to North Dakota in a battle of Big Sky unbeatens. That should figure to be an important game in the Big Sky race. Another important game in the Big Sky race is Montana going to Eastern Washington. Northern Colorado will go north to take on Portland State. Southern Utah will also head north to take on Idaho State in Pocatello. To cap the week Cal Poly will go north to take on Sacramento State.

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

– I can most definitely say that Montana State, Sacramento State, UC-Davis, and Idaho State will not be invited to participate in the playoffs. #analysis

– The bloodbath in Bozeman wasn’t quite what I thought was going to happen. It was bad, but the scoreboard operators weren’t as busy as I thought they would be after watching the first quarter.

– Bruce Barnum did not get beat in the state of Utah this weekend.

– Montana caught NAU at the absolute worst possible team. Their offense is finding their groove behind Blake Kemp and are playing like the team that was picked to win the Big Sky. If only Jerome Sauers hadn’t started his October swoon in September this year.

– I saw a lot of people on the internet message boards this weekend bemoaning the Griz losing to a backup quarterback and the whole Griz coaching staff should be fired. Let’s get one thing straight.. Blake Kemp would start for all but about four or five Big Sky teams, and one of those teams is only because Kemp probably isn’t built to run Cal Poly’s triple option. Kemp was a good starter at East Carolina, and has played very well for the Jacks this year. He’s not your average schlumpy backup that’s drug in off the street.

– Being a schlumpy backup sounds like a pretty good gig if you can get it though.

– Southern Utah.. bros. You can’t be giving up 23 unanswered in the final quarter. That game was yours. I have no idea what happened down there, but man…

– This might be obvious to most, but Cooper Kupp does silly things when the football gets near him. Probably made a good decision to return to EWU for his senior year. His stock is still rising.

– The poor Griz secondary better figure itself out or they could be in for a long day against Eastern Washington and Cooper Kupp/Shaq Hill.