Commentary: Why Heads Don’t Roll

By Beacon Staff

Three Montana State University students dressed in jail garb at the ‘Cat-Griz game earlier this month held a sign that read, “Put us in Hauck. We broke out” – a reference to University of Montana head football coach Bobby Hauck’s spotty coaching record.

Not his win-loss record, which is pretty good and much more important, rather the number of his players who have recently committed felonies. At last count there were seven charged with crimes ranging from murder to drunken driving.

For Montana State University students to point fingers, however, is hypocritical. Their own school has dealt with a string of student-athlete arrests – a good half-dozen. In fact, if Montana’s two largest universities have anything in common it’s that many of their football players enjoy breaking the law when not wearing shoulder pads.

The only difference is that the arrests at MSU, coupled with poor academics, cost former head football coach Mike Kramer his job. Hauck, on the other hand, was recently reassured that his position remains safe by both UM’s athletic director and the school’s president.

It was explained this way: “I am still persuaded that our coach takes a lot of care when he does recruit student-athletes,” UM President George Dennison told the Missoulian. “He talks with the families, he talks with the coaches, the counselors and other people they know.

“He tries to make sure he’s recruiting students who are capable of doing well athletically as well as academically and socially. I think he’s doing all those things right.”

I don’t. Something’s wrong. And I’m not the only one who thinks as much.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer recently took subtle shots at the two state football teams, saying fans and boosters pressured the athletic programs to win at all costs. And the schools and coaches, in turn, complied by offering scholarships to talented athletes with questionable backgrounds. UM running back Greg Coleman, for example, had previously been arrested for one assault and was charged with another before being admitted to the school.

Dennison said that a committee of administrators, not Hauck, allowed Coleman to attend the university. Those administrators must not have access to background checks since they are admitting student athletes who have gangster tendencies; the most recent example involved a house break-in and pistol-whipping over drugs that landed Coleman and two of his teammates in jail. Maybe those administrators who gave a scholarship to Coleman – no scholar – should be fired.

That’s what happens when an athletic program is plagued by a series of scandals. Someone has to take the fall. In MSU’s case, it was coach Kramer. He had just led the Bobcats to its best season in 22 years. It didn’t matter.

Yet everyone at UM still has their jobs as felonies stack up. This is a trend, not an anomaly; no matter how often Hauck claims otherwise.

Dennison pointed out that grades aren’t an issue on UM squads like they are at MSU, which is great. But you have to wonder if he would have said the same at the time of the arrests if the Grizzlies were 6-5 instead of 11-0 en route to the playoffs. You have to wonder, since the underperforming Grizzlies were bounced out of the first round of the playoffs, if the school will now use the arrests as an excuse to fire the Big Sky Conference coach of the year.

Maybe not. Maybe school officials will again emphasize its athletes’ graduation rates and declare, “Winning isn’t everything.” But in college football it is. And if UM sputters in the playoffs again, administrators there now have a reason to let Hauck go that doesn’t involve winning. And don’t be surprised if they do. Recruiting felons? No problem. But poor playoff performance? Well, maybe UM administrators will start thinking there’s a problem on this team after all.