The University of Montana fired football coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O’Day on Thursday, adding more uncertainty to a program already dealing with sexual assault allegations against two players.
“The University of Montana has determined not to renew the contracts of Athletics Director Jim O’Day and head football coach Robin Pflugrad,” university President Royce Engstrom said in a statement.
O’Day and Engstrom addressed staff and coaches in separate meetings Thursday morning, but neither gave a reason for the firings, said Greg Sundberg, the Montana Grizzly Scholarship Association executive director, who attended the meetings.
“I think it was time for a leadership change, is what I gathered,” Sundberg said.
Engstrom’s statement thanked O’Day and Pflugrad for their service and said the university plans to announce an interim coach and athletic director by the end of the week.
The Missoulian first reported the story on Thursday morning. O’Day told the newspaper that he and Pflugrad were shocked by the news, but they understand that is part of the business.
“I’m sure the president has been reviewing all the different things that have been going on for some time and just decided, both in leadership of the department and in leadership of the football program, it was time to make a change,” O’Day said.
The firings cap six months of tumult for the university and the football program.
Earlier this month, a university student accused starting quarterback Jordan Johnson of sexually assaulting her. No charges have been filed.
Johnson was temporarily suspended from spring practice while a temporary restraining order was issued against him. After the restraining order was dissolved last week to be replaced by a civil no-contact agreement, Johnson was allowed to participate in a Saturday scrimmage.
Pflugrad welcomed him back to the field, calling Johnson a person of “tremendous moral fiber” in a statement that was criticized by the alleged victim’s attorney.
In January, running back Beau Donaldson was suspended from the team after he was charged with raping an acquaintance in September 2010. He has pleaded not guilty.
Last fall, police used a stun gun against two football players after quarterback Gerald Kemp and cornerback Trumaine Johnson scuffled with officers responding to a noise complaint. They pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct charges.
Sundberg said none of those allegations were raised at the meetings Thursday.
Pflugrad was the Big Sky Conference football coach of the year in 2011 after he guided the Grizzlies to a co-conference championship in his second year as coach. Sam Houston State defeated Montana in the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Pflugrad was promoted from wide receivers coach to head coach after Bobby Hauck left for UNLV in 2009. It was Pflugrad’s second stint with the Grizzlies, after being an assistant coach from 1986 to 1994. In between, he coached and recruited at Oregon, Washington State and Arizona State, and he previously coached at Portland State.
Montana went 7-4 in his first season in 2010.
O’Day was hired as athletic director in 2005, moving up from director of development for UM intercollegiate athletics after Don Read retired.
O’Day is a Cut Bank native who graduated from UM with a degree in journalism. He is a former reporter and sports editor at The Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell and was the owner/publisher of The Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank.
RELATED: Agreement with Accuser Puts UM’s Johnson Back on Field
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