By Taylor Anderson, Big Sky Country News
There was something eerily calm to the late-July morning air in the final hour leading up to the University of Montana press conference regarding its Athletic Department Thursday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
But football coaches, GSA donors and media were swarmed the steps leading up to the Canyon Club donning smiles and laughs, and morale was clearly high among the crowd.
Despite the tough decisions to be made closer to the start of school and the football season, associate athletic director Dave Guffey led the press conference by saying “this is a positive press conference, which in Griz athletics is a good thing.”
UM President Royce Engstrom started off by thanking Mick Delaney for his time in the off-season serving as interim head coach after the firing of Robin Pflugrad and Jim O’day without reason.
“We need to take this step at this time to support our recruiting efforts of our student athletes, who need to know who they will be playing under as a coach,” Engstrom said.
Ironically enough, Engstrom passed the baton to interim athletic director Jean Gee to announce Delaney’s two-year contract.
Gee started off by listing some accomplishments within Grizzly athletics last season before introducing Mick Delaney as full-time head coach of the football team.
“Certainly hiring a head coach is one of the most impactful decisions an administrator can make. I am honored and excited to announce Mick Delaney as the next head football coach at the University of Montana,” Gee said.
Delaney, a native of Butte, served under Pflugrad as “team mentor.” Before that, Delaney was an assistant coach under Sonny Lubick at Colorado State for 15 years. He also served under Bobby Hauck in 2008.
Delaney repeatedly said he would emphasize character and academics within his players.
“We’re trained as coaches to do and handle the unexpected. That’s our profession. We have 126 years of coaching experience on our staff,” Delaney said.
“The good things, the bad things, they’re unexpected, a lot of them,” he said. “But for the most part, this job is not only the best job in FCS football, it is probably the easiest from being able to handle the young men that are playing football at the University of Montana.”
That may have been an overstatement on Delaney’s part. The status of two of the Grizzlies’ more experienced quarterbacks are in question from legal troubles off the field.
Prosecutors haven’t yet decided to pursue charges against starting Grizzly quarterback Jordan Johnson after sexual assault allegations arose earlier this year. He is in a civil no-contact agreement with the woman, and remains on the Grizzly roster.
Gee announced this summer that Gerald Kemp was released from the team before then interim coach Delaney clarified that he was “indefinitely suspended” and could potentially return to the team. Kemp was involved with an altercation with police with former Grizzly cornerback and current St. Louis Ram Trumaine Johnson.
“I can guarantee you that we will recruit kids with high character number one, good academics number two,” he said.
“We have four commitments as of this time, I would guess maybe after today we would get a couple more. Can’t talk about specifics there, but Montana is good to us.”
In his first move as head coach, Delaney went on to name two new assistant coaches to his staff. Kefense Hynson, former wide receivers coach at Yale, will coach special teams and tight ends. Ross Brunelle, former Grizzly football player, will coach as well.
Montana has won 12 of the last 13 Big Sky Championships.
Engstrom said Delaney’s leadership will help ensure “excellence on the playing field, excellent in the classroom, and excellence in character and citizenship.”
Gee said in an interview after the conference that the nationwide search for a full-time athletic director is underway and that Engstrom should make that announcement later in August.
As far as the NCAA investigation on the UM football team, Gee didn’t say whether naming Delaney head coach indicated that fans could relax.
“I think any investigation that we’re undergoing right now, you know, we’re cooperating, it’s going along as it’s supposed to go along,” Gee said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s connected that this is going to have an impact on anything. This is what we needed to do for our team.”
The NCAA this week unleashed a $60 million fine on Penn State for its poor handling of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual assault scandal, which prompted a story by Gwen Florio of the Missoulian questioning whether UM would face similar sanctions.
At no point did the Engstrom, Gee or Delaney mention the three investigations currently underway at the University of Montana and in town by the Departments of Justice and Education and the NCAA.