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Farewell to Dennison: A sports take
Following Montana’s thrilling win over Appalachian State in last year’s Football Championship Series semifinals, I had a memorable encounter with a prominent university official.
As players and fans made snow angels down on the field, I headed for the top floor of the Adams Center for the post-game press conference. As I lumbered up the stairs, rubbing my cold hands together, I saw a man racing up the stairs behind me. I had about a full flight on him, but he caught up, which amazed me because this guy appeared more suited for a recliner than taking stairs two at a time. As he caught me, he proceeded to say-without breaking stride-"What a game! That was fantastic!” as he put his open palm up in the air. I confusedly raised my hand. He slapped it. Then two steps later he had gone through the door to the conference room, giggly, running over and talking to everyone he saw, moving more fluidly than the old guy from the Six Flags commercials.
It was at that moment, when I saw everyone address the man, that I realized that I had just high-fived the president of the university.
As George Dennison prepares to depart his position, Griz athletics will have to learn to cope with losing one of its biggest fans. While many will dissect Dennison’s history of budgetary and academic policies from now until Royce Engstrom takes office on Oct. 15, Dennison’s success with the athletic department is unquestioned. Since Dennison’s hiring in 1990, Montana athletics have soared to never–before–seen heights.
During his 20 years at the helm of the university-competition–wise-Montana has never been better. Leading the charge is the success of the football program. During Dennison’s tenure, the football team won two national championships, 15 Big Sky Conference titles and compiled a ridiculous 213-57 record. That success, although not quite as extraordinary, was translated to Montana’s other big programs: the basketball teams. In those 20 years, the men’s team compiled a 356-246 record while the women’s team dominated to the tune of a 431-137 record.
Now, obviously Dennison has had more important things to deal with over the years than the sports teams, but athletic director Jim O’Day said Dennison had a large presence in the department.
“Some presidents don’t have a handle in intercollegiate athletics,” O’Day said. “George isn’t one of those people. He understands the importance to the university and the exposure it creates for the city of Missoula and state of Montana.”
O’Day said he and Dennison meet every Monday morning so Dennison can be briefed on the department. “He’s one of the biggest fans you’ll ever find. He has his finger on the pulse on everything that happens in athletics.”
Now everything hasn’t been perfect in those 20 years. There have been numerous run–ins with the law among various sports programs, and he leaves the university as the athletic department finds itself in financial uncertainty.
But, when it comes to having a president who truly bleeds Grizzly maroon, the University will be hard-pressed to ever replace the one who left my palm stinging red last December.
By Tyson Alger, Montana Kaimin