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Delaney to coach Griz through 2012 season
With 44 years of coaching experience, Mick Delaney has an inkling of what lies ahead in stiff challenges and potential distractions.
Montana’s interim football coach also knows what he has in the 2012 Grizzlies. He’s well-versed in the talent pool and assistant coaches who helped guide the Griz to the Football Championship Subdivision semifinal playoff round in December.
Knowing they’re in his corner might explain Delaney’s feelings as he prepares to officially take the reins from fired coach Robin Pflugrad when spring drills resume on Tuesday.
“It’s really exciting,” he said Friday from Augusta, Ga., where he’s attending the Masters. “Obviously there’s a ton to be done with everything that’s happened.
“It’s hard. It’s a mixed-emotion thing because (fired athletic director) Jim O’Day and Robin Pflugrad were very good friends of mine and I respected them tremendously. At the same time I accepted the job because I was asked to keep things together and move forward.”
Delaney, 69, was UM President Royce Engstrom’s choice to provide stability in one of the most turbulent offseasons in Griz football history.
Engstrom has not established why he fired O’Day and Pflugrad, prompting widespread speculation. The change came last week after months of investigation into a series of sexual assaults, some allegedly involving football players.
Montana’s turmoil has gone viral, with news outlets as far reaching as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail documenting the struggle.
But back at Ground Zero, Delaney has started picking up the pieces. He has been in touch with all of the high school seniors and junior college students who planned to be a part of UM football in the fall. All are standing by their commitments.
Even more important, Delaney reportedly has the undying support of the current Grizzlies.
“He had just retired in February,” noted Jean Gee, Montana interim athletic director, “so a lot of the student-athletes know him and know what he’s all about. I think they’re happy to hear that it’s Mick because they’re comfortable with him.”
The transition from Pflugrad to Delaney is made less taxing by Delaney’s decision to keep current schemes in place.
“I really felt our last five games last year we were playing about as well as you can play offensively, and defensively we were also playing very well,” Delaney said. “There’s no need to mess with schemes. We’ll just sit down after spring ball and pick and choose a little bit.”
Delaney already has a general idea of what he’ll say to the Griz when they practice on Tuesday. It will mark the first time they’ve all been together since March 30 – the day after Pflugrad and O’Day were fired.
“The main thing I’ll tell them is that it’s their program, I’m just kind of the facilitator,” Delaney said. “It’s up to them to pull it together as a family. We’ve got each other and we’ve got to stick together. It’s not going to be easy. We’ve got things that will be distractions.
“One of the things that makes this exciting for me is I know every one of the kids. They’re such good kids and they’re going to rally and continue to do the things they’ve been doing since Coach (Don) Read took over the program in 1986. Keep working and plugging away and try to win championships.”
According to Delaney, his new contract has not yet been finalized. Whether UM elects to retain him on a month-by-month basis or with some other form of agreement, he does not anticipate any snags.
He will continue to maintain his permanent residence in Butte. Delaney stayed at the Campus Inn while in Missoula for the 18 months leading up to his retirement.
Asked whether he would consider coaching the Griz beyond 2012, Delaney maintained he’s focusing on the present.
“That isn’t even in the picture right now,” said the coach, who has vowed to oversee the football program without micro-managing. “It’s let’s make sure we take care of what’s at hand. But I would certainly consider it if they would consider me.”
While Delaney has been forthcoming with his plans, the same cannot be said of Engstrom. Questions remain about, among other things, the future of the UM athletic director position and contract negotiations with men’s basketball coach Wayne Tinkle.
The Missoulian solicited answers from Engstrom this week and was referred to Gee. She told the newspaper on Friday she was not in a position to answer specific questions and referred the Missoulian to UM executive vice president Jim Foley.
Foley, who frequently worked with the media on football issues when Pflugrad and Bobby Hauck took their turns as head coach, has not responded to messages left by the Missoulian on his cell phone this week.