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Q&A: Delaney looks to heal Grizzlies, move program forward
Mick Delaney, the newly appointed interim head football coach at Montana, says he’s anxious to move the program forward in the wake of the controversial firings of former coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O’Day.
Mick Delaney says it will be his greatest challenge in 44 years of coaching football. But he is attacking it head on.
Delaney came out of retirement last week to become the interim head coach at the University of Montana. Delaney took the reins of the program in the face of upheaval following the controversial firings of previous head coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O’Day by university president Royce Engstrom.
Questions still surround Engstrom’s motive(s) for the firings, which came while Pflugrad, O’Day and the university were under scrutiny for their handling of sexual assault allegations involving football players. Engstrom has only said that “a change in leadership” was needed.
A 69-year-old native of Butte, Delaney had been on the Grizzlies’ coaching staff for the past four seasons, the last two under Pflugrad. He retired in February before Engstrom asked him to come back to take the interim job at UM nine days ago.
This is Delaney’s first head coaching job since he guided his alma mater, UM Western, in 1991 and ‘92. Prior to that Delaney was the head coach at Great Falls High in the mid-1970s. He has also served as the athletic director at Montana Tech (1983-85) and was also an assistant coach at Montana State (1976-80).
Teeming with positivity and a confident approach to the future, Delaney, currently at The Masters in Augusta, Ga., took some time to talk with The Gazette’s Greg Rachac. This is the full transcript of their conversation:
Gazette: It’s been over a week since you were named the interim coach at Montana. Do you have any new thoughts?
“The No. 1 thought, still, is that it’s a very difficult situation. When you’ve been very close to people like coach Pflugrad and Mr. O’Day, it’s tough. They’re such quality people. That’s the hardest thing for me right now. You feel so bad for them and their families. And I’ve been in that situation myself a few times over the years. It’s a real uncomfortable situation when you’re doing something that the guy previous to you did so well. So I’m trying to sort it all out. But at the same time I realize I’ve been asked to keep the program at the same level of success it’s been at over the last 20 or 25 years. And that’s what I’ll try to do.”
Gazette: You’ve been through a lot in 44 years as a coach. But have you seen anything like this?
“I haven’t come across a situation exactly like this one. When I was at Colorado State with coach (Sonny) Lubick we were fired after going to nine bowl games and winning nine conference championships in 15 years. And that happened very quickly. But it came at the end of the football season, not in the middle of spring ball. So no. I’ve never been involved in something quite like this.”
Gazette: Were Robin Pflugrad and Jim O’Day treated unfairly?
“I can’t answer that. Not that I won’t, but I don’t know the ins and outs and the whys. They have not been told to me. So it’s really not my position to say whether or not they got a fair shake. They got a difficult shake, let’s put it that way. The president or the board of regents, or someone, made this decision and followed through on it. It’s not my position to question it. My job is to bring those who have been injured by it back together – the players and the coaches. It’s a tragic thing for coach Pflugrad, and this was an opportunity for me to come back to a program I love dearly and try my best to move it forward. I’m going to do everything in my power to heal this situation as much as possible.”
Gazette: At what point do you think the buck should stop with a head football coach?
“When something isn’t quite right in the eyes of people that are the bosses, in this instance the president of a university, it’s his prerogative to make these types of choices. Even if they’re not agreeable to me or to other people. The president is held responsible for the entire university, and it’s his job to make those changes. It was a decision entirely made by the administration and Dr. Engstrom.”
Gazette: Do you yet know if you’ll be there through 2012 season?
“I’ll be the coach through the season. I would not have taken the position if there was going to be a change in the summer. If we are going to do this to the best of our ability, the coaches, myself and the administration, I need to be there through the entire season. And I would expect that to be the case unless something very unusual happens. But that’s the plan, to stay through the season.”
Gazette: What changes in discipline or off-the-field structure must be made at Montana?
“There have already been some changes in the discipline structure (the student-athlete code of conduct), and those were generated from the president’s office and university counsel, including Mr. O’Day and Mr. Pflugrad, which have already been put into effect. I’d like to make it known that coach Pflugrad had used discipline in every situation we were faced with. And I will continue to do that as it is appropriate. I won’t let anything slide by. But when you get into things of a criminal nature – and again, of all the allegations that have been made only one charge has been filed – it puts things into a different perspective.”
Gazette: How much damage has been done to the Griz football program because of this?
“I think the biggest damage has been done to the families of coach Pflugrad and Mr. O’Day. I think the players are very loyal to coach Pflugrad, and rightfully so. The coaches were also very loyal to him, and rightfully so. My job is to make sure people don’t turn the other way and make a huge mistake by taking out what has happened to the program on the players that are here. They are the young men doing the right things day in and day out, and are not responsible for previous allegations. Over the course of the last (week) I have talked with every player and every coach to make sure the kids make the right decisions on and off the field.”
Gazette: It’s been a long time since you’ve been a head coach. How would you describe yourself in that role?
“It has been quite some time, but I don’t feel you lose the ability to be a leader. You just have to be honest, do things the right way, take every situation head on and don’t beat around the bush. Am I strict? Yes, I’m going to demand discipline. But I respect the kids, and I believe they will respect me. Am I going to be aloof at the point of discipline? No. If a player does something right I’ll be the first guy to pat him on the back. But if they screw up I’ll be the first guy to chew off their behinds. As a coach you’ve got to do what’s right, and I honestly believe I can do that. When you do, the young men will respond.”
Gazette: Do you need to repair public perception and relationships with fans, boosters and alumni?
“There are a lot of people in Griz Nation that are upset about the way this happened. But now that it has happened it’s my charge to move forward and to mend feelings and to get people to trust the program and continue to support the young men who desperately need their support. That’s one of the things that makes Grizzly football so unique. We will work endlessly to make sure our fans and supports do what they’ve done the last 25 years, ever since coach (Don) Read came in and turned the program around.”
Gazette: How do you convince players and fans you’re the right man in this time of transition?
“Whoever has been at the top of the administration, they’ve never made a poor decision in choosing a head coach. You add up the number of wins in that era from 1985 to 2012 and there’s never been a poor choice for a coach. There have been a lot of qualified people in this position. My ideas right now are to keep the tradition going. Our guys will do what they do. They’ll work hard and try to win a championship.”
Gazette: What part of your coaching personality makes you the right man for the job?
“I believe that Dr. Engstrom called and asked me to accept this challenge because I am familiar with every single player in the program. Without exception. I know every player and every player that is coming in (this fall). That in itself lends to the fact that we know about each other and we know what’s expected and what the expectations are. Together we can be successful.”
Gazette: Have expectations changed in the face of the upheaval?
“Winning a championship is always the expectation at the University of Montana, and it should always be the expectation. That will never change. That is what Montana football is all about.”
Gazette: How important is it that the coaching staff remained intact?
“I think it’s tremendously important. I would not have considered accepting this challenge had the staff not told me one by one that they support me. And I support them 100 percent. It would have been an impossible task to bring a coach in and not have a staff in place. This is a very good staff and I’m excited to work with them and do what we’ve been asked to do.”
Gazette: What are some thoughts the coaching staff has conveyed to you about all this?
“Obviously those are things that are very personal. But I can tell you they were devastated because coach Pflugrad had hired every single one of them. If you asked them, I think they’d tell you that they feel it’s a situation where it left them wondering what was going to happen to them and their families after what happened to coach Pflugrad and his family. They told me that they will support me and support what we’re going to try to do with the program.”
Gazette: Is it difficult to support both coach Pflugrad and the university at the same time?
“I don’t think so. The administration has been very fair to me in the last week. What I am doing now is supported 100 percent by the administration. Again, those are my bosses and people I respect tremendously. And they respect me. I will do whatever I can to make things right.”
Gazette: Will this be your greatest challenge in 44 years of coaching?
“Oh definitely. Without a doubt. The greatest challenges are always the ones in front of you, not behind you. This is the greatest challenge of a long career in which I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of success.”
Gazette: How does the timing of Robin’s firing and your hiring affect what happens on the field?
“I don’t think it will affect that at all. We’ll get right back to work, starting with meetings on Tuesday and then we’ll be back on the field. The kids are very, very anxious to get back to work and take care of business.”
Gazette: What are your thoughts on the open letter the team wrote in response to this controversy?
“I thought it was an outstanding letter. I thought they expressed their feelings. It was spoken from the heart and spoken with a lot of truth. It was an excellent letter.”
Gazette: Who are some of the players you expect to step up to be the faces of the program and the leaders in locker room?
“I certainly expect our seniors to step up, and I know they will. And we have a handful of juniors that have been with the program. It’s a fine bunch of players, and they’ll all be leaders. It’s their football team. It’s not my football team or Dr. Engstrom’s football team, it’s the players’ football team. And they’ll step up because I know they have that type of character.”
Gazette: How do you expect the players to respond on the field?
“There aren’t going to be any changes so I think they’ll respond very well. We’re not going to mess with what we’ve been doing X’s and O’s-wise. We went to the semifinals of the playoffs last year playing a certain way, and we expect the players to do what we coached them up to do again this season. I know coach (Ty) Gregorak will do a great job with the defense, coach (Timm) Rosenbach will do a great job with the offense and coach (Dick) Arbuckle will do a great job with special teams. Will there a couple tweaks here and there? Yes, but that’s only natural. That’s not because coach Pflugrad is gone and I’m here. That happens after spring ball.”
Gazette: The team returns to practice Tuesday. What do you expect to see?
“I think it’s going to be great. The kids are excited and I know they’ll have a ton of energy. We’ll do what we need to do to finish spring ball on a positive note in the next two weeks. I know I’ll be very disappointed if it’s anything different than a high-energy, fast-paced practice.”
By Greg Rachac, The Billings Gazette
Read more: http://billingsgazette.com/sports/college/big-sky-conference/university-of-montana/football/q-a-delaney-looks-to-heal-grizzlies-move-program-forward/article_3854ec58-241e-5cd7-9c1d-0c3f5eb9b7c7.html#ixzz1rYtwDcJ8