By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
I had just began writing for what is now classified as the FCS ranks back in 2004 after previously writing on the Division II ranks.
My first column for what was then i-aa.org was on the new western football conference that looked as if it was going to begin in January of that year—what as of last year became the defunct football league of the Great West Conference.
Two months later after this beginning, I was forced to write a disturbing column that involved one of the seven original Great West schools deciding to drop their football program and the West’s and one of the nation’s top programs losing their athletic director in Montana losing Wayne Hogan following some financial issues.
Fast forwarding eight years (wow, has it been that long that I have been doing this?), we again see some likely even more disturbing news out of the West’s top program this past Thursday of Hogan’s eventual full time successor at AD in 2005 following a brief stint by former Griz football coach Don Read, as well as their head football coach losing their jobs.
Who was let go this past Thursday?
Athletic director Jim O'Day and football coach Robin Pflugrad were fired this past Thursday morning just as the Griz were in the midst of spring practices. O'Day served as the chair of the FCS playoff committee over the past two seasons.
The reason for the dismissals seems to stem from the scrutiny for the school’s handling of sexual assault allegations involving athletes.
University of Montana President Royce Engstrom let Pflugrad and O’Day know of his decision in an early morning meeting Thursday, and released a one-paragraph statement declaring only that the university “has determined not to renew the contracts” of both men.
O’Day said in a statement, “Thanks everyone for the tremendous support I've received during this unexpected decision by the UM administration. While I have to admit it was a shock and stunner, apparently they felt a change in leadership was needed at the top of UM Athletics and Grizzly Football at this time.”
What allegations had some of the Montana athletes been under?
Montana athletes and in particular its football program had come under fire for its handling of a series of sexual assault cases over that past year plus. Allegations of rape involving several athletes surfaced late last season, leading to an independent investigation by former Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz.
She reported that nine sexual assaults involving Montana students had been investigated, including a December 2010 incident in which two women alleged they were drugged and gang raped by members of the football team.
Barz has stated that Pflugrad did not properly report that incident to university officials.
Backup running back Beau Donaldson was suspended from the team this past January after he was charged with raping an acquaintance.
Earlier in this month of March, starting quarterback Jordan Johnson had a temporary restraining order filed against him by a female student, who alleged she had been sexually assaulted by him. The order was later dismissed in favor of a civil agreement that mandates he and his accuser avoid contact and Johnson has been allowed back to spring practice.
Speaking of spring practice, what will be the status of the Grizzlies practices now?
Montana is scheduled to participate in a practice today but next week is the school’s spring break. Montana has scheduled a closed doors practice for today and will not resume practice until April 9th.
The firings for sure have taken some luster off a scrimmage scheduled to be played under the newly installed lights at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on April 14 and the spring game scheduled for a week later.
The Grizzlies finished 11-3 and tied for the Big Sky crown last fall. Montana fell to national runner-up Sam Houston State in the semi-final round of the playoffs. Montana had just gotten back to the playoffs after a one year hiatus following 17 straight playoff appearances prior to that.
I know that Montana will be able to come out of this situation just fine like they were able to do following the 2004 incident. The history and tradition of a school of its caliber will not let even an incident like this to bring it down.