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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 29 2012

Kolpack: Montana changes reminiscent of NDSU years ago

Fargo - When it comes to bombshells in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision, it doesn’t get more explosive than what transpired in Missoula, Mont., on Thursday.

The head football coach: gone.

The athletic director: gone.

Just like that, one of FCS’ prized pupils was tarnished in one fell swoop. It appears a string of off-the-field problems finally caught up to the Grizzlies, and the university president had enough.

In case it seems familiar to North Dakota State fans, in one sense, it is. There’s no need to re-hash the specifics, but let’s just say beating up people or having your name in police reports didn’t carry very serious consequences in Fargo a few moons ago.

Reading recent stories in the Missoulian and Montana Kaimin university newspapers brought me back to the bad ol’ days.

Sexual assault allegations: check.

Assault allegations: check.

Football party gone wild: check.

Players getting slapped on the wrist: check.

Staff defending players in trouble: check.

Four of the most-read stories on the Kaimin website on Thursday had the following headlines:

“Jock culture: behind the stereotypes of athletics and alcohol.”

“Athletic department heads scratch surface of problems.”

“Griz quarterback restraining order dropped.”

“Football party ended by staff and players.”

It was in the mid-1990s, but I think you would find similar headlines in The Forum archives over a period of a few years. This newspaper took a beating over those reports, but somebody has to be the watchdog over high-profile athletes going astray.

The victims need a voice.

The NDSU culture began to change when Bob Babich was hired in 1997 and the more disciplined approach carried over to Craig Bohl. NDSU may have been slow to transition to Division I athletics, but it, apparently, was two decades ahead of Montana in the handling of athletes and the law.

It’s become apparent over the years in the Bohl system that if you want a second chance, you darn near need a letter from the Pope. This ain’t the ’60s and ’70s anymore.

Certainly, the head coach

has been challenged over the years, most notably a string of alcohol offenses and the

Best Buy theft ring of 2009. They had the attention of athletic director Gene Taylor, who said there are times his job security could be tied to that of the head football

coach.

“I think the year we had a couple of years ago, if we let that go on, yeah, it was going to get to me,” Taylor said. “You’re not tied directly to wins and losses, but if there’s a pattern of misbehavior there, ultimately it could cost (me my) job too.”

Montana President Royce Engstrom said as much, firing head coach Robin Pflugrad a few practices into spring football. That’s sending a message that winning will not take a backseat to the law.

It does seem harsh to can a coach after just his second season. I have to wonder how many of these problems involved Pflugrad’s recruits. There must be more to that story.

Montana will rebound and it probably won’t take long. Montana State came back to FCS top-10 status after firing its coach in 2007 amid major drug problems. NDSU came back from the ’09 debacle to win a national title.

Taylor said Bohl deals with problems “swiftly and consistently.” It appears that didn’t happen at Montana.


Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia


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