The press conference announcing Bobby Hauck's return to the helm of University of Montana football included as much talk about player conduct and sexual assault as recruitment and wins.
Athletic Director Kent Haslam said that during the interview process, he and Hauck discussed many issues from his previous period as head coach, including how he dealt with the media — especially the student newspaper — and off-field player conduct and legal trouble, adding that he wanted to make sure he was “comfortable” with Hauck knowing they would come up if he was hired.
“We talked about what mistakes were made, how did we get there,” Haslam said.
He said meetings with Hauck left him with the clear impression that the coach was a different person from the one who first came to UM 15 years ago and the one who left eight years ago.
The athletic director said better policies and a more complete student-athlete code of conduct make him confident that if there are issues — which he acknowledged are all but certain to come up at least once — they will be dealt with consistently and fairly.
“You do things regardless of whether or not that’s a front page story or a story that never gets in the paper,” he said.
UM President Sheila Stearns, who will hand off the role to Seth Bodnar in January, said she also took “some time and a lot of questioning” with Hauck to feel reassured that he would promote and support the culture of academic and personal success of student-athletes that Haslam and others have worked to build.
“Unless we have dignity and respect among our coaching staff and among our student-athletes, then we will not succeed,” she said, saying she ended up convinced that Hauck will be “completely involved with and committed to that high standard, dignity, and respect for all involved.”
Bodnar, who talked with Hauck by phone during the week and participated in discussions about his hiring, said in statement that he feels they both share a commitment to promoting academic achievement and good behavior off the field. Bodnar declined to be interviewed.
Hauck praised the code of conduct as being comprehensive in laying out how to deal with issues, adding that the “odds are that the football component may be a little more stringent.”
“I recognize when we were here before we were not perfect,” he said.
The coach also talked about the off-field success of players during his tenure, noting a higher graduation rate than the general student body and 104 instances of players being named Academic All Big Sky Conference.
“But there were times that we also brought some young men into our team that conducted themselves in a manner that wasn’t worthy of wearing the Grizzly uniform or that helmet. I’m ready to work to do a better job on that score as well,” Hauck said.
He felt it was important for him to discuss the topic of sexual assault, which he called “a difficult one to talk about for this community.”
“I’ve been saddened to see discussion of my potential return associated with the challenges this university has experienced on that issue,” he said.
He noted that after he left UM in 2009, one of his recruited players, Beau Donaldson, pleaded guilty to rape.
“It just can’t happen. It can never be tolerated,” Hauck said, saying he wanted UM to be the “gold standard” in the country for dealing with sexual assault.
Bill Oram, who now covers the Los Angeles Lakers for the Orange County Register, worked for the UM student newspaper, the Montana Kaimin, during Hauck’s prior tenure. On Friday he posted on Twitter that Hauck had “fostered a culture of entitlement and intimidation” around the football team.
"I do think it's interesting the university has to go so far out of its way to insist that harassment and rape culture and all these things that have been a part of the university's past will not be tolerated, when I think at other major programs, even the the slightest whiff of association with that period would deter them from making a hire,” he told the Missoulian on Friday.
Oram said the university has put itself in a “compromising position” because if a player is arrested, it will be couched in the context of Hauck’s return.
“And that's not fair to Bobby and it's not fair to the university. I think they've not left themselves much room for error whatsoever," Oram said.
Haslam started the press conference by addressing an incident from earlier in the week, where a Missoula woman who created a petition telling the school not to hire Hauck saw her address posted on a Griz fan website along with vile personal insults.
“First folks, there’s no room for harassment in Griz Nation. None whatsoever,” Haslam said. “Lisa Davey is entitled to her opinion and should not fear. That is not who we are… We can disagree but there’s no reason to belittle or harass and I absolutely condemn that behavior.”
Haslam was specifically referencing posts that appeared on Griz fan site MaroonBlood.com, including those by site owner Mike Schlosser of Butte.
After he was made aware of the post by Schlosser, Haslam had a member of his staff call the MaroonBlood owner, and the thread was taken down from the publicly visible part of the website. Haslam later told Davey that Schlosser’s conduct wouldn’t be tolerated, and that if he continued, Haslam would revoke his season tickets.
Hauck said he was told about the news article on Davey’s harassment. Davey said her petition — which included a picture of Hauck’s name on the cover of the Jon Krakauer book “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town” — was fueled in part by her belief that Hauck had put in place a culture that led to the rape scandal that engulfed the university in the years after he left to coach in Nevada.
“Everyone has a right to their opinion. She should not have been attacked for sharing those opinions,” Hauck said during the press conference. “We’re going to all treat each other with dignity and respect around here.”
Davey, who was invited to the press conference by Dean of Students Rhondie Voorhees, said she appreciated the athletic director and Hauck addressing her situation.
However she felt that Schlosser’s activities should already have earned him a yearlong ban from attending football games.
“If there’s no room for harassment in Griz Nation, they need to exclude him from Griz Nation,” she said.
Davey said she thinks her petition played a part in Haslam and Hauck using part of the press conference to address past player conduct and how such incidents will be handled going forward.
“I think they had to directly address their responsibility to create a healthy culture in the program,” Davey said. “I still have some reservations but I’m happy with how they handled it.”