Big Sky ConferenceMontana Grizzlies


On annual spring tour, Montana's Bobby Hauck talks competitive itch, championship hurdle

Bobby Hauck - spring tour
Posted at 12:11 PM, May 23, 2024

BILLINGS — As far as the Grizzly Scholarship Association's annual spring tour goes — and Montana football coach Bobby Hauck has been on enough of these to know the difference — this year's jaunt across the state has produced a heightened sense of morale.

There's a reason for that.

"Winning is fun, and I think expectations are where they should be," Hauck told MTN Sports during the Grizzlies' stop at a GSA fundraising event Wednesday at rustic Camelot Ranch at the far-west end of Billings. "We're competitive and we've got a chance to win every week.

Bobby Hauck - spring tour
Montana football coach Bobby Hauck speaks with Griz supporter James Mariska during a furndraising event at Camelot Ranch in Billings on Wednesday, May 22, 2024.

"That's kind of what it's been in the past, but we played for a national championship last year, and that's where you want the bar set."

Altogether, 2023-24 was a strong year across the board for Montana athletics, and the department has been capitalizing on that fact on a spring tour that hit places like Great Falls, Cut Bank, Fort Benton, Havre, Glasgow and Sidney before rolling into Billings this week.

But as goes the football team, so goes the collective mood of Griz fans and boosters.

UM's run to the FCS title game in Frisco, Texas, a season ago was nothing short of a thrill ride. It included a 10-game winning streak, a blowout win over rival Montana State, an outright Big Sky Conference title (the program's first since 2009) and consecutive overtime playoff wins at home, including a double-OT victory over North Dakota State in the semifinals.

Bobby Hauck
Montana football coach Bobby Hauck answers questions during a press conference on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, ahead of the FCS national championship game in Frisco, Texas.

"Last year was particularly fun," Hauck said. "And people are real excited right now."

What's in store for an encore? Another trip to Frisco? That, as Hauck said, is where the bar is set, and championship appearances were the standard during his first run as Montana's coach from 2003-09.

Getting to championship games hasn't been a problem in Hauck's staggered tenure. Last season's trip was his fourth. It's winning them that's proven to be the hurdle. Last year's title-game result was a 23-3 defeat to powerful South Dakota State.

A goal-line stand by the Jackrabbits' defense in the first half and a turnover at the outset of the second half were big factors in the loss.

"I thought we had the game right where we needed it at halftime" trailing 7-3, Hauck recounted. "Had we scored from the 1 and been up 10-7, I think we would have had it where we wanted it.

"When we turned it over and they hit us to go up 14-3, it was harder, especially against a team that was giving up less than 10 points a game defensively. We had the game where we needed it and certainly had a chance to win it, but turning the ball over is what kills you to begin with in a game like that."

The defeat followed championship losses in 2004 (James Madison), 2008 (Richmond) and 2009 (Villanova), and a win is still the only thing missing from what amounts to a hall-of-fame résumé for Hauck. Nevertheless, he says claiming a title isn't what drives him.

"From a personal standpoint I just love the competition aspect of it. I love the spring ball scrimmages. I like keeping score," Hauck said. "Whether it's you and I playing checkers or beating the dealer in blackjack or whatever, I like the competition of it.

"Of course you always want to win championships, but I'm not solely focused on that. For me, it's much more about the process. And if you do the process right, you'll have a chance to win. Leading up to the last year's national championship game, I really wouldn't change one thing we did in our preparation. So I think we're where we need to be."

Montana's 2024 campaign, which begins Aug. 31 at home against Missouri State, will be Hauck's 13th full season as Griz coach. He turns 60 in June. When he was hired the first time at UM prior to the 2003 season, Hauck wasn't yet 40.

In between, he spent time as the head coach at UNLV and was an assistant at San Diego State. He returned to helm the Griz after the 2017 season.

"I don't think I've changed a lick," Hauck said of any differences that exist between his first and second stops at UM, his alma mater. "I'm just grateful to be back home. I like being here and I like being around Montanans and I like being part of the Montana Grizzlies.

"The only thing that's different is that I was gone for eight years. But I wouldn't change it. You've got to go out and do your thing. Now, there have been some things that have come my way in terms of opportunities the last few years that at a younger age I would have jumped at. So that's different. But you ask our old players, we're doing the same stuff. Nothing's changed. The process hasn't changed."

With what's coming back, the Grizzlies should again be highly ranked in the preseason this year and should again be a contender to win the Big Sky Conference. They could also again be in position to host playoff games — plural — and could have a chance at another Frisco run.

But a lot has to go right. Hauck noted his belief that the 2021 and 2022 teams were "better" than last year's squad, but didn't get the timely breaks and didn't stay healthy and, thus, didn't achieve as much.

"A lot of things can happen and a lot of things will happen both on the plus side and the negative side of the ledger," he said. "But we should be in the mix next year. We'll be one of the teams that probably should be talked about as having a chance to do it."

He added: "I think we've got a good football team. But that's why you play — you get a chance to see if you can achieve or not. Every week you get tested, and hopefully you're up to the test enough times to get into the playoffs. And then you get to see what you can do.

"There's all kinds of things that play into it. You've got to have a little momentum, and that's a magical thing to a degree. Sometimes you can create your own momentum and sometimes you can't. Sometimes the other team is good and they beat you. But we'll have a good team. I like our team."