By Web Master, 4-13-12
Following former Montana State University head football coach Mike Kramer’s firing in May 2007, the school’s leadership willingly provided their opinion on his dismissal.
In a press release provided to media, Athletic Director Peter Fields said, “Looking at the football program as a whole and in light of the recent criminal activities of former student-athletes connected to it, I believe there is something broken with our football program and we need to take decisive steps to fix it.”
Then-MSU President Geoff Gamble agreed to an interview with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in which he revealed that under Kramer’s tenure the school had lost three scholarships for its failure to meet NCAA academic progress requirements. He added, “We have this whole suite of criminal activities, but there are academic issues and compliance issues. They are all in the realm of leadership issues.”
The press, and many fans, may have appreciated the candor from both men, but it ended up being quite costly. Kramer sued, arguing that the school had fired him using a “without cause” clause and then libeled him in the media. MSU settled with its former coach in 2010 for $240,000.
The events preceding Kramer’s dismissal were, in some ways, similar to Robin Pflugrad’s, who was told on March 29 his contract would not be renewed. Criminal charges had been filed against football players and both schools struggled to reassure their boosters that everything was under control. The most glaring difference, of course, is the respective responses to the fallout after their coaches were shown the door – mainly that UM has decided not to provide a reason at all.
Instead, my alma mater sent out a four-line press release explaining why Pflugrad and Athletic Director Jim O’Day were dismissed.
“The University of Montana has determined not to renew the contracts of Athletics Director Jim O’Day and head football coach Robin Pflugrad,” UM President Royce Engstrom said. “The University will announce an interim athletics director and interim head coach by the end of the week. Further details about the search for permanent replacements will be released as the process develops. We thank Jim and Robin for their dedicated service to the University, and we wish them the best.”
And that was that. Mick Delaney was named interim coach and Jean Gee interim athletic director.
Of the six people who work in the newsroom in my office, all six graduated from the University of Montana, attended football games there and consider themselves Griz fans. Our conversations likely reflect those among others who are somehow affiliated with the school: mostly confusion over the abruptness of and silence surrounding the dismissals and saddened by the tragic circumstances preceding them.
The investigation into sexual assault accusations involving UM students, some of whom played football, has cast a cloud over the athletics program and the school. That’s not to place blame at the feet of Pflugrad or O’Day, nor excuse Engstrom for failing to explain what, exactly, led to his decision. But some perspective – that there are real victims in this case and the university’s foremost job is to provide a safe place for students to learn – has been lost.
It reminds me of 2004. As a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, I was covering the sentencing of former Montana State University assistant football coach Joe O’Brien. He had pleaded guilty to selling methamphetamine.
O’Brien, who by most accounts has since turned his life around and has published a book to help others, stood before U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula, remorseful, about to head to prison and, by his own admission, knowing he would likely never coach football again.
Molloy needed to remind him, “There’s more to life than football.”
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