Last week, the University of Montana announced that it would re-hire Bobby Hauck as its head football coach. You may remember Hauck from 2003 to 2009, when he led the Griz to seven playoff appearances and went 5-2 against the MSU Bobcats. That’s probably all you remember. If anything can be said about these past few years, it’s that UM’s public image has become completely disassociated from anything having to do with violent assault.
I admit it looked bad for a while. Not many people know this, but in the years after Hauck left, UM football players Beau Donaldson and Jordan Johnson were charged with two separate rapes. This was under Hauck’s successor and former wide receivers coach, Robin Pflugrad. Somebody actually wrote a book about it. If you don’t follow football, you can be forgiven for not knowing this piece of Griz sports trivia. Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town was released by obscure publisher Doubleday and quickly faded from memory, especially now that our town and its university are no longer under investigation by an obscure federal agency called the Department of Justice.
Here’s another trivia question that’s strictly for hardcore fans: Who is the only Griz coach to recruit a defensive player who was later acquitted of murder? The answer may surprise you: Bobby Hauck. Now a free agent in the NFL, safety Jimmy Wilson returned to the Griz in 2010 after a three-year hiatus, during which the jury in his second trial found that he had shot his aunt’s boyfriend to death only in self-defense. Don’t beat yourself up if you couldn’t remember his name, though. Wilson was one of 12 Grizzly football players arrested on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to kidnapping and armed robbery while Hauck was head coach.
You can use that factoid to impress your friends at next year’s tailgates, but remember, football isn’t about obscure statistics. It’s about pride and tradition, the two forces that bond any successful college team to the community that surrounds it. During the Pflugrad era, the NCAA sanctioned the UM football program for various rules violations, including boosters offering free legal representation to players and paying their bail. Basically, they found Missoula guilty of loving football a little too much. But is that really such a crime? It doesn’t seem so bad—especially compared with other crimes, examples of which I cannot think of right now. The important thing is that, in the court of public opinion, the University of Montana has been fully acquitted.
If you don’t believe me, just look at enrollment. This fall, the number of freshman at UM increased by 2 percent. That’s a big improvement over the last six years, when freshman enrollment dropped by about 40 percent. This upward-trending data tell us that prospective students no longer worry that attending UM will leave them vulnerable to violent assaults by enormous men whom our community exempts from the rule of law.
As we consider these broad statistical trends, it’s important to remember that no one can say why enrollment went down in the first place. Yes, a series of violent crimes culminated in high-profile arrests of two football players for rape and a nationally reported scandal involving federal law enforcement. Also, the Griz went 4-4 against the Bobcats. No one can say whether either fact affected enrollment. Did some national mania for football trivia make the American public especially aware of rape, murder and robbery? Or did poor television coverage detract from Bob Stitt’s heart-stopping win over North Dakota State in the 2015 season opener? The only thing we can say for sure is that people have forgotten the UM of the past.
Cities, college campuses and football teams have cultures, and those cultures change. Since Hauck left Missoula, the police department has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars complying with DOJ requirements. The university has cut millions from its instructional budget and, using unrelated funding, built impressive new facilities for its student-athletes. And the community—is it still the same culture that overlooked the off-field wrongdoing of its football players as long as they kept winning?
You tell me. When UM grad student Lisa Davey started a petition against re-hiring Hauck, the administrator of Griz fan forum Maroonblood.com posted a picture of her next to the comment, “Now seriously tell me this face hasn’t [performed a sex act] for food a few times in her life?” Now that’s a community that has completely forgotten any connection between Grizzly football and sexual violence. All we have to do now is sit back and let everything go back to the way it was, back when we were winning.
Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture and institutional memory at combatblog.net.