Philadelphia, PA – They will be playing football again at the University of Montana when the Grizzlies wrap up spring practices with their annual intrasquad game Saturday evening.
Ah, yes, some normalcy in Missoula. Quite the novel idea.
At least that's what the action under the lights at Washington-Grizzly Stadium suggests as the Grizzlies take a small step forward in this troubled offseason. The focus will be more on the field than off the field.
They move forward behind interim coach Mick Delaney, who is expected to lead Montana's storied program through the 2012 season after being pulled out of a brief retirement following the March 29 firings of head football coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O'Day.
The firings, of course, came in the wake of the football team's trail of brushes with the law and the university's recent investigation into numerous alleged sexual assaults on campus, some involving football players such as starting quarterback Jordan Johnson.
But the 69-year-old Delaney, who had retired in February, is back for his fifth season in a row at Montana, which can't be claimed by any other coach on staff.
The Grizzlies no doubt will remain in recovery mode for some time, but come Saturday night - 16 days after the shocking day that rocked their kingdom - it will feel sweet for them to be on the field in competition before their loyal fan base.
No, they don't rebuild at Montana, but it's not like Delaney is just reloading the lineup, either. The Grizzlies' significant losses include nine starters on defense, six All-Big Sky Conference first-team selections and longtime kicker Brody McKnight, so a repeat of last season - when they earned a share of the conference title and reached the national semifinals - is unlikely.
"We've got a great group of coaches who are going to coach those young guys up," Delaney said on the team's website, GoGriz.com. "I know since I have been here, in my very first year (2008) I can remember Bobby (head coach Bobby Hauck) saying, 'You know, we lost 26 seniors, and we've got to coach them up.' We ended up with a 14-2 record and made a great run in the playoffs. We've got a lot of good football players here. Do some of them not have a lot of experience? Well, yes, but that's our job now to get them ready to play.
"You know in the old days you didn't play freshman, you redshirted them. You didn't play sophomores, they were backups. But now that's all changed, and we've got sophomore redshirts who have been here two years and they're going to be fine. It's going to take some work and we'll have some growing pains, but I have all the confidence in the world."
The right steps will yield the right results at Montana. With much of the worst seemingly behind the Grizzlies, their program can continue to move forward on Saturday.