In the FCS Huddle: Montana made one right play call, needs one more

The news that the University of Montana fired athletic director Jim O'Day and football coach Robin Pflugrad was nothing short of jaw-dropping Thursday.

Simply put, the Montana Grizzlies program is the face of the Football Championship Subdivision.

Good or bad, loved or hated, the national program from the state university in the seventh-smallest populous state stands tallest nationally in what it means to the division.

Montana has played in all but one of the last 19 national playoffs and appeared in seven of the last 17 national title games, winning championships in 1995 and 2001.

But don't make the mistake of thinking what happens on the field is more important than what happens off the field. Both should be held to the highest standard, and there's no hiding criminal acts or indiscretions anymore in a sports world that has been rocked by what Penn State seemingly tried to sweep under the rug.

The two firings at Montana come in the wake of the university's recent investigation into numerous alleged sexual assaults on campus, some of which involved Montana football players.

Special teams player Beau Donaldson was suspended from the team in January after he was charged with raping an acquaintance.

Earlier this month, starting quarterback Jordan Johnson missed the beginning of spring drills after a temporary restraining order was filed against him by a female student, who alleged she had been sexually assaulted by him. The order was later dismissed in favor of a civil agreement that mandates he and his accuser avoid contact.

University president Royce C. Engstrom even conceded at a public forum in January that part of the sexual assault issues on campus are attributed to a small number of the university's athletes.

Thus, after the problems worsened, Montana had no choice but to fire its athletic department's leader since 2005 and the leader of its football program for the last two-plus years.

O'Day and Pflugrad are well-liked and highly respected in most circles. O'Day even serves as the chair of the FCS playoff committee and Pflugrad took the Grizzlies to the national semifinals this past season.

But there's accountability for actions, and the pattern involving former and current football players needed to be halted, and wasn't. There comes a point in which the university administration, under Engstrom, had to show publicly the problems went too far.

Thursday afternoon, the university said in a statement it will announce an interim athletic director and interim head coach by the end of the week. They might be just that, interim.

But before someone ultimately guides the Grizzlies onto the playing field come Sept. 1, Montana should try to step backward to make a step forward.

It's time for Montana to put in a call to Don Read.

Read, 78, guided the Grizzlies to their 1995 national championship and an 85-36 record in 10 seasons. He retired from coaching after the championship, but later served as the Montana AD in 2004 and '05, prior to O'Day getting elevated to the position.

Read is still active in football, working with Oregon State in scouting and game planning. His son Bruce is the Beavers' special teams coordinator.

Montana needs Don Read's input in some way, even if it is just as a consultant. He could help guide this program through such a turbulent period.