MISSOULA — A few hours before he was introduced as the Montana Grizzlies’ 34th head coach Friday afternoon, Robin Pflugrad spoke with his predecessor, Bobby Hauck, now the head coach at UNLV.
“I talked to him this morning,” said Pflugrad, speaking to a throng of supporters and media inside the Canyon Club at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. “They were talking to one of our recruits. I told him to leave him alone, because we’ve hired Scotty Gragg and he’s tougher than anybody on his staff. And he hung up on me.”
Pflugrad sprinkled a lot of humor in with his first official remarks as head coach, including a promise that his Griz — who went 14-1 last fall under Hauck — would be “very fast on offense, up-tempo and upbeat.”
The Portland State player (1979-80) and graduate thanked his family, Montana athletic director Jim O’Day and the many men who shaped his coaching career. The list included the late Bruce Snyder, his mentor at Arizona State; former Washington State coach Bill Doba and Mike Bellotti at Oregon.
Doba loved pressure defense, Bellotti was a proven winner and Snyder, Pflugrad said, taught him the value of running the ball.
“And by the way, that’s all we’re going to do,” he added, drawing more laughter.
Getting the most praise was Don Read, who brought Pflugrad and a pass-happy offense to UM in 1986, and who retired after the Grizzlies’ first national title in 1995.
“To me the foundation he built — the coaches he hired, the players that he recruited — really built this program, in my opinion,” said Pflugrad, who then motioned around the newly-built Canyon Club. “Where we’re sitting today is a tribute to Don Read.”
Pflugrad was a popular assistant under Read for nine seasons — he left after the 1994 campaign to coach at Arizona State — and Hauck this past year.
He noted that when he first got to UM he was the team’s academic advisor in the days before Marie Porter and then Jean Gee. He said the practice of checking classes and meeting with professors — something Hauck championed — would continue.
“I believe this staff we’ve put together is all about academics,” he said.
Pflugrad is a well-respected receivers’ coach, but he’s also been a recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach at several stops. That helped him win the job over two other finalists, Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren and Boise State receivers’ coach Brent Pease.
Now 52 and entering his 29th season of college coaching, he’ll make a base salary of $155,000 under the terms of a 3-year contract. Additional money for media obligations ($40,000) and performance could take his salary well over $200,000.
It was Pflugrad’s third try at the job; he also interviewed in 2000 and 2003, when first Joe Glenn and then Hauck were hired.
“I called Bob Beers and I asked, ‘You want to get the band back together?’ ” cracked Pflugrad. “And he goes, ‘Are you kidding me? You didn’t actually get that job, did you?’ Because I’ve tried for it a couple other times.”
As the crowd laughed, he looked over at O’Day.
“I appreciate the job, by the way,” he said.
Pflugrad took time to run through his assistants, starting with Beers, who was on Read’s staff from 1986-90 and for the past several years was a regional scout in the NFL, most recently with Houston.
Beers is going to be the offensive line coach; Gragg, who was recruited by Beers back in 1990, will coach tight ends.
Mike Hudson, who coached five years under Hauck, is moving to linebackers coach under Pflugrad.
Another newcomer is Michael Gray, a long time defensive line coach in the Pac-10 who was at Oregon with Pflugrad. Gray played at Oregon as well, but has Montana connections — he played alongside former Griz receivers Mike Trevathan and Matt Clark with the CFL’s British Columbia Lions.
As earlier reported, Mike Breske is the defensive coordinator and Jonathan Smith is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Shalon Baker, who caught 26 touchdown passes with the Griz from 1991-94, is the receivers coach. Mick Delaney is staying on as running backs coach.
Pflugrad proposed to his wife Maureen on the “M” in 1986; both of their kids — Amanda is a senior at the University of Oregon and Aaron is a receiver at ASU — were born at Community Hospital.
Now he takes over a team that lost what he called “the best senior class in the history of the program,” 19 seniors who went 31-1 in four seasons of Big Sky Conference play. The Griz made the last two Football Championship Subdivision title games under Hauck.
“What a tremendous job Bobby did. An unbelievable job,” Pflugrad said. “I believe he’ll do the same at Las Vegas.”
Pflugrad’s work is far from finished. He was awaiting official word on strength coach Mike Gerber, though it appears Gerber is going to UNLV with Hauck.
He has a contingency for that, too. Pflugrad’s a recruiter who, according to the Oregonian, secured a verbal commitment from Jordan Johnson Wednesday. Johnson, from Sheldon, Ore., is his state’s 6A offensive player of the year.
“We’re excited about a couple things that have happened in the last 48 hours,” he said.
So are his players.
“He’s such a good coach and is going to bring so much to this team,” said Griz receiver Jabin Sambrano, who attended Friday’s news conference. “He was my No. 1 choice.”