MISSOULA — After Friday’s verdict of not guilty in Jordan Johnson’s rape trial, one question is whether the highly recruited quarterback can return to the University of Montana football team.
Both UM President Royce Engstrom and athletic director Kent Haslam spoke about the appeal process Johnson can take to return to the field. The final decision is up to UM’s athletic conduct team, both said. But before that, Johnson has to make a decision whether to appeal his dismissal.
“Jordan will need to indicate that that’s his desire, to return to the team,” Engstrom said. “Then the athletic conduct team will listen to that and make a decision. And we’ll attend to that as quickly as we can, if that’s what Jordan wishes.”
Lane Johnson, the quarterback’s uncle who coaches Sheldon High School in Eugene, Ore., told the Missoulian on Friday that he believes Jordan Johnson wants to play football again.
Johnson was the starting quarterback in 2011, when the Griz went 11-3 and advanced to the NCAA Division I semifinals, losing 31-28 to Sam Houston State. The following March, Johnson missed part of spring drills after the filing of a restraining order by the alleged victim.
Johnson returned — via a decision of the then newly formed ACT — after the restraining order was dismissed in favor of a civil “no-contact” agreement.
That is when then-coach Robin Pflugrad spoke glowingly in defense of Johnson, a key member of his first signing class.
“I think any time you have a person of Jordy’s character and tremendous moral fiber, and he’s your team captain and part of the leadership council, your players are going to be fired up,” he said.
Three days later, on March 29, 2012, Pflugrad was fired along with athletic director Jim O’Day. On the last day of July, Johnson was charged with one count of sexual intercourse without consent in Missoula County District Court.
The trial, which began Feb. 8, has drawn national media to Missoula. The emotion of Friday’s acquittal left Mick Delaney, who replaced Pflugrad as the Grizzlies’ football coach, unwilling to talk about Johnson’s possible return.
“I just think it’s a time for the (Johnson) family to get themselves together,” he said.
Montana’s spring drills begin March 18, and Johnson conceivably could be one of four quarterbacks who participate. Shay Smithwick-Hann and Trent McKinney split the starting duties last year, and Brady Gustafson was a redshirt.
Adam Brzeczek, a third-string QB last fall, has left the program.
Johnson was suspended from the team pending the outcome of the trial. The penalty schedule for UM’s athletic code of conduct calls for dismissal from the team for a category 1 offense — if he or she “is charged with a felony and in looking at the totality of the circumstances, it is reasonable to believe the person committed the act (e.g., rape, sexual assault, other felony assault, etc.).”
The same conduct code has an appeal policy that reads, in part, “Dismissal or reduction of a criminal charge is a change of circumstance that may or may not justify revision of a suspension.”
“Any student who’s had action on or a decision made by the athletic conduct team can appeal once their circumstances change,” Haslam said. “They do that by submitting in writing a request to Jean Gee. Then the process goes before the ACT.”
The team is made up of Gee, who is UM’s senior associate athletic director; Haslam; and faculty representatives Jim Lopach and Dr. Greg Machek.
“The team will then convene with the student athlete and discuss, and then render a decision,” Haslam said. “And all of that would be private because of certain laws. But that’s the process.”
“A lot of people have asked me if he wants to come back to the team,” added Haslam, who was named to replace O’Day on Sept. 12 of last year. “I have not had any conversations with Jordan. That’s completely up to him, whether he wants to come back or not. But those decisions are up to him.”
From the dismissal of O’Day and Pflugrad, who is now Weber State’s offensive coordinator, to the acquittal of Johnson took just over 11 months.
Engstrom gave no sense of relief over the conclusion of an emotional trial.
“I’m not really going to comment on that,” he said. “It went through the court of law. It was a very rigorous trial that was very difficult for everyone involved.
“None of us are in any position to second-guess the decision. We’ll just go forth from here based on what the court decided.”