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Eastern Washington University Football

Big Sky notebook: Bobby Hauck finding success again during second stint with Montana

Montana head coach Bobby Hauck walks along the sideline during the Grizzlies’ 13-7 nonconference win over Washington on Sept. 4 in Seattle.  (Associated Press)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

When thinking about the Montana football program, one word that comes to Aaron Best’s mind is longevity.

“Montana’s been storied for a while now,” Best, Eastern Washington’s coach, said on Tuesday, “and we in the Big Sky Conference always looked up to the Montanas of the world.”

With good reason: Montana has won 15 Big Sky championships since 1993.

Yet the Grizzlies are mired in a bit of a lull: The most recent of those titles came in 2009, which happened to be Bobby Hauck’s final year during his previous stint at his alma mater.

But Hauck – who will lead the fourth-ranked Grizzlies (3-0, 1-0 Big Sky) onto Roos Field to play the sixth-ranked Eagles (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday night – has been back for a few years, and it seems, after a decade of relative mediocrity, he might have a championship-level team again.

“Coach Hauck’s done a great job,” Best said. “He did a great job while he was there the first time around, and he’s picked up right where he left off.”

Hauck first coached the Grizzlies from 2003 to 2009, and each of those seven years Montana earned at least a share of the Big Sky championship. Three of those years the Grizzlies reached the FCS title game, losing each time.

Then Hauck left. He became UNLV’s head coach first, but in his five years there the Rebels went 15-49 with just one winning season.

After that, he took a job as San Diego State’s special teams coordinator, a position he held 2015 to 2017.

During that stretch, three men coached the Grizzlies – Robin Pflugrad, Mick Delaney and Bob Stitt. All had winning records overall, but they never won a conference title, and they never got past the second round of the FCS playoffs.

When the Grizzlies chose to look for a new coach in 2017, athletic director Kent Haslam identified Hauck as a candidate.

“I think it was a good alignment of timing,” Haslam said. “We had just made a change (at head coach), and Bobby was at San Diego State, so it lined up perfectly. Obviously, his record speaks for itself.”

Hauck’s teams went 80-17 during his first seven years at Montana. Since the start of the 2018 season, the Grizzlies are 21-9. Between his time at UNLV and Montana, Hauck’s 116 victories as head coach are the second most among active Big Sky coaches, trailing only UC Davis’ Dan Hawkins, who has 138 victories in his 20-season career.

When looking at why Hauck has been so successful and why he agreed to come back, Haslam said one factor is that Hauck was born in Missoula and attended the University of Montana, though he did not play college football, there or anywhere else.

That, Haslam said, and Hauck is an outstanding motivator and coach.

“He has really got a knack for pulling out from people all that they can possibly give,” Haslam said. “In the basic terms: He’s a really good coach, a really good teacher.

“He’s highly competitive in everything he does, and he is demanding and very meticulous in what he does. He requires that from everybody that he associates with.”

One feat Hauck accomplished often during his first coaching stretch: He beat Eastern Washington, six times out of seven.

From 2010 to 2017, Eastern Washington went 7-2 against Montana.

In 2019, with Hauck back at the helm, Montana beat Eastern 34-17.

Montana State prepares for revamped Northern Colorado

Isaiah Ifanse wasn’t named to the All-Big Sky preseason team, but the Montana State running back is building a case for his inclusion on the end-of-season version of that squad.

The Bobcats junior running back carried 30 times for 217 yards and a touchdown in his team’s 30-17 victory over Portland State last week. Ifanse has a Big Sky-leading 489 rushing yards through four games; EWU running back Dennis Merritt is second with 381.

“Davis Alexander’s a really good player,” Montana State first-year coach Brent Vigen said of Portland State’s quarterback, who is second in the conference behind EWU’s Eric Barriere in passing yards. “Isaiah Ifanse is a really good player, too.”

The 11th-ranked Bobcats (3-1, 1-0) travel Saturday to Northern Colorado, which is 2-2 overall and 1-0 in Big Sky play after defeating Northern Arizona in overtime last week.

Northern Colorado hired coach Ed McCaffrey after the 2019 season, but because the Bears opted out of the 2020-21 season – and also because of roster turnover – Vigen said this year’s team looks different from the UNC team that went 2-6 in Big Sky games two seasons ago.

“They’re really still creating their identity,” Vigen said. “Getting a Big Sky win like that is certainly one that creates some momentum.

“They have several transfers from a lot of different programs. … To even think that anything resembles what they were in ’19 would be a mistake.”

The Bears host Eastern Washington on Oct. 9; Eastern Washington will play Montana State on Nov. 6 at Roos Field.

UC Davis gets big win at Weber State

The Big Sky has a third team ranked inside the top eight of the Stats Perform FCS poll this week – 4-0 UC Davis.

The Aggies moved up four spots, to No. 8, after defeating then-No. 14 Weber State 17-14, in Ogden, Utah, on a last-minute touchdown Saturday.

The home loss was Weber State’s first to a Big Sky opponent since a 32-16 loss to Southern Utah on Oct. 14, 2017, ending a streak of 13 consecutive home victories in conference games.

The favorite to win the Big Sky in preseason polls, Weber State dropped to 1-3 overall and 0-1 in Big Sky games this season. Its other losses came at Utah and at home against James Madison, which is ranked third in the Stats poll.

UC Davis hosts Idaho (1-2, 0-0) on Saturday, while Weber State visits Cal Poly (1-3, 0-1).