BOZEMAN — How did an undersized and overlooked walk-on from Butte morph into an All-Big Sky Conference safety and go on to appear in eight seasons (so far) in the NFL?
The way former Montana standout Colt Anderson tells the story, it was about paying strict attention to detail, grinding in the weight room and out-working the guy next to him.
But there was another factor: Anderson did not want to disappoint his coach at UM, Bobby Hauck, who challenged each Griz player to be the best possible version of himself.
“He got every single guy to play above and beyond their own expectations,” Anderson said Tuesday during a telephone interview with 406mtsports.com.
Now the Grizzlies — according to sources familiar with the process — are zeroing in on Hauck for their head coaching vacancy, a move that would reunite Hauck with the program he led to remarkable success from 2003-09.
Hauck interviewed with UM administrators in Missoula on Monday at an off-campus location. He is the leading candidate to replace Bob Stitt, who was let go last week after three seasons.
“I’d be pretty pumped to see (Hauck) come back,” said Anderson, a defensive back in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills. “He’s a Montana guy. He understands what the program is all about and I believe he can do good things. He already has. He’s a proven winner.
“To be honest, I hope he gets it.”
Hauck previously went 80-17, won 47 out of 53 Big Sky Conference games and led the Grizzlies to three appearances in the FCS national championship game. His teams thrived on grit, quality special teams and a combined plus-91 turnover ratio in seven years.
Yet there’s more to Anderson’s sentiment than Hauck’s standing as one of Montana’s all-time winningest coaches.
The internal structure — the accountability and the preparedness — are the qualities that stand out to Anderson and ex-teammates Chase Reynolds and Marc Mariani, all of who are pushing for Hauck’s hiring and want to see Montana return to prominence after losing to rival Montana State and missing the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
“I’m a big advocate for Bobby. I want to see this program succeed as much as anybody else does,” said Reynolds, a Drummond product who played in four professional seasons with the Rams. “Being a former player that played for Bobby and going on and playing in the NFL and having multiple coaches and seeing how successful teams are built, I think Bobby is a great fit for that.
“I would love to see him come here and get this program headed in the direction I think it should be and needs to be.”
‘No program is immune’
Hauck’s tenure with the Grizzlies did not come and go without controversy. A smattering of players ran afoul of the law on Hauck’s watch. Other recruits found trouble after he left to become the coach at UNLV following the 2009 season.
But each of Hauck’s ex-players on the record here spoke about a culture of discipline that the coach instilled — a basis that contradicts certain perceptions that the Montana program was nothing but misconduct run amok.
For every bad seed there was a Tuff Harris, a Shann Schillinger, a Loren Utterback and an Andrew Selle, an Anderson, a Reynolds and a Mariani.
“We definitely had a few issues. No program is immune to it,” said Mariani, a Havre product who played parts of five NFL seasons with the Titans and Bears. “But from my experience it wasn’t tolerated. And he made sure that was known from the beginning.
“There were rules outside the facility that he kept a really close eye on. In my opinion he did a great job of making it known what the expectation of guys was right when you walked in the door. Obviously everybody didn’t adhere to that, but it was not a free for all by any means.”
Said Anderson: “I think a lot of programs have their fair share of troubles. You’ve got to remember that these are 18-22 year old kids that are trying to find their way, and they’ve got to take responsibility as well.
“I’ll tell you, coach Hauck did everything he could to guide players and show them direction. Accountability, going to class, doing community work ... all that was important to him. He preached being a student first and an athlete second.”
Anderson, a hard-hitter who earned the moniker “The Butte Missile,” played in the 2008 national championship game loss to Richmond, while Reynolds and Mariani were vital that season and the following year, when UM fell to Villanova in the title game.
Reynolds, a self-described scrapper, set a school record with 321 rushing attempts during the 2009 season. Mariani’s kickoff return for a touchdown against South Dakota State in the 2009 playoffs helped ignite an unthinkable 27-point comeback.
In Hauck’s last four years in Missoula (2006-09) the Grizzlies went 51-6 overall and 31-1 in Big Sky games. If Hauck does return as coach, what should be expected? An immediate return to that kind of staggering success?
“Bobby did a great job of recruiting guys that worked their tail off and knew how to beat you in the fourth quarter,” Reynolds said. “That’s how we worked in practice. We would out-tough everybody and run the ball down your throat, and in the fourth quarter when you were tired we were just getting rolling.”
Montana’s fan base is as fickle as they come. The fact that Stitt’s contract was not renewed after three winning seasons and a 21-14 overall record speaks to the level of expectations that Hauck helped raise a decade ago.
But Mariani said Hauck, if hired, can lead Montana back to the heights it once knew as the perennial favorite to win the Big Sky and compete for national championships — all while running a tight ship.
“Because of the foundation that he brings from the second he steps in the door, I think they can win,” Mariani said. “I just believe it. And the only reason I believe it is because we did it.
“I learned to really respect the way he went about his business and the way that he coached us. And by the end of my career it was obvious from our record that we compiled and the things that we accomplished that we did things the right way.”