MISSOULA — Late November and early December were rocky times for the high school football players who'd already pledged their allegiance to Grizzly football.
The coaching staff they came to know during their recruitment under Bob Stitt will have a few similar coaches in Justin Green, Chad Germer, Shann Schillinger and Matt Nicholson, but the man running the show — Bobby Hauck — and more than half the position coaches will be new.
"The college coaching profession is hard, but I think they did the right thing," Montana football Gatorade Player of the Year and Griz commit Gabe Sulser said. "I think they got the right guy and I think it's the best case scenario to happen. I think he knows what it takes to be good and he's gonna do whatever it takes to get back to the top."
Those tumultuous two weeks coincide with a new aspect of college football recruiting — the early signing period.
Come Dec. 20 through Dec. 22, student athletes around the country have the opportunity to make their commitments official by signing their National Letter of Intent two months earlier than the traditional National Signing Day. This year's National Signing Day is on Feb. 7, 2018.
Though coaches and other athletic department personnel can't comment on specific recruits until NLIs are signed, Montana's athletic director Kent Haslam has said that he's a fan of the early signing period and advocated for its implementation.
Updates from the 16 high school commits — listed in alphabetical order — are below:
Sean Anderson — 6-foot-8, 310-pound OL — Buckeye, Arizona
Anderson, out of Verrado High School in Arizona, committed to Montana on Sept. 26 and took his official visit during the weekend of the Eastern Washington game.
Anderson said during the coaching search, he tried to not get attached to the coaching staff, but rather look at the culture surrounding the University of Montana. Once Hauck was hired, Anderson said he was a big fan.
"He's not a socially awkward guy. He's very outgoing," Anderson said. "You can tell he's old fashioned."
Anderson said he's happy about how Hauck retained Germer and Green.
"The guys that they kept, honestly, regardless of position, were my favorite guys," Anderson said. "Coach Green, I like Coach Green a lot. He's a good guy. He's a good recruiter. Everything he does is something I can agree with. Same thing with Coach Germer, too.
"All those guys that they kept were guys I had relationships with. I was happy with the situation."
Germer and Hauck visited Anderson on Friday.
Anderson said he's "absolutely" signing during the early signing period.
Lorenzo Brown — 6-foot-3, 240-pound DL — Las Vegas
Brown, a Desert Pines (Nevada) product, committed to Montana back on Oct. 19 and took his official visit during the weekend of the Eastern Washington game.
Since committing, Brown was named 3A Southern Lineman of the Year by NevadaPreps.com and his Jaguars repeated to win the 2017 Nevada 3A state title.
"We had a lot of doubters that thought we couldn't do it," Brown said. "They thought we couldn't go back to win the state championship because we lost a lot of seniors. It really felt good because we proved a lot of people wrong. And I finished my senior year winning a state championship. It felt real good."
Like some of his recruiting class teammates, Brown said he initially felt blindsided by the coaching change, but understands where the change came from.
"I was kinda confused at first because I didn't know what the situation was," Brown said. "Once I got more details about the situation, I felt better and more confident about it. I was kinda hurt when I heard Coach Stitt was getting let go. It's a business, so the school has to do what's best for the school."
Since Stitt was let go, Hauck reached out to Brown and the two of them talked about various things.
"He likes my style of football and how I play, based off what he was told about me, he likes what type of person I am," Brown said earlier this week. "He's pumped for me to get out there. I'm also pumped to meet him."
Brown had his home visit with Hauck and Germer on Dec. 15.
Brown said he anticipates signing his NLI on Dec. 20.
Colten Curry — 6-foot-7, 200-pound TE — Valier
Curry, a tight end out of 6-man Valier, committed to Montana back on June 17 and was the second member of the 2018 class.
Being a Griz runs in Curry's family. Curry's dad Scott played for Montana from 1995-98 before being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1999.
Curry's Valier went all the way to the 6-man semifinals before falling to eventual champion Westby-Granora.
Once the season concluded, Curry was tabbed to the all-state team.
"Everything's been going good," Curry said of life since the football season ended. "Playing (basket)ball now. It's been a lot easier to not focus on (coaching change) and focus on everything else."
Hauck and Schillinger went to Valier on a home visit Dec. 5.
Curry was impressed with meeting Hauck.
"It went great. (It was my) first time meeting him," Curry said of Hauck. "He was a great guy. I feel like I'll get along with him really well. He said we're gonna work hard and be great. I loved his attitude. It was really awesome."
Curry added: "It's pretty awesome since he was a small town guy too. He can give me advice about how to handle things coming into a bigger town and with a lot more people on the team. It'll be nice."
Curry plans on signing Wednesday during the early signing period.
"I'm looking forward to that," Curry said.
Once he does, it's believed that he'll be the first 6-man player from the state to play for Montana in school history.
The younger Curry appears to be the third Valier native to play for Montana. His dad was the last player from Valier to suit up for the Griz. (Back then the Panthers played 8-man ball.) The only other Valier native to play for Montana was Emmett Ryan. Ryan played for the Griz from 1907-10.
Nash Fouch — 6-foot-3, 200-pound S — Woodinville, Washington
Fouch, a three-star safety out of Woodinville High School in Washington, committed to Montana on Aug. 5.
The senior played on both sides of the ball for the Falcons. He amassed 774 yards and 11 touchdowns as a wide receiver and racked up four interceptions as a defensive back.
"I'm pretty proud of my four years of high school football and I'd say that I accomplished a lot," Fouch said. "... Looking back on it, it was a really good experience. I loved all four years and I'm excited to be a Griz and play some big time college football."
Nash's older brother, Nick, redshirted this past season for Montana. Nash said he's ready to play alongside his big brother again.
"He's my big brother but if you saw us walking down the street or whatever you'd probably just think we're really good friends," Fouch said. "He's always been my number one fan. I'm excited to get to be with him again."
Because of the family ties to Montana (his dad went to UM too), Fouch's loyalty to Montana didn't waver during the coaching change. But the change did inspire some serious family conversations.
"I don't want to be the type of person to go out on Twitter and post a big decommitment post or whatever and everybody always says, 'No interviews.' That stuff kills me," Fouch said. "That's one of my biggest pet peeves."
Fouch said after Hauck was hired, he was "at a lot more ease."
Fouch said he was even more at ease after his recent home visit with Green.
"That actually made me feel a lot better, just about moving forward and everything," Fouch said of Green's visit. "I mean, I guess knowing that Coach Hauck was coming in, just talking through it with Coach Green and Coach Shann, it helped me finalize the fact that I'm going to be signing next week. That's where I'm gonna be headed next year."
Tyler Ganoung — 6-foot-4, 320-pound OL — Portland, Oregon
Ganoung, a 2-star offensive lineman out of Sunset High School in Portland, committed to Montana on Oct. 15.
Ganoung's Apollos went 5-5, and lost in the first round of the 6A Oregon state playoffs. Even then, Ganoung said it was a season to be proud of.
Since his high school season ended, Ganoung is waiting for track to start and works out with a personal trainer every day.
"I'm just waiting to go to college and I'm just riding the wave as it goes," he said.
Ganoung had a home visit with Chad Germer on Dec. 13 and said it was pretty laid back as far as home visits go.
"It was pretty good. We talked for a little bit," Ganoung said. "Talked about football, talked about my high school and we went and got some cheeseburgers down the way and that was basically it. Very casual."
Ganoung said the hardest part of the coaching change for him was not knowing if Germer would be retained. Once he found out Germer was coming back, Ganoung felt reassured.
"I knew if (Germer) kept his job, there was a really high possibility that my offer still stood, which it did," Ganoung said. "I was just hoping that they'd respect all that and they did."
Ganoung said Hauck will be doing a home visit eventually.
"He wants to come meet me and the family. That'll be pretty cool having two home visits," Ganoung said. "He was a really nice guy when I talked to him on the phone. I can already see that I'm going to like him and I've already got feedback from everybody else that he's a really good coach."
Ganoung is set on signing on Wednesday.
Nick Germer — 6-foot-2, 170-pound WR — Missoula Sentinel
Germer, out of Sentinel, was the first member of the 2018 recruiting class back on April 15.
"I just helped everyone else get on board with me," he said.
Germer's dad, Chad, is Montana's offensive line coach and played for the Griz in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Germer said the coaching change didn't deter him in the slightest.
"It wasn't that big of a deal for me. I knew that I was still gonna stay with the Griz no matter what. I knew the whole time," Germer said. "I'm committing there for the tradition and the players as a whole and for the atmosphere. I knew even if the coaching change would have gone a different way, I still would have been for the Griz."
Germer earned all-state second-team honors this season.
He said he plans on signing during the early signing period.
"I'm signing the first day we can," Germer said.
Garrett Graves — 6-foot-3, 193-pound QB — Eureka
Graves initially committed to Montana back on June 26 and was one of the first four to commit to the Grizzlies.
Stitt originally recruited Graves as an athlete, but Hauck had a different idea.
When Hauck and Green visited Graves up in Eureka on Sunday, Graves said Hauck wants him to come in as a quarterback.
"He said if I'm not competing for a starting spot within my first two years, I'll get moved somewhere to where I'll see the field," Graves said. "He believes pretty firmly that I'm a quarterback. That was exciting because that's my favorite position and him believing in me, that was pretty huge for me."
Graves said he was really impressed with Hauck and it meant a lot to him and his family that Hauck was up in Eureka within 48 hours of being hired.
"He definitely gave me great confidence moving forward, told me some exciting stuff and I really like him," Graves said. "I'm really looking forward to playing for him."
He added: "I told Coach Hauck, 'I'm going to try to give you the competitiveness and the want to win like Baker Mayfield and the class of Peyton Manning.' That's what I hope to try to bring around. The culture of winning, we've been doing that. That's something I want to keep going forward with.
"Coming into a place that expects winning, that's pretty big for me."
Graves led Lincoln County to two-straight Class B titles in football, their first two in program history.
Graves was named first-team all-state quarterback and linebacker in Class B. He plans on signing with Montana during the early signing period.
"I'm excited about it," he said. "I'm ready to put my name to paper as a Griz as soon as possible."
Levi Janacaro — 6-foot, 208-pound FB — Missoula Big Sky
Janacaro, out of Big Sky, committed to Montana on Dec. 6. He was the second player to verbal with Hauck as head coach.
With Stitt as head coach, Janacaro was offered a preferred walk-on spot with the team. Hauck offered him a partial within days of being hired.
"With Coach Hauck, the resume he had in his tenure the first time; I want to play for him," Janacaro said.
Janacaro said he and Hauck had a meeting two days after Hauck's introductory press conference and that the meeting went very well.
"He said they wanted me on the team and that made my year," Janacaro said.
Janacaro earned first-team accolades for quarterback. He was also named the Western AA all-conference offensive MVP.
Janacaro said he plans on signing his NLI on Dec. 20.
One of the things Janacaro is most excited for is to be playing alongside so many athletes he's faced over the years.
"To play with guys that I've played against like Nick (Germer) and Drew (Turner) and Conor Quick and (Gabe) Sulser, it's great to know that I have those guys on my team now," Janacaro said.
Alex Johnson — 6-foot-1, 170-pound CB — Los Angeles
Johnson, out of Loyola High School (not to be confused with Missoula's Loyola Sacred Heart) in Los Angeles, committed to Montana on Oct. 23.
When the news came out that Stitt was no longer going to helm Montana's football program, Johnson said he was shocked.
"I wasn't a little surprised, I was a lot surprised because just after meeting Coach Stitt for the first and only time, he was a really amazing guy off first impressions," Johnson said. "My mom really liked him. He was just great. It took me by surprise."
The change didn't dissuade him from his commitment, but rather gave him an opportunity to analyze why he chose Montana in the first place.
"It didn't change my mind about going there. I still was totally committed to going to the school," Johnson said of his initial reactions. "It actually made me rethink the reasons I was going to school, not just for a coach or to play football, but for school for four or five years."
Johnson talked with Hauck soon after he was hired. Johnson said his first impression of Hauck was similar to his first impression of Stitt.
"They're both great guys," Johnson said.
Johnson said he had every intention of signing his NLI during the early signing period, but he said he's been told to hold off for now.
"Coach Green reached out to me two weeks ago and because of the coaching change, they don't have a lot of their personnel on staff to do evaluations of the new recruits, so really, for me, everything's up in the air," Johnson said. "I told them I'm still committed to them, but I'm still waiting for them to see if everything lands correctly in my favor."
David Koppang — 6-foot, 195-pound S — Missoula Loyola
Koppang, out of Loyola Sacred Heart, committed to Montana on Sept. 20 and grew up watching Hauck-coached Montana teams.
Koppang said, naturally, he was anxious during that two-week span where Montana didn't have a head coach, but once Hauck was named, all the worries washed away.
"Growing up and seeing Hauck be so successful, like, 'Oh wow. I could actually be coached by him one day,'" Koppang said. "It was cool and now that he is (the coach), it's awesome. I know he expects a lot and he expects a lot out of everyone and I intend on giving him everything he expects."
Hauck invited Koppang into his office early this week to talk about various things.
"It was awesome. It was really awesome," Koppang said of their 30-minute chat. "We talked about how excited he is to be back. ... He knows what it's like to be in Montana. He knows how to coach players. He's had such a successful career. He's a great coach who I'm really excited to play for."
Koppang finished his senior season as a Ram with 58 receptions for 1,094 yards receiving and 12 receiving touchdowns. On defense, he had six interceptions and 64 total tackles. He added a punt return touchdown too.
Koppang was named to several awards list by the end of the season, including first-team all-state wide receiver, first-team all-state defensive back, first-team all-state punter and second team all-state return specialist.
Koppang said he'll be signing his NLI on Dec. 20.
"In terms of football, I'm really anxious for signing day," Koppang said. "I'm really hoping it comes up fast. I'm also super excited to play for Hauck."
Max Morris — 6-foot-4, 230-pound TE — Kalispell Glacier
Morris, a Glacier product, committed to Montana on Dec. 3 and was Hauck's first recruit to verbal after the coach's hiring.
Hauck and Green paid him a visit to extend the offer.
"It's pretty crazy. Before Hauck came I wasn't getting heavily recruited by either Montana or Montana State," Morris said. "Him coming in was a blessing and I'm really looking forward to making the most of the opportunity and prove myself to him."
He added: "I'm honored to be welcomed into such a great family of guys in such a prestigious program. It's really a dream come true."
According to Glacier's football website, Morris had 16 receptions for 177 yards with two touchdowns. He also converted a two-point conversion and added four tackles. Morris earned all-state honorable mention for his efforts.
Morris said he's going to sign with Montana during the early signing period.
Jackson Pepe — 6-foot-1, 200-pound S — Kalispell Glacier
Pepe committed to Montana on August 7 as a safety after being recruited by Schillinger.
Schillinger, one of the four coaches retained by Hauck from the last staff, will be Pepe's position coach. But that's not all Schillinger is to Pepe.
"He's a big inspiration," Pepe said of Schillinger. "He recruited me from the start. He gave me my shot and I'm excited to play for him. He knows everything that's gonna go down. He did the same thing."
But before Hauck was named coach, Pepe, like many of his fellow commits, was on edge.
"I was just anxious to see who would be picked and who would be the next guy to step in," Pepe said. "I was a little nervous as to what would happen with everything because I honestly had no idea, no clue what would happen. It was cool to see that Coach Hauck assured me everything would be all right."
Hauck, along with Schillinger, Green and Germer, have all been up to Kalispell to meet with the trio of Glacier commits.
"They went really well," Pepe said of the meetings with the coaches. "Coach Hauck's an awesome guy. It was cool meeting him and seeing what he's all about. He left a good impression."
Pepe earned all-state honorable mention for his efforts.
He said he plans on signing with Montana during the early signing period.
Conor Quick — 6-foot-2, 280-pound O/DL — Helena Capital
Quick committed to the Griz back on Aug. 1.
Since his commitment, Quick was tabbed to the all-state second-team as center.
Quick's Bruins advanced to semifinal round of the Class AA playoffs before falling to crosstown rival Helena High.
Quick played in that game, and in the quarterfinals against Billings West, on a broken leg.
Against Glacier in October, Quick took a nasty hit.
"A kid dove for the running back and missed and I got a helmet right to my fibula and it broke in half," Quick said.
He added: "I'm still not supposed to do anything super strenuous or heavy on my leg for another two or three weeks because I went in and got it re-x-rayed, so I should be good in a couple weeks."
During that time, Quick kept in good spirits. Those good spirits continued when the coaching search was going on.
"I had high hopes for everything that everything would still be OK and I'd still be able to go to the University," Quick said. "I'm still able to, so I'm still happy about that."
Hauck and Schillinger visited Quick in Helena on Dec. 7.
"It was awesome meeting Coach Hauck for the first time," Quick said. "One of my coaches played for him and he said he's a really great coach. My first impression, he seems like he knows how to have fun but knows how to win and we'll make you do the things you need to do in order to be successful."
Quick said he plans on signing with Montana during the early signing period.
Gabe Sulser — 5-foot-9, 165-pound WR — Billings Senior
Sulser, one of the state's highest touted athletes out of Billings Senior, committed to Montana on July 13.
Rumors have swirled around saying that Sulser's enthusiasm surrounding his commitment to Montana has wavered, but he says that's not true.
"Nothing's changed for me as far as my commitment level to Montana," Sulser said. "I'm still committed to the Griz. I really like Coach Hauck. I think he's an awesome coach. I think he's gonna do the right things. I think he's got what it takes to get the program going again."
Sulser said he and Hauck's conversations thus far have surrounded reminiscing about the old days of Montana football.
"That was fun to hear because those were the heroes I grew up watching as a kid. I was only about 8, 9 years old but those are the guys I still look up to, Marc Mariani, Shann Schillinger, Colt Anderson and the list of NFL guys goes on," Sulser said. "... (I) kinda dream about being like them because they're all from Montana.
"It's cool to think that maybe that could be something in the future for the Griz is a return to that dominance they had. That's certainly the plan and I hope and I think we can get there if everyone's bought in and we get the right guys in place."
Sulser led the Broncs to a second-straight state title to 26-straight wins.
After the season, Sulser found himself in need of a new trophy case. Sulser was named all-state offensive MVP, all-state first-team for wide receiver, all-state honorable mention for punter, all-state first-team for cornerback and all-state honorable mention for kickoff returner.
If that wasn't enough, Sulser was named Montana's Gatorade Player of the Year on Monday.
Sulser is keeping the date in which he'll sign with the Griz under wraps.
Drew Turner — 6-foot, 205-pound RB— Kalispell Glacier
Turner, a Glacier product, committed to Montana on Sept. 11.
Turner finished his senior season with 211 carries for 1,666 yards — a new Glacier school record — with 23 touchdowns, seven receptions for 48 yards and four kickoff returns for 59 yards.
His career at Glacier culminated with 3,466 yards rushing — a new program record — on 476 attempts with 46 touchdowns. He was first-team all-state.
Hauck and Green visited Turner on Dec. 3 at his home in Kalispell.
"It was great," Turner said. "It was great to meet Coach Hauck, getting to know him. He's a great coach and it's going to be exciting to play for him these next few years."
He added: "I was excited before, but with how he runs stuff, I'm excited and I can't wait."
During the tumultuous period of Montana being without a coach, Turner said it all caught him off guard, but he appreciated how Green kept in contact with all the recruits and how athletic director Kent Haslam gave them calls too.
"It was nice for him to call and let us know we'll be fine," Turner said of Haslam.
Turner said he expects to officially sign with Montana in the early signing period.
Teshawn White — 5-foot-11, 195-pound RB — Los Angeles
White, out of Inglewood, California, committed to Montana on Nov. 12 as the last to commit to UM while Stitt was head coach.
White finished his senior season with 2,400 all purpose yards — 1,500 rushing and 500 receiving — and 22 touchdowns — 16 rushing, four defensive and two receiving.
White is still all in for Montana, even with the coaching change.
"I'm still adjusting to it," White said. "I've been talking to Coach Green and everybody, but I'm still 100 percent, I want to play at Montana. I can't wait to meet Coach Hauck, the new coach. His reputation is quite big and he wins. He wins a lot of games. I'm excited to be playing on a winning team."
He added: "(Coach Green) still wants me to play for Montana. He wants me to meet Coach Hauck. He's a great coach. I already feel like he's a great coach and I haven't even been coached by him yet. I'm excited."
White said he hopes to sign during the early signing period.
Robby Hauck, Montana football coach's Bobby Hauck's son, is transferring from Northern Arizona to play for his dad.
Robby, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound safety, took his redshirt last season with the Lumberjacks where he elected to wear No. 37.
He went to Del Norte High School in San Diego and set the school record for tackles and was a four-time team MVP.
His senior year highlights from high school are below:
One more player, three-star quarterback Matt Robinson of San Juan Capistrano, California, previously committed to Montana, but he announced within 48 hours of Hauck's hiring that he was de-committing from UM via Twitter.
"Because of the recent coaching change at Montana, and after consideration, I am decommitting from Montana and re-opening my recruitment," Robinson wrote in a Tweet two days after Hauck was hired. "I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to attend a great university, and football program. Wish only the best and looking forward to the future."