If you know FCS football... even at a surface level... you know the name Bobby Hauck. The longtime Montana Grizzlies head coach is a Montanan through and through, coaching in the very city he was born in and at his alma mater. Hauck bleeds silver and maroon and there’s little doubt about it. But beyond his deeply entrenched sense of Treasure State pride, he is a damn good coach too.
He’s one of the more decorated and experienced guys out there. Hauck has more wins than any Big Sky coach in the conference’s 60-year history. He’s the proud owner of eight conference titles, four league Coach of the Year accolades, two Region 5 Coach of the Year honors and 11 FCS playoff appearances. Several of the best years of Griz history have come under his regime. He will surely go down as one of the greatest to ever to it. For as full as that trophy case is, however, it’s still missing one big thing.
Next weekend, he hopes to finally fill it with a national title.
Hauck led Montana to seven straight Big Sky crowns and playoff trips during his first stint from 2003 to 2009. In that span the Griz strung together several deep postseason runs, three of which took them all the way to the national championship.
In Hauck’s second season back in 2004, Montana won three straight home playoff games (all rather convincingly) to reach the title game for the first time since they won it in ‘01. The Grizzlies, though, stumbled in the final game, losing to James Madison 31-21 at Finley Stadium down in Chattanooga.
It would be four years before UM returned to the big stage.
In 2008, the Griz only lost one regular season game and entered the playoffs as the #5 seed. Once there they reeled off over Texas State and Weber State before enacting their revenge on JMU in the semifinals. Over in Harrisonburg, Hauck’s team dropped 35 points on the #1 Dukes, coming out with the upset and, more importantly, ticket back to Chattanooga.
Waiting for them was a Richmond team with eight consecutive wins under their belt and a big upset of their own over juggernaut Appalachian State. It was anticipated by many to be a good game but it turned out to be anything but. The Spiders nearly blanked the Grizzlies in the 24-7 smacking. Montana punted five times, turned the ball over twice and didn’t score their lone touchdown until the fourth quarter.
The national title game was starting to leave a sour taste in the mouths of both Hauck and UM fans. Two trips had come up empty and, for as good as Montana was, there were no rings to show for it.
It only took one year to get back this time, though. Hauck’s 2009 Montana team is arguably still the best he ever had. A perfect 11-0 record was capped with a 33-19 win over in-state rival Montana State to close out the regular season. The Griz were averaging nearly 35 points per contest and had won five contest by at least two touchdowns. Entering the playoffs it seemed like no one would stop them.
It proved that no one could, at least in the unfriendly confines of Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Montana delivered a herculean comeback against South Dakota State in the opening round, erasing a 27-point deficit to win 61-48. A week later they drubbed Stephen F. Austin to the tune of 51-0 before taking down App State in an epic semifinal in the lights under the snow. UM, it appeared, was a team of destiny and 2009 looked like it would finally be Hauck’s coronation.
Returning to Finley for a third time, the Griz were greeted with yet another CAA foe. The #2 team in the land that year was Villanova and they looked every bit the part. After narrowly escaping William & Mary in the semifinals, the Wildcats... much like Montana... were flying high. This time, there would be no letdown. UM was ready.
In a back-and-forth affair that saw several lead changes, the Griz jumped out by as many as 11 in the early goings. ‘Nova, however, chipped away slowly but surely and stole the lead back late in the third quarter.
With the clock winding down in the final stages, Montana drew the game to within two. With under two minutes to play, though, they needed an onside kick and a miracle. That miracle never came and, for the third time, the confetti of the opponent of fell on Hauck’s head.
Since that disheartening 23-21 defeat, Hauck and the Grizzlies have seen much change. He left the program in 2010 to take the head coaching gig at UNLV where he stayed until 2014. After that he spent time at San Diego State as a special teams coach before returning to Montana in 2017. During his absence, the Griz struggled greatly, often missing the playoffs.
This year, however, has been a return to the glory days in many ways. A sluggish start was quickly blotched out by 10 straight victories. In a scene all-too similar to the heroics of 2009, Montana defeated North Dakota State just two weeks ago in a game that will surely live on in Grizzlies lore for years to come. Hauck’s team this year has resembled his teams of old in many ways.
The business, though, is still very much unfinished.
Standing in Hauck’s way this time is likely the toughest challenge he’s seen yet on the big stage. South Dakota State is a monster all their own. With an unblemished 14-0 record the Jacks are on the verge of winning a second consecutive championship. A dynasty may very well be in the makings.
Montana is currently an 11-point underdog according to the books. Next Sunday, though, Hauck will get a chance most coaches can only dream of; to be in and coach a fourth title game. The road has been long, difficult and downright painful for the 59-year old head coach and these Griz fans. But, if he is able to pull this one off, it would be one he would undoubtedly cherish forever.
Montana and South Dakota State kick off at 2:00 PM (ET) on January 7 in Frisco. The game will be aired on ABC.