(Montana Sports Information) When former Montana football coach Don Read passed away at the age of 90 on January 3, 2024 – just four days before the Grizzlies competed for another FCS national championship – a flood of fond memories came pouring in from the people who knew him best. 

Former players, assistant coaches, colleagues, and friends from his decade-plus as both a Grizzly mentor and administrator shared countless stories and thoughts in the days that followed. 

They painted a picture of an affable man who changed the face of Montana football with innovation, toughness, and humility, and he did it by focusing on the importance of building personal relationships, one candy bar at a time. 

What was plain to see is that “Pappa Bear” Read made an impact deeper than wins and losses and wider than the Treasure State itself. 

Read was the architect of Montana’s first national championship in 1995 and led the Grizzlies to a pair of semifinal appearances and conference titles en route to becoming Montana’s all-time winningest coach during his 10-year career. 

Perhaps more importantly he sparked a football culture that caught on like wildfire and has since spawned decades of unprecedented success, leading to seven more national championship appearances and 14 more Big Sky Conference championships. He helped build a thirst for Grizzly football amongst Montanans that to this day continues to set records for season ticket sales as one of the highest profile programs at any level in the Rocky Mountain West. 

That legacy will be honored this summer when Read is posthumously inducted into the Big Sky Conference Hall of Fame as part of its incoming class of 2024 at the league’s annual football kickoff event in July. 

“Coach Read meant a lot to Montana and the people that worked and played for him. He was just a great friend and mentor to all. His 10 years in the conference were highly successful. He always did things the right way, and he is very deserving of being a Hall of Famer,” said current UM head coach Bobby Hauck. 

“Coach set the tone for everything that we've done over the past couple of decades. He set a standard for winning and really built the program from an interest standpoint where people really became interested in Grizzly football. He laid the foundation for all the growth we’ve seen over the last 30 years.” 

The Big Sky Conference Hall of Fame was established in 2020 to “perpetuate the memory of those persons who have brought distinction, honor and excellence to both the Big Sky Conference and its institutional athletic programs.” 

If there was a Mount Rushmore of Grizzly Athletics, Read and Montana’s other four current members of the Big Sky Hall of Fame would be on it. This summer he joins his former QB Dave Dickenson, Shannon (Cate) Schweyen, Robin Selvig, (class of 2022) and Larry Krystkowiak (2023) as an inductee. 

Read’s resume is well known and stands as a no brainer for Hall of Fame worthiness.  

He coached at Montana from 1986 to 1995, amassing an 85-36 record while leading the Griz to 10 straight winning seasons that started a streak of 25-straight at UM. He retired as the winningest coach in Montana history and the second-winningest coach in Big Sky history at the time. 

Read’s 1995 national championship win was, not only the first for the Grizzlies, it was just the fourth in conference history and its first in over a decade, with only two following for the league since. 

He was the 1-AA AFCA Coach of the Year in 1995, and a three-time Big Sky Coach of the Year in 1989, 1993, and 1995. He led the Griz to Big Sky titles in 1993 and 1995, and the 1-AA playoffs in five of his ten seasons. His teams never lost to rival Montana State in his decade at the helm, and he started a streak of 16-straight wins for the Grizzlies over the Bobcats from 1986 to 2001. 

Known as an innovator of the game with his “Air Read” offense, he literally wrote the book on passing attack in college football as the author of “The Complete Passing Game.” 

Read was inducted into the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. 

In 2018 his record for wins at Montana was surpassed by Hauck, now himself a future Hall of Famer as the winningest coach in Big Sky history. Their careers are intertwined deeper than that, however. Hauck first started coaching college football as a graduate assistant under Read. He eventually took the program over as head coach in 2003 and worked underneath him again when Read served as UM’s Athletic Director in 2004 and 2005. 

“He's always meant a lot to me. He got me started in coaching. I always enjoyed being around him. I always viewed him as a as a great mentor, how he dealt with and treated people. I also had the bonus of being able to be the head football coach when he was the athletic director, and that was a real blessing and a treat,” Hauck added. 

Before his career at Montana, Read coached at Portland State and was named the Div. II Coach of the Year after leading the Vikings to the league title in 1984. Born in Los Angeles and a player at Sacramento State, he also served as a head coach at the University of Oregon and Oregon Tech. He retired with a career record of 154-127-1. 

The 2024 Hall of Fame class was selected by a committee of 14 members, which included representative from all 10 full-time Big Sky institutions, as well as an additional Athletic Director, Senior Women’s Administrator, a conference office representative, and an at-large committee member among the group of 14 voters. 

The 2024 class will be officially inducted on Saturday, July 20 starting at 6:30 p.m. PT, as part of the Big Sky Football Kickoff Weekend at the Northern Quest Resort & Casino in Spokane, Washington. Tickets to the Gala cost $80, plus fees. The Big Sky Hall of Fame now features 36 members, with the first class being honored in 2022. 

2024 Big Sky Hall of Fame Class (Alphabetical Order)

Natalie Doma, Women’s Basketball, Idaho State (2004-08)

Lindsay Haupt, Volleyball, Sacramento State (2004-07)

Sonny Holland, Football Head Coach, Montana State (1971-77)

Bill Kollar, Football, Montana State (1971-73)

Orlando Lightfoot, Men’s Basketball, Idaho (1991-94)

Erik Meyer, Football, Eastern Washington (2002-05)

Dick Motta, Men’s Basketball Head Coach, Weber State (1960-68)

Don Read, Football Head Coach, Montana (1986-95)

 Grizzlies in the Big Sky Conference Hall of Fame

2024 – Don Read

2023 – Larry Krystkowiak

2022 – Dave Dickenson, Shannon (Cate) Schweyen, Robin Selvig