After falling short in playoffs, questions persist for Montana in season of what-ifs
(KPAX) The Grizzlies entered the season as the preseason No. 3 FCS team in the country, but their season ended this last weekend against North Dakota State as they finished 8-5 on the year.
It'll end up a season of what-ifs for the Griz, a team with expectations through the roof to open the year, but one that closed with a second-round playoff exit, and five losses.
But as head coach Bobby Hauck put it after the season concluded, this Griz team stands alone at the top in terms of his favorites in his career.
"Just who they are, how much they care about Montana, what they're willing to do for each other and for Grizzly football without blinking an eye," Hauck explained during his Monday press conference. "They're just unbelievable. Bought in, competitive, and then when you couple that with the fact that they're great dudes. Like good to be around every day, this is a special group. And I've been around some really special teams that I love dearly."
The season was a fast start for Montana with a 5-0 mark heading into the bye. But there, things began to slip with three straight losses to Idaho, Sac State and Weber State, all three of which made the playoffs.
After bouncing back with wins over Big Sky bottom-dwellers in Cal Poly and Eastern Washington, the Grizzlies were blown out in the Brawl of the Wild by Montana State, but they squeaked into the playoffs where they topped Southeast Missouri State in the opening round in Missoula.
That win would end up being Montana's lone victory over a team with a winning record this year before the Griz exited the season last Saturday against NDSU.
On Monday, Hauck talked about the season, and said he liked what he saw from his team against the best in the FCS in the Bison that gives him optimism going forward.
"They're really good up front and we gave up four big runs in that game, I watched the film, can't do that," Hauck said. "But beyond that, it's not that far apart (between UM and NDSU). Watching the film, I'm encouraged watching it, frankly."
But to get to that level, the Griz, as they do every year, will march forward without some of the program's stalwarts, like Missoula native and receiver Mitch Roberts.
"I think the thing that's made it the most special is getting to be coached by coach Hauck and all of our great staff and my awesome teammates," Roberts said after the NDSU loss. "Like (Hauck) said, this is a very special team and probably my favorite team I've ever played on, and it's really been an honor to wear the maroon and silver and go out with these guys that I love and play the game, and I'm going to miss it a lot."
Same goes for the Haucks, as Bobby Hauck and Robby Hauck finished their final season together as the father-son, coach-player duo.
"It's been so much fun, and I've said it before, I get to spend every day with my dad for the past six years with the COVID year," Robby Hauck said. "That's something that I'll probably never be able to do again and it's been so much fun. Everyone on this team is amazing and it's been by far the coolest thing ever and I'll cherish these moments forever."
Robby Hauck even had advice for NDSU head coach Matt Entz after the game, as Entz is also coaching his son in Fargo.
"I had the coolest experience ever," Hauck said. "There's very few people that can experience that and that's what I told coach (Entz) afterwards. I said enjoy the next five years with your son and your team because it is something special to be able to be coached by your father and to be truly invested in the success and the program.
"And then looking over there at Mitch, I grew up playing AAU basketball with Mitch and his mom coached us and being able to reunite with a lot of these guys that I've known at a younger age and meet back up and play football is really special."
In all, Montana will bid goodbye to 15 seniors from this year's class.
But after falling short of expectations, it'll be an offseason of questions to answer for Montana, as Bobby Hauck now officially enters his contract year, with his current deal set to expire in January of 2024.
How will the Griz fix the offensive struggles? Will there be any changes on the coaching staff or any players lost to transfer? And how will Montana correct special teams mistakes and prevent big plays on defense that seemed to doom the Griz in all of their losses?
Soon those questions will be answered, and the offseason officially begins now for Montana.
"I am always excited about what's going on here and as disappointed as I am with seeing our senior's eligibility be up, I'm excited about the guys that we'll recruit and I'm excited about the guys we have coming back," Hauck said. "These guys have worked awfully hard, they've gone hard, really hard since the end of May. They need to get refreshed but our group will be excited to get going in January."