SPOKANE, Wash. — For the first time since 1993, a Montana football coach will enter the season as the all-time winningest coach in program history.
Bobby Hauck comes into the 2019 campaign with 86 wins, having passed Don Read in the Grizzlies’ penultimate game last season.
The fact that Read, who coached Montana from 1986-95, is the one who Hauck passed isn’t lost on him. It was Read who gave Hauck his first coaching opportunity.
“Obviously, Coach Read’s a guy that I have a lot of admiration for and I’m grateful to for a lot of impact on me and my family and extended family,” Hauck said during the Big Sky Football Kickoff on Monday in Spokane. “It was kind of a special deal. I think it is pretty humbling.
“I’m grateful to all of our coaches and players over the years. To do that in a little under eight years, and I was part of a couple of (Read’s) staffs, too, what we did there in a 10-year span just shows a lot of hard work and a lot of great effort by a lot of guys.”
It was seemingly inevitable that Hauck would reach the milestone when he returned to Montana with 80 wins heading into the 2018 season. But he surpassed Read in record time, needing 107 games and just under eight seasons compared to Read's 85-36 record in 121 games and 10 seasons, although Read took over a losing program while Hauck took over a team just one year removed from a national title.
Hauck’s milestone is also significant from the point that he’s one of the rare Division I head football coaches who never played in college. That opportunity was derailed by a high school injury at Big Timber, he said, so the 5-foot-6, 130-pounder ended up running track at Montana and serving as a manager for the Griz basketball team.
When Hauck approached Read about getting into coaching football, Read gave him a position coaching defensive backs and defensive linemen in 1988. It was quite the big first job for Hauck.
“For them to take a guy that got knocked out of the game and give him a chance was a leap of faith by him,” Hauck said. “But, I don’t know. He knows what he knows, too. Coach didn’t make too many bad decisions. He never leapt into anything without thinking it through.”
Back then, Jack Swarthout owned the school record with 51 wins from 1967-75. Read was just beginning his third season, would tie Swarthout’s mark in the 1992 season finale and would break it with the 1993 season-opening win over South Dakota State.
When Hauck got started, his goal never was to become the school’s winningest coach. There were more important things on which to focus.
“I think that you get into the mode where you’re trying to get into the business, you’re trying to stay employed, you’re trying to keep a roof over your family’s head, you’re trying to win the next game,” Hauck said. “So, I think most of us probably don’t think a ton about that stuff. But, you know, now that we’re sitting here talking about it, it’s pretty cool.”
Before Hauck got the opportunity to be a head coach, he made several stops. He left Montana to coach at Big Timber, moved on to be a graduate assistant at UCLA from 1990-92 and then coached outside linebackers at Northern Arizona from 1993-94.
Hauck followed up that by coaching safeties, outside linebackers and special teams at Colorado from 1995-98, and defensive backs and special teams at Washington from 1999-2002, both under head coach Rick Neuheisel, who hired him at UCLA.
Read’s advice along the way was important to Hauck.
“He gave me an opportunity and then he guided me into the next opportunity and gave me good advice,” Hauck said. “Even maybe steered me the direction I probably wouldn’t have gone on my own a couple times. He’s just a great, veteran guy with a lot of good advice. For those us that have been in this business for a long time, we probably have a few of those guys that have, when we were younger, steered us in the right direction. I’ve gotten a lot of good advice from that guy.”
When Hauck returned to lead his alma mater from 2003-09, he’d overlap with Read, who was the athletic director from 2004-05. It was a meaningful time as his journey came full circle in more ways than one.
“Coach took me under his wing at a young age and gave me a lot of great advice, so I learned a lot. He was a great teacher,” Hauck said. “You fast forward 15 years and all of a sudden he’s the AD and I’m the head football coach, and that was kind of a special year in its own right. So, he’s just a guy I love and respect and just you meet people along the way that you’re grateful to have them in your life, and he’s one of those.”
Hauck hasn’t talked with Read as much as he’d liked to over the years because Read “isn’t a big phone guy,” he said. Their conversations, though, are always “fun,” he recalled.
When Hauck broke the record at Idaho on Nov. 4, the team dumped Gatorade on him, and his son Robby Hauck presented him with a game ball. He downplayed the milestone at the time, and during media days, he said he hadn't had a moment since the win where it hit him yet that he was the all-time winningest coach.
“It’s funny, I probably should reflect on some of those things a little bit more,” Hauck said. “It’d probably add to some of the enjoyment. Whether it’s games or championships won or some of that, I have a tendency not to look in the rearview mirror much but always be looking at what’s next. And so I really haven’t had a ton of time to think about that. Maybe someday I’ll be able to put my feet up. Right now, we’ve got pressing issues."
When fall camp starts in August, the fact that Hauck is the school’s all-time winningest coach won’t seep into his mind much, if at all. And don't expect it to change how he approaches this season or any future ones at Montana.
“No,” Hauck said, laughing. “Nope. Not at all. That’s probably why we’ve got those wins is because that’s where we’re going.”