Losing to your rival is never easy. Frankly, it never should be.
For the second time in three seasons, a head football coach in the Brawl of the Wild has lost his job following an extended losing streak in the rivalry.
Bob Stitt was let go this week as Montana head coach after his second straight loss to Montana State, both ending late-season hopes at a playoff run. Stitt was 21-14 in his three-year tenure, making the playoffs in his first season.
That first season brought a lot of promise, including a nationally-televised victory over North Dakota State in Missoula. To say things went downhill from there is a little of an overstatement, but they certainly leveled off.
Two seasons ago, Montana State fired the winningest coach in program history, Rob Ash, for much of the same reasons. While he was a consistent winner, with three conference championships and four trips to the playoffs in nine seasons, he had trouble beating the Griz. Ash’s teams were 2-7 against Montana, losing all five contests held in Bozeman. Coupled with his failures to get over the hump in the playoffs, Ash was let go.
MSU’s replacement for Ash, Jeff Choate, has been successful in one aspect of his job. He’s beaten the Griz. He’s done it twice in two years and both were powerful performances.
What Choate hasn’t been able to do is win the other games, with back-to-back losing seasons, finishing 4-7 in 2016 and 5-6 this year.
It depends on your definition of success if you feel that MSU made the right move. What do you value more, being in the position to win championships or beating your rival?
In a perfect world you would do both, but that’s extremely rare, even for a program with the advantages of Montana. There will be years where you lose to your rival. There will be years you don’t make the playoffs. Some years both will happen. Most years one will happen.
Montana fired a winning coach who led a clean program in the hopes of something greater. It may turn out to be a good move in the end, if the Griz are able to find someone who is everything to everybody.
It could also go the other way, leaving the team looking again in a few years.
And is that really what you want?