Monday, August 11, 2008

The Stumbling Grizzly

I hate to say it; but, the University of Montana has become an embarrassment to the sport of cross country and track and field. Even though Tommy Raunig gave them ample notice that he was leaving the program at the end of the 2008 track season (notice was back in March), the school and athletics administrations drug their feet and ended up without a coach as of the end of July.

Now, they appear to have hired an interim coach. Word on the street is that they have offered the position to Courtney Babcock. But, even at that, they have yet to announce the position or what they intend to do in the long term.

And, here it is, approaching the middle of August and they are, for all intents and purposes, without a coach. I feel so sorry for the UM athletes. How would you like to be getting ready for the fall XC season with no idea as to who is going to guide you through the season.

And what happens next year, or the year after that. With the lack of care that the school seems to be showing to the sport, it could be 3 or 4 or 5 years before the program gets back on solid ground.

What a shame the whole issue is. Missoula (and Bozeman) have all the elements necessary to enable it to develop a national level cross country and distance program. Great trails, great community support of the program, well above average academic programs, young, active, outdoor lifestyles, at least some level of altitude. If schools like Dartmouth, Portland, Liberty, Colorado and others can be distance power houses, there is no reason that Missoula can't follow suit.

All that's missing is the commitment from the university to provide the funds and leadership necessary to allow the program to develop to it's fullest potential.

The other sad part of this whole scenario is that there were a number of qualified people who wanted to pursue the job. But, based on the criteria that had been established for the position, they weren't eligible - or so they thought. All that went out the window when some of the finalists didn't take the offers proffered by the school and others were deemed not suited for the job. How they got to the decision to choose Courtney hasn't been clarified. But, at a minimum it has left some sour taste in the mouths of numerous people. Enough so that the whole situation has 11 pages of comments on the message board (

Now, all that being said - best of luck to Courtney. She has competed at the highest levels and knows what it takes to reach the top. All indications are that she is a great person and has the knowledge base to provide guidance to the college level athlete. Maybe we'll find a silver lining out of all this and end up with somebody who was in the right place at the right time.

Time will tell.

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