A Tribute to Mick Delaney

I remember the chaos vividly. The athletic director and head football coach at the University of Montana had just been let go, victims of a sucker-punch that no one saw coming. The community was outraged. Things were uncertain. Inside the office of Sports Information Director Dave Guffey both Bob Beers and Scott Gragg, two men rumored to possibly be named the interim head coach, admitted to us they had no idea who would receive the appointment. It was all a whirlwind, it felt like maybe the wheels were starting to fall off. But then came news that Mick Delaney would come out of retirement and graciously take over as the interim head football coach at the University of Montana. Finally, some stability.

That first practice with Mick at the helm was unlike any practice I had ever attended during my employment with Griz Athletics. The atmosphere was charged. Besides the regular beat reporters on hand you also had sports media from across the state present. Mark Holyoak, the face of KPAX News at the time, had come out from behind the anchor desk to cover the spectacle in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Staff members from inside the athletic department stood on the sideline to support Coach Delaney. It wasn’t just a practice that day, it was a major event in the historical fabric of Grizzly Athletics.

Mick Delaney came in and saved Griz football.

Mick Delaney came in and saved Griz football.

That day with all the microphones pushed in his face, Coach Delaney said he would do all he could to give the media, the athletic department, and the community everything he had. It is now some 32 months later and he never waivered on that pledge. Ask any media member about working with Mick, they will all say he was accommodating and kind. Quiz any athletic department staffer on whether Coach Delaney was a team player who held his players/staff accountable while supporting the other programs and they will nod yes in a heartbeat. Ask Mick’s wife Cheri about the long list of community causes he aided and she will rattle off an endless list. Pretty good for someone who was yanked out of retirement and placed in the most scrutinized position in the state, right?

It definitely wasn’t a walk in the park for Mick. He had to deal with the crippling repercussions from the President’s decision, the unfair suspension and trial of his star player, and unrealistic expectations/unfair criticisms from fans. During his inaugural season, I served on the travel advance team for Grizzly football. On those road trips I could literally see the stress hanging on his shoulders during that challenging 2012 campaign. I watched him smoke a lot of cigars on those trips, his only chance to provide himself with a little relief. However, even with the stress and setbacks, Mick always kept his integrity and always came out a winner.

The 2012 season was a tough one. I took this photo at Eastern Washington, a game the Griz would lose in the fourth quarter.

The 2012 season was a tough one. I took this photo at Eastern Washington, a game the Griz would lose in the fourth quarter.

I debated going about it this way because I didn’t want to turn this post into a list. However, I feel it is the best way to highlight his character. I want to quickly offer my five favorite personal Mick Delaney moments that really illustrate the leader and special person that he is (listed in no particular order):

Mick Sacrifices Time for Small Marketing Event – In 2013, Monte had earned yet another spot on the Capital One All-American Mascot Team. The competition to crown the Mascot of the Year that season depended partly on fans photographing or videoing themselves completing weekly challenges and posting the content to social media. One particular week the challenge was to capture the celebration you thought your mascot would do if he scored a touchdown.

I planned an event in Washington-Grizzly Stadium where fans could run around on the field, catch a touchdown pass, and then celebrate with Monte. I didn’t even bother asking Coach Delaney to come out because it was right in the middle of the week and the team was traveling the next day. But lo and behold, when I escorted the participants through the Adams Center and out the tunnel into the stadium there was Mick standing at mid-field. On a cold Montana day with plenty of wind and sleet, Mick did his own touchdown celebration with Monte. He then stuck around and took photos with the fans who showed up, many who never had the opportunity to watch a game inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium because of the ticket availability and cost. I was so humbled that he would show up to something that I didn’t even know was on his radar. For him to then go the extra mile and make sure everyone else had a memorable experience made it that much sweeter.

Mick does his touchdown celebration with Monte in September of 2013.

Mick does his touchdown celebration with Monte in September of 2013.

Mick Surprises 102-year-old Lady – Toward the end of last football season, Mick made the day of one hardcore Griz fan by paying a surprise visit. However, this University of Montana supporter wasn’t a testosterone-driven message board poster covered in maroon and silver body paint. Instead it was a sweet old lady named Emma Lommasson, a 102-year-old Griz diehard who once served as the Assistant Registrar at Montana.

When Coach Delaney walked into the lobby of Emma’s retirement home her eyes lit up and her mouth dropped open. The two held hands and had a lively conversation for about 30 minutes. This wasn’t a photo op or a publicity stunt (only our storied play-by-play guy and myself were present), this was just Mick being Mick. They would have talked all day long but Coach had to hustle back to campus to start practice.

Emma Lommasson held tight to Mick's hand the whole time they were together.

Emma Lommasson held tight to Mick’s hand the whole time they were together.

A Hand-Written/Hand-Delivered Thank You Note – When the head coach of a major program brings you a card with a personal, thoughtful message you know you are dealing with a man who is truly down-to-earth and humble. Just a couple days before offices in the athletic department started to clear out for the holidays, Mick walked around to members of the support staff and handed out Christmas cards and boxes of chocolates. When I read what he wrote, I could undeniably say that I felt truly valued and appreciated by one of the most well-known and recognized men in the state.

A few different shots of the card Mick Delaney presented to me.

A few different shots of the card Mick Delaney presented to me.

Road Trip – In August of 2013, a year-long sponsored rivalry competition was introduced to spotlight the Griz-Cat series across all sports. The press conference was held in Butte (a location in the middle of Missoula and Bozeman). I had the opportunity to make the drive with our athletic director, our associate athletic director, and Mick Delaney. During the drive there and the drive back, I just relaxed and listened as Mick talked about football. He discussed players, coaches, FBS, FCS, conferences, past games, war stories, and more. It was a totally uncensored look into a 50-year vault of pig skin richness, also known as Mick’s brain. I ate up every bit of it and even managed to have some of my questions answered.

This was the press conference in Butte. They made this year-long competition just to draw even more attention to how bad the Griz embarrass the Bobcats in athletics.

This was the press conference in Butte that I rode down with Mick for.

Pre-Game Speech: Before the Appalachian State game in 2013, Mick Delaney addressed his players while our video guys caught it on camera. This video was created for an in-stadium feature and when we played it at the second home game of the season it was extremely powerful. It wasn’t a “yell at the top of your lungs” rant or a psychological, well-planned lecture. Rather, it was just Mick speaking from his heart. Those last 30 seconds represent everything he tried to instill during his three seasons as head coach at the University of Montana. That is the Delaney Gospel right there, and the best way possible to end this list.

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As he preached in the speech I just highlighted, Mick Delaney did things the right way. At times, critics complained. But you know what, who cares? Coach Delaney made a selfless decision to step in when things were toxic. He oversaw the program for three seasons, ran a clean ship, and won more games than he lost. He will pass the torch to a new coach who will inherit a solid program with a strong incoming recruiting class. Thank you Mick Delaney for your amazing leadership. You will be forever remembered for what you did to help Griz Nation when it needed help the most. Don’t Blink.

26 thoughts on “A Tribute to Mick Delaney

  1. Great article. Thanks for the overview and sharing some of his amazing, heart felt, giving acts. Good luck to Mick in his new “retirement”…

  2. Brent, thank you for heartfelt words about Coach Delaney. I will always think of him as the man who saved Grizzly Football. We couldn’t have asked for a finer coach to step in at that time. He leaves mighty big shoes to fill.

  3. What a great article, Mick was criticized for some coaching miscues, but not too many coaches could have stepped up at the time Mick did with such class and integrity. Thanks for sharing these inside looks into Mick, these type of stories need to get more attention, instead of all the negative ones.

    • Hi Jay – Thank you very much for the thoughtful agreement. I definitely agree with what you said. 20 years ago Mick’s legacy won’t be about X’s and O’s, it will be about how he came in and saved the program.

  4. Well said Brent. Mick Delaney is an awesome person. What he brought to the football program could not have been done by very many others. He has instilled respect, accountability and humanness back into the program. He is the kind of man who always had time for his players, staff and fans. He will be missed but his legacy will live on. He has set the standard high for the man who takes his place. We wish him well in his retirement.

    • Hi Barb – Thanks for reading what I had to say about Mick. I agree 100% with what you said about his character. Griz Nation will miss him.

  5. What agreat tribute!
    Mick’s first wife Patsy was my mom’s sister and I spent a lot of time with the Delaney clan in GF, Bozeman and later Butte after Patsy had passed and then when Mick and Cheri found one another. I worked for Uncle Mick, Cheri and Charlie when they ran the Vu in Butte. I’ll never forget how sad we all were when one of us (I won’t squeal on who) discovered his letter expressing interest in the UM Western coaching job. We were all happy for Mick but sad to be losing the best, most hard working boss any of us had ever had. Humor mixed with dedication, fairness, humility and a great example of how to work your butt off are just some of the lessons I learned from working for Mick.
    Thanks for the great article Brent. Here’s wishing Mick and Cheri lots of sun, happiness, and low good scores!

    • Hi Mark – Thank you for the wonderful comment. You provided some great insight on a different era in Mick’s life. I really appreciate you taking the time to share.

  6. Thanks Brent for your tribute to Mick, I sure agree with all you said. He will be greatly missed, but leaves a lasting legacy.

  7. This is awesome – thank you. Our seats are next to the coaches wives and families and the Delaney’s are good people all around!

  8. Great man! I had the pleasure for playing for him at WMC in the early 90’s. Brent, I love the fact that you could share a few great stories about coach. He is a very humble and giving man.

    • Randy – It was my pleasure. Coach Delaney did so much for the department and I was glad that I could offer some of the “behind-the-scenes” stories about this great man.

  9. Humble, Compassionate, Caring, Kind, Gentle–Many more adjectives. I was called upon, as one of 2 Hematologists in Montana to care for young Patsy when she , another wonderful person, contracted leukemia. I spent time with them both, marveling at their strength and understanding in her dying days. He was a budding FB coach at Great Falls High- Of course, it was my role to counsel them, but as treatment became futile, they understood, they counseled me, the physician, that I had done my best. I, too wish Mick and Cheri, at last, many happy retirement years.

    • Hi Dr. Allaire – Thank you very much for the comment. I am so happy that I wrote this blog post because the stories I have received back from others have been so interesting and nice. I appreciate you taking the time to read my post and then leave your very thoughtful words.

  10. Yes, after reading all of this I have to tell Mick that my husband, Dr. John Curtis, thought the world of you. You had great moments together. Today John was admitted to the hospital for problems with falling, failing memory, etc. When I mention your name and tell him this story he will grin, shake his head and probably have a tear in his eye! Then a story might come forth! Have a wonderful retirement. Jean Curtis