Special Memories With Former Griz Coach Joe Glenn

By JIM O’DAY

With the University of South Dakota Coyotes not scheduled to play another football game against the Montana Grizzlies in the immediate future, Saturday’s match-up in Missoula could well be the last for Joe Glenn in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

During his impressive coaching career, Joe, spent a considerable amount of time walking the sidelines of football fields in Missoula.  He was an assistant on UM coach Larry Donovan’s staff from 1980-85, and returned to the Garden City as head coach for the Griz from 2000-2002. In those three years, Joe’s teams compiled an incredible 39-6 record (the 86.7% winning percentage is still the best in Big Sky Conference history), which included two trips to the national championship game in Chattanooga, Tenn. (2000, and again in 2001 when Montana claimed its second national trophy), three Big Sky Conference titles and an FCS record 24-game winning streak from 2001-2002 that was recently broken by North Dakota State. The 15 wins in 2001 represent the most victories by a Grizzly football team in the school’s history.  In 2000, Joe was the recipient of the Eddie Robinson Award as the FCS Coach of the Year. He also coached two national championship teams at Northern Colorado (1996-97). Along the way, he was recognized twice as the AFCA National Coach of the Year.

This is Joe’s third season back at his alma mater, and 27th total as a head coach – four at Doane College in Nebraska, 11 at Northern Colorado, three at Montana, six at Wyoming and now three at South Dakota.

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Photo courtesy ofGoGriz.com

Personally, I have many fond memories of Joe and his wonderful family – wife Michele, son Casey and daughter Erin.  Those are times I’ll always cherish. Throughout the years, we have maintained a very close relationships and mutual respect, and try to stay connected as often as possible.

Joe, 65, always left a lasting impression no matter where he went. The first time I greeted him was memorable.  It was Dec. 6, 1999, when he was being introduced by former UM Athletic Director Wayne Hogan as Montana’s new head football coach.  The press conference was in the new Grizzly Sky Club above Dahlberg Arena.  After meeting with the media and many other well-wishers, he came up to me… at the time, I was the assistant director for the Grizzly Athletic Association (now Grizzly Scholarship Association)… and reached out for a handshake. Out of his mouth came these words:  “You must be Jim O’Day.  You’re Irish, right? If so, we’re going to get along just fine.”  He left the conversation with a huge smile… just the first of many to come.  I had no idea how he knew me, but would later discover that he had studied the Griz media guide to learn who he’d be working with.  It was then I realized how special he was – and how good he was at remembering names and faces. This was, and continues to be, one of his most impressive attributes… and a real skill.

That was only the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

For example, less than a month into his new head coaching job at Montana, he trusted this fairly green fund-raiser to take a trip during the peak of the recruiting season to leave Missoula at 5 p.m. for an 8 p.m. dinner meeting with a donor in Great Falls. The donor was extremely close to previous Griz coach Mick Delaney, and was uncertain and nervous how his relationship would be with the new mentor.  After three hours of visiting, and getting to know each other, the donor said goodbye, and as we exited the building, the donor flashed a “thumbs up” sign my way… which made for a very good 3-hour trip back home to Missoula.  From there, an amazing relationship was started – and resulting in Great Falls attorney John Hoyt making a substantial gift to UM Athletics for the new, and much needed, office complex, which would bear his name.  Immediately, I knew we had a winner heading the Montana football program.

Road trips were never dull with Joe.  He was the ultimate entertainer – and always made time for everyone in the room.  He played the piano, sang the fight song, and told stories into the wee hours of the night.  He brought smiles to so many faces.  Still, in those first nine months, the question still lingered: “But could he coach?”

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After the first game, a disappointing 10-9 home loss to Hofstra to kick off the 2000 season, many began to wonder.  I’ll never forget the scene above the entrance to the home team tunnel in the stadium as Joe exited the facility following that setback.  A large crowd had gathered in the stands above the tunnel, and what had previously been smiles and well wishes had turned into boos, and comments like “This clown is going to bring our program down. Get rid of him.”  It was a real reality check – and one I’ll never forget. It also showed that Griz fans are extremely serious about their football, and the high expectations that go with it.  One week later, UM would travel to Pullman, WA., to take on the Idaho Vandals in Martin Stadium.  The exciting offensive showdown ended on a spectacular Jimmy Farris touchdown catch from Drew Miller with only 19 seconds left on the clock, resulting in a 45-38 Griz victory.  Montana would go on to win 13 straight, losing only 27-25 to a powerful Georgia Southern team in the NCAA I-AA (now FCS) championship game in Chattanooga.

Joe reminded us constantly of the year he coached the Burger King Falcons after Donovan’s staff was released following the 1985 season. How a youngster begged him at his front door to coach the local Little Grizzly Football team.  How much he enjoyed the experience and opportunity to continue working with youngsters, and how it got his attention focused back into the football coaching profession after a year away selling beer and wine for Zip Beverage. He also reminisced about his large family growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and how it was important to get to the dinner table first to beat his brothers before the food was gone.   Then there were the jokes… many we heard often as we made booster trips across the state… but we always laughed along with audience as if we were hearing it for the first time.  He was genuine, entertaining and lovable, all at the same time.

Then there was the long trip to eastern Montana one spring.  Traveling on a fairly deserted road between Lewistown and Wolf Point, Joe honked the horn in the car behind us.  We immediately pulled over, sensing something was wrong.  As the vehicle in which Joe was riding pulled up, from the passenger side of the car, he said, “We’ve been driving on this road for two hours and haven’t seen another person.  We just needed to see another human. Ok, now we can go,” and away we went.  We all laughed hysterically, and off we headed… off to another stop on the entertaining trail to booster locations across Montana.

As an observation, I did discover something else: Joe’s not very good at saying “goodbye.”  However, I can assure you that when his South Dakota Coyotes leave the field Saturday night, and he says a final goodbye to the sidelines at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, it won’t be the last we’ll see of Joe and Michele Glenn, and for that we should be thankful as well.

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Jim O’Day was Director of Athletics at the University of Montana from 2005-2012. He also served as the Assistant Director of the Grizzly Athletic Association (1998-2000) and later as the Director of Development for UM Intercollegiate Athletics (2000-2005).

Prior to returning to his alma mater in 1998, O’Day was the owner/publisher of the family-owned Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank, MT. He was also sports editor of the Kalispell Daily Interlake from 1980-82.

In late 2013, Jim started his own consulting business, O’Day Enterprises, LLC.  His main clients include Farran Realty Partners, a private equity real estate development/investment firm based in Missoula; Epio Solutions of Seattle/Missoula, an agency primarily focused on branding/marketing/public relations utilizing various social media platforms for businesses, universities, non-profits and individuals; and BancVue, a company based in Austin, Texas, that aligns itself with small community banks and credit unions across the country to compete against the large mega banks. In addition, Jim is consulting for various oil and gas firms, as well as providing valuable professional resource services for intercollegiate athletics, fund-raising, capital raises, employment opportunities, etc. 

Jim and his wife Kathy have three sons: Chris, Kevin and Brian – all three graduates of The University of Montana.

 

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