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UM fires football coach, athletic director

AP Photo/Michael Albans, File

Montana head coach Robin Pflugrad watches his team against Western Oregon in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Missoula,on Nov. 5. Montana fired Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O'Day on Thursday, adding more uncertainty to a program already dealing with sexual assault allegations against two of its players.

HELENA — The University of Montana fired football coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O'Day on Thursday, adding more uncertainty to a program already dealing with sexual assault allegations against two players.

Pflugrad, who was honored as Big Sky coach of the year last season, and O'Day were notified in a meeting with university President Royce Engstrom that their contracts would not be renewed, said assistant athletic director Greg Sundberg.

O'Day and Engstrom addressed staff and coaches in separate meetings Thursday morning, but neither gave a reason for the firings, Sundberg said.

"I think it was time for a leadership change, is what I gathered," Sundberg said.

Engstrom sent a statement Thursday afternoon that shed no light on the reason behind the firings, simply thanking O'Day and Engstrom for their service and saying the university plans to announce an interim coach and athletic director by the end of the week.

Sundberg said he did not know whether the football players have been addressed.

"It definitely sets us back a little, but we have a good group of staff and coaches that will keep us moving forward in a positive direction and build on what Jim O'Day has done in the last seven years," Sundberg said.

The Missoulian first reported the story on Thursday morning.

The firings cap six months of tumult for the university and the football program.

Earlier this month, a university student accused starting quarterback Jordan Johnson of sexually assaulting her. No charges have been filed.

Johnson was temporarily suspended from spring practice while a temporary restraining order was issued against him. After the restraining order was dissolved last week to be replaced by a civil no-contact agreement, Johnson was allowed to participate in a Saturday scrimmage.

Pflugrad welcomed him back to the field, calling Johnson a person of "tremendous moral fiber" in a statement that was criticized by the alleged victim's attorney.

In January, running back Beau Donaldson was suspended from the team after he was charged with raping an acquaintance in September 2010. He has pleaded not guilty.

Last fall, police used a stun gun against two football players after quarterback Gerald Kemp and cornerback Trumaine Johnson scuffled with officers responding to a noise complaint. They pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct charges.

Sundberg said none of those allegations were raised Thursday.

Pflugrad was the Big Sky Conference football coach of the year in 2011 after he guided the Grizzlies to a co-conference championship in his second year as coach. Sam Houston State defeated Montana in the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

Pflugrad was promoted from wide receivers coach to head coach after Bobby Hauck left for UNLV in 2009. It was Pflugrad's second stint with the Grizzlies, after being an assistant coach from 1986 to 1994. In between, he coached and recruited at Oregon, Washington State and Arizona State, and he previously coached at Portland State.

Montana went 7-4 in his first season in 2010.

O'Day was hired as athletic director in 2005, moving up from director of development for UM intercollegiate athletics after Don Read retired.

O'Day is a Cut Bank native who graduated from UM with a degree in journalism. He is a former reporter and sports editor at The Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell and was the owner/publisher of The Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank.


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