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George Ferguson Column: A dark day for the Griz, but I can't judge yet

Covering the University of Montana football team over the last six years has been something I've enjoyed immensely. How could I not? The Griz are the premier sports program in our great state.

However, they also aren't my full time beat, and therefore I've never felt any remorse about being a fan while still being a journalist.

And on Thursday, it was a tough day to be a Griz fan.

By now, anyone who cares knows that UM President Royce Engstrom made the decision to let go of Griz head coach Robin Pflugrad and Athletic Director Jim O'Day. To all of Griz Nation, and perhaps to anyone who likes college football in the Treasure State, that news came as a major surprise.

In fact, shocked was more like it.

I like to think I'm plugged into the Griz pipeline of information, and I'll also admit that I've been nervous about the troubling and growing list of off-the-field problems involving the Grizzly football program. But I, like many, didn't see this one coming — at least not on Thursday morning.

I knew things were troubled inside the football offices at UM, but I didn't see it getting this bad this quickly.

As of right now though, there is no need for me to address my feelings about the state of the Griz program. I'm not interested in speaking about the school's recently wrapped up investigation into a campus-wide sexual assault and rape problem. And believe me, I have strong feelings about all of that.

Right now, there's just too much for me to absorb, and too much I want to find out for me to make any judgements against or for the decision to make wholesale changes in the UM football program, and in time I'm sure I'll have plenty to say. I'll have plenty to say, just as former Grizzly star and Havre Blue Pony Marc Mariani had to say when he was asked about Thursday's events.

Mariani, among many other past and present Griz players spoke out about how shocked, saddened and disappointed they were with the firings.

For me, who is in no way as close to the situation as former players like Mariani, Colt Anderson and others who shared their feelings Thursday, guys who shed their blood, sweat and tears for the Grizzlies, and have had personal and close relationships with Pflugrad and O'Day, I just don't know what to think at this point.

I can say I have met and spoke with both men on more than one occasion and was nothing but impressed with them, Pflugrad as a coach and O'Day as an administrator, and I liked both of them instantly.

So, as of this moment, as a person who likes to write about the Grizzlies for a living, as a huge fan of the program and as a former UM student, I'm too confused to judge on everything that has gone down. And when you're emotional, when you're not thinking clearly, it's best to take a deep breath before you say something you might regret. I'm an emotional person and I just don't want to make that call right now.

Instead, I'm going to say this. Griz Nation is in trouble. Griz Nation is hurting and Griz Nation is and will be reeling from this for quite some time.

I'm certain this isn't the end. I'm certain we're not going to wake up this morning and say everything is right with the Grizzlies again simply because two people were fired.

I'm very certain there are more dark days ahead for the University of Montana and its football program, and that hurts me to admit.

As a person who cares about the program on so many different levels, I'm saddened, disappointed, angry, frustrated and confused by everything that has transpired with the Grizzlies over the last few months.

None of that means I have lost faith or am going to change what flag I choose to bare when it comes to having a favorite university in our great state. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a hell of a lot more loyal than that.

And I will continue to have faith that the university and its football program will find the right path again. That it will be led back to being a program that its fans can be proud of, that the state of Montana can be proud of. I have faith that all of this will be overcome.

I just don't know who will lead that charge or when it will begin to turn. I know it will be someday, and maybe someday, I'll sort my feelings out about this entire debacle and be ready to pass judgement one way or another.

I just can't do it right now.


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