Bill Speltz: With Jeff Choate staying, Bobby Hauck has his big chance

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MISSOULA — The older you get, the better your perspective when it comes to major sporting events.

That’s been my experience after almost four decades of covering athletics and five decades watching them.

There was a time 30 years ago when I actually threw my glasses at the TV in a fit of rage watching baseball playoffs. Who throws their glasses at the TV? You might as well punch yourself in the eye because you get the same result — visual impairment.

Life is different now. I can sit back, relax and even laugh at sports sometimes, especially when it comes to self-important college football announcers — yes, I’m looking at you Kirk Herbstreit — who love to prop up every play like it’s the Battle of the Bulge.

And yet, after all these years and all my experiences, I still get caught up in the emotion of sports. Especially the Brawl of the Wild football rivalry, which will hopefully return in November. 

Last week, when Montana State football coach Jeff Choate was flirting with Boise State and reportedly close to landing the job, I made the mistake of looking at nasty reader comments on one of our MSU online stories. Big mistake because nasty, anonymous comments are like downing a shot of whisky when you’re out drinking beer with your buddies. Nothing but trouble.

The comment was about Montana football coach Bobby Hauck. The gist of it was that Hauck “might actually have a chance to beat the Bobcats” if Choate left for Boise State.

Let’s take a step back and look at this short Choate-Hauck rivalry for what it is. Pretend for a moment you grew up in another state like me and you’re able to view things objectively.

Back in 2018, in Hauck’s first season in his second stint with the Grizzlies, Choate was fortunate to escape Missoula with a win. Cat fans remember the drama of the closing seconds as the Timeout (Choate’s) Heard ‘Round The World followed by a crushing fumble by Montana.

Phooey. More like the Do-Over Heard ‘Round The World after UM scored what should have been the game-winning touchdown. There’s not supposed to be do-overs in sports, folks. Not after your 10th birthday anyway.

Bobcat fans are going to come at me with sharpened claws for that comment. They’ll remind me of the most recent duel between the Griz and Cats, in 2019, when Montana State blew Montana’s doors off in Bozeman.

You got me on that one. Bobby did manage to get his team into the FCS quarterfinals that year, but so much of how Hauck and Choate are viewed in the Treasure State is based on the Brawl of the Wild.

And I love it.

Now that Choate is staying, Bobcat fans figure that’s bad news for a Griz team he’s beaten four years in a row. But don’t go erecting that statue outside the stadium quite yet.

Hauck needed a couple years to get his horses in place. I’m not talking quarter horses like the ones that played wide receiver and recently left the Grizzlies for greener pastures on the FBS level. I’m talking Clydesdales — the kind Hauck made a recruiting priority back in his first stint with Montana, helping him create an FCS dynasty.

Neither Hauck nor Choate are above winning with the forward pass, mind you, but both enjoy punching you in the mouth with their run games. Choate had his ground attack in place the two times he beat Bobby. Now I’m quite certain Bobby has his in place.

Knowing what I do about Hauck, my guess is he’s happy to see Choate sticking around. Had Choate left for Boise with a perfect record against the Grizzlies, his local legend would have been cast in stone.

He didn’t get the job in Boise. Now Hauck, who did land a head coaching job on the FBS level at UNLV in 2009, has his chance to knock Choate down a peg.

In 15 years of covering the Brawl, I can’t remember a time when I looked forward to the game more than 2021. I’m assuming it will be in Missoula, unless the lost 2020 season cost the Griz their rightful homefield advantage for the next showdown.

Choate versus Hauck, Round III. Arguably the best coaching match-up in the history of the rivalry.

What a wild scene it will be.

Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 15 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.