Delaney in a photo from the 1969
Aug. 29, 2012
The University of Montana was in need of a coach with a strong reputation and the respect of the student-athletes. Mick Delaney was there to take the helm. The story sounds familiar, but this isn't 2012. This is 1968, and the sport that needed leadership wasn't football.
Delaney's first head job was over the Grizzly wrestling program.
In the fall of 1968 Delaney was a graduate assistant under legendary Griz football coach Jack Swarthout. The wrestling program didn't have any scholarships and practiced in a small, dingy room with support beams in the middle of the mats.
The wrestlers themselves were a rag-tag bunch made up mostly of football players who had wrestled in high school and wanted to stay busy into the winter.
Delaney was one in a line of single-year head coaches, most of which were football graduate assistants.
"I came to coach under Jack, after football season was over the previous coach had left and I was asked to come in and help out," Delaney said. "I wasn't the most suited to coach but I was brought in mainly to manage the program."
Delaney did not wrestle in high school and had just a couple of years of high school coaching experience in that sport.
"In all honesty the guys I was `coaching' knew much more about wrestling than I did," Delaney said. "I didn't wrestle in high school but at that time in Montana when you were the high school football coach you were also the wrestling coach, so I had a little experience at Butte High and Beaverhead High (Dillon)."
Rick Sparks was one of the athletes that both wrestled and played football under Delaney. Sparks was in his senior season and had just finished his football career. He admittedly didn't have the best attitude about school or wrestling.
"Mick was typical of a Butte wrestling coach in those days, tough as nails and worked your butt off," Sparks said. "Technique-wise he wasn't able to teach us a lot, but he was fair and had a positive attitude. He was also extremely patient with us."
Delaney and Sparks both recognized the interesting dynamic of such a young inexperienced coach at the helm.
"It wasn't a typical coach-athlete relationship," Sparks said. "We were pretty close in age and we were both from Butte so we had a pretty good understanding of each other."
"I really wasn't much older than the guys, but it was a ton of fun," Delaney said. "We weren't a great wresting team by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a great experience and I learned a lot."
The team struggled early. The first dual of the season was a 39-0 shutout by the eventual the Big Sky Conference champs Idaho State. The Griz then placed seventh out of eight teams at the Boise Junior College (now Boise State) tournament.
Their second dual of the year was a 23-13 loss to Eastern Montana (now MSU Billings).
The Grizzlies closed out the year on an upswing, winning their last two duals with a tight 18-17 win over Idaho and a 23-13 victory over Eastern Washington.
The Griz placed fourth out of six teams in the Big Sky tournament. Idaho State scored 113 points to win the championship. Montana State was a distant second with 67 points, the Grizzlies scored just 36 but Thomas Cooper and Douglas Robbins both took second place.
That was the lone year as head wrestling coach at the college level. Delaney would go on to coach high school and for a while he owned a restaurant in his hometown of Butte. He returned to coaching at Western Montana, then to Colorado State under coach Sonny Lubick in 1993. Bobby Hauck brought him back to Montana in 2007 to coach the running backs. After a long career he retired this spring. It didn't last long.
Just months into retirement and 43 years after his first head coaching stint at Montana, Delaney got the call again. This time it was the Grizzlies' football program that was in need of a man with a strong reputation.
"I never thought about it but what happened with the wrestling program is really a lot alike the situation with football this year," Delaney said. "I guess if you stick around long enough they'll put you to work."
Sparks knows that when the Griz players take the field this Saturday against South Dakota and Joe Glenn they will be in good hands.
"He is a good friend and I have the utmost respect for him as a person," Sparks said. "Under the situation I think Mick is the kind of guy needed right now. He is nothing but a 100 percent class guy; they couldn't have made a better choice."
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