University of Montana President Royce Engstrom announced on March 29 in a campus-wide email that UM would not be renewing the contracts of Athletic Director Jim O’Day and Head Football Coach Robin Pflugrad.
“We thank Jim and Robin for their dedicated service to the University, and we wish them the best,” Engstrom stated in his four-sentence email. The statement gave no justification for the firings.
Missoula television station KPAX reported that the UM Athletic Department told O’Day and Pflugrad the department was in need of “a change in leadership” during their meeting with Engstrom. UM Vice President Jim Foley also announced to KPAX that UM will not be holding a press conference or issuing any additional statements about the situation.
O’Day has served as athletic director since 2005, while Pflugrad, this season’s Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year, began as head coach in late 2009.
The event has left some members of the Missoula community both shocked and skeptical.
“It’s hard for me not to think that it doesn’t surround the issues that we as a campus have been struggling with this semester,” Associated Students of the University of Montana President Jen Gursky told UM’s student newspaper, the Montana Kaimin.
According to the Kaimin, the “issues” Gursky referred to were the sexual assault cases that began surrounding UM in December, some of which involved UM football players. The university has been criticized for the way it handled the cases.
“As student athletes of this university, we are left without an answer as to why our two leaders, Coach Pflugrad and Jim O'Day, are gone,” the UM football team stated in a recent letter to the community. “These events have left us disappointed, saddened and stunned.”
Gursky also expressed her frustration, telling the Kaimin, “I would hope that the administration crafts a response that allows students knowledge of what is going on.”
Engstrom also announced the individuals who will be filling the positions, selecting Jean Gee to take over as athletic director and former Associate Head Coach Mick Delaney to serve as interim head football coach.