Spring 2001

Political Prodigy

Championship Game

Not Your Average Joe

I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain

Back Roads Fever


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Not Your Average Joe
by Cary Shimek

"To me there is nothing better than humility and a tough, strong, humble person. Let your actions on the field do the talking." —Joe Glenn
A maxim Joe Glenn uses in coaching is "make them feel good and they will produce." That may be why people are drawn to the charismatic coach. He makes them feel good about themselves and sometimes even good about life, too.

But Mr. Up was feeling down at halftime of the December 16 I-AA national championship game in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His Griz were losing 20-3 against the Georgia Southern Eagles on a cold, rainy field. His starting senior quarterback had been knocked from the game with a bum knee. His offense was stuck in the mud.

"We came in very humbled at halftime," Glenn says. "We were hurting, wondering, 'What the heck?'" But Glenn's glass-is-half-full nature quickly reasserted itself, and he proceeded to pull off his best trick of the 2000 season — convincing first himself and then his players that they could still win the match, even against the powerhouse defending national champions.

"I had to clean my act up," Glenn says. "So I started writing things on the board. One was to get more positive, like with our attitudes on the sidelines. Me, too." As the team regrouped, the coach wrote other things the team needed to accomplish: The defense needs to get a couple turnovers. They need to score on special teams.

"Just about everything I wrote on that board came to fruition in the second half," he says, "but I just wish I would have put at the bottom, 'We need to win.'"

The 2000 Griz were no strangers to adversity. They started the season flat, losing their home opener 10-9 against Hofstra. But then the offensive floodgates opened, despite a multitude of injuries, and the Griz reeled off thirteen hard-fought victories in a row, including a 28-3 bombing of the Montana State Bobcats in the 100th Griz-Cat game. In the playoffs they knocked off Eastern Illinois 45-13 and Richmond 34-20, only to wind up in a real dogfight against Appalachian State, a team that finally submitted 19-16 in overtime. Video of senior receiver Jimmy Farris making an almost impossible winning catch and being carried around by jubilant fans made all the networks.

People say wounded grizzlies are the most dangerous, and that's exactly how the 2000 squad played the second half of the championship game. The defense came out growling, allowing the Eagles only 72 total yards of offense the rest of the game. The offense also heated up, stealing the momentum by scoring 20 unanswered points for a 23-20 fourth-quarter Griz lead.

The comeback in the national championship game was a great moment in Griz football history. But the lead evaporated when GSU running back Adrian Peterson rambled 57 yards for a score. After that the Griz had their chances, but when the clock ran out in rainy Chattanooga, UM was on the wrong end of a 27-25 score.

Glenn's crestfallen face after the game said it all. With an overall record of 132-55-1 as a head coach and two national championships under his belt, he's not accustomed to losing.

"You try to look at the whole season and be proud, and that's what we talked to the kids about," Glenn said. "Time will heal this feeling that we have right now, I said, and when you look back five to ten years from now, you'll see we had one of the best teams this school ever had. We did a great job. But we played a great football team and lost by 2 points."

Glenn grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, a middle child among eleven brothers and sisters. Times were tough, especially when his father contracted Parkinson's disease and his mother was forced to work outside the home. Glenn says lean living and the need to support one another brought the family together. His childhood had a big impact on his coaching style: He speaks of creating a big family when forging a winning team chemistry and culture.

Football quickly became a vehicle for the future coach. In high school, a 155-pound Glenn quarterbacked an undefeated team under coach Vince Aldridge. Glenn says he learned a lot from Aldridge, who had a knack for making kids feel good about themselves — helping them believe they could succeed on the field, teaching them the worth of being the "good guy."

Glenn played college ball at the University of South Dakota. "I was such a great quarterback my first three years there that they moved me to wide receiver my senior year," he laughs, "where I broke a school record for yards receiving in a season, even though I was slow."

Halfway through college Glenn realized football was his life and that he would go into coaching. After graduation and a military stint, he coached at various universities. In 1980, the man who recruited him to play at South Dakota, Larry Donovan, became head coach at UM and asked Glenn to come along for the ride.

Glenn says things started out well — they won the Big Sky Conference championship in '82 — but then there were some losing seasons, and Donovan and his staff were fired. "We had just built a new stadium here, and we were going to play in it," Glenn says. "I thought our staff was working hard and would get one more year. Anyway, I was just devastated and hurt for the families involved in that, and I got out of coaching."

Glenn stayed in Missoula for a year, selling beer and wine for Zip Beverage. It seemed his coaching days might be over, but then a neighborhood kid came to his door, asking him to help out with his Little Grizzly football team, the Burger King Falcons. At first Glenn said no — he'd promised his wife that he'd spend more time with his own kids. "But then she looked at me and said, 'Get out of here,' and I grabbed my hat, whistle and clipboard and practice was right away that night."

A picture of the Burger King Falcons still adorns Glenn's office. That experience rekindled his love for the game, and his family soon moved for an assistant coaching job at Northern Colorado. It was a good match: After two years Glenn was promoted to head coach, and in eleven straight winning seasons his teams went to the playoffs seven times and captured two Division II national championships. Glenn became so popular that university administrators in Greeley joked that he could be elected mayor without running an ad.

In December 1999 UM head football coach Mick Dennehy resigned to take a job as head coach at Utah State and Glenn landed a job at UM. He returned to Missoula ready to expunge the bad memories of the past and craft another winning tradition.

Glenn says one key to a successful football program is having a coaching staff that clicks. Assistant head coach Mike Breske says of Glenn, "He's the best boss a coach could have. I've been fortunate to have worked with him for fourteen years. He lets his coaches coach, and that's what makes this fun."

Glenn's winning ways during the 2000 campaign garnered him the Eddie Robinson Award, given to the best coach in I-AA. After the season he also was offered a coaching position with the Detroit Lions. Griz fans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when Glenn decided he had unfinished business in Missoula.

Glenn has been wholeheartedly embraced by the UM and Montana communities. "He has been able to accomplish a lot on and off the field," says athletics director Wayne Hogan. "A head coach in Division I has to know more than X's and O's. He has to know the whole package, from fund raising to charity to media appearances. We hired him because you can't help but like the guy — he has that gift for making people feel important and has tremendous recall for names. He meets people well and is just a very genuine person."

Glenn says he's not a screamer as a coach — more of a motivator. He's even worked as a motivational speaker. "I tell my players to play hard, no talk, just do your job, help the other guy up, but play your ass off," he says. "To me there is nothing better than humility and a tough, strong, humble person. Let your actions on the field do the talking."

One of the strongest, toughest players to play for the 2000 Griz was Andy Petek, an All-American defensive end. Petek says, "Coach Glenn was tremendous — my best coach ever. He knew how to get you ready for a game, and he made the season fun. Even if we would have been 5-5, he would have made it fun."

Glenn has many tricks to motivate his players. But he isn't prone to heated pre-game speeches with a lot of war analogies. He'll tell his athletes inspirational stories or sing with them at pep rallies, playing the piano. (His keyboard teacher was an older brother who's in the Nebraska Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.) His frequent playing in public has earned him the nickname "Piano Joe." He sees a piano and he can't resist taking a seat and pounding out a song or two.

After practice in Tennessee before the national championship, Glenn sang a few bars of "Chattanooga Choo-Choo." Then he told his 2000 Griz, winners of thirteen straight, "You know how I feel — be courteous to people and kill them with kindness. This good guy thing is working."

Cary Shimek, a news editor for University Relations, makes this gutsy prediction: The Griz will play in another national championship game within two seasons.


©2001 The University of Montana