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Dennison defends Hauck, recruiting methods in wake of University of Montana turmoil


University of Montana football coach Bobby Hauck is a strong disciplinarian and is not to blame for the recent spate of negative news surrounding Grizzly players, UM President George Dennison said Wednesday.

“I think he’s been doing a good job,” said Dennison, who returned to Missoula Tuesday after two weeks of vacation and university business. “As I understand it from the police here in Missoula, they believe that the regime has been very good for the last four years and that Coach Hauck has been very willing to deal with all the situations that are reported to him. If there is one thing that Hauck is known for, it’s as a disciplinarian.”

The Grizzly football program has been under scrutiny following allegations that cornerback James Leon “Jimmy” Wilson, 20, killed a man in Southern California.

Wilson turned himself in to Los Angeles authorities on June 12. He was charged with murder in Los Angeles County Superior Court in the June 2 shooting death of Kevin Smoot, 29, at the Smoot home in Lancaster, Calif. Wilson remains in custody on $2 million bail.

California authorities say UM backup cornerback Qwenton Freeman witnessed the shooting and has refused to answer their questions.

Freeman, 22, was arrested in downtown Missoula early Sunday for alleged disorderly conduct.

Police say he threw a beer bottle at a man standing outside Stockman’s Bar. He pleaded not guilty Monday in Missoula Municipal Court. Freeman also has two outstanding warrants for his arrest from Arizona, the Missoulian reported.

Both Freeman and Wilson have been dismissed from the Grizzly football team, sports information director Dave Guffey said.

On Wednesday, Dennison voiced confidence in UM’s recruitment policies, saying it’s in the school’s best interest to recruit athletes who exhibit strong academic talent and can help UM boost its graduation rates.

“We don’t want to recruit somebody who is not going to make it,” he said. “I just think that we’ve got to make certain that we are enforcing all of these policies and procedures.”

He added that the university’s athletic program is planning to strengthen its mentoring program, including possibly pairing student athletes with police officers to improve their relationships with the community.

“Maybe we’ve got to do a little more,” Dennison said. “It is an important concern.”

Regarding Hauck, Dennison said: “I’m satisfied with him. I don’t think anyone could have foreseen what happened in California. What’s important is how you respond to it.”

Dennison said Hauck was unaware of Freeman’s legal troubles when Freeman transferred to UM from the University of Arizona, where he failed to make the Wildcats’ roster.

“He pressed as hard as he could and relied on professionals for information,” Dennison said.

Wilson came to UM fresh out of high school, and coaches found no indication of criminal involvement, Dennison said.

The coaching staff experienced “minor difficulties” with Wilson’s behavior in Missoula, but those problems were thought to be corrected, Dennison said.

After the alleged shooting, Wilson returned to Missoula for team training but didn’t let coaches know of the investigation in California, Dennison said. He then went back to California to turn himself in.

“He left a text message with coach Hauck that said he had to deal with family business,” Dennison said.

Los Angeles sheriff’s detectives who visited Missoula last week as part of the investigation complained that the football players were not cooperative.

Dennison said the players were told to cooperate.

“They (Hauck and staff) assured me that the players were told to provide all information they have but not to deal with rumors,” said Dennison, who added that Freeman was advised by his attorney not to talk to police about the case.

Dennison said he has received no complaints about Hauck’s recruiting methods but some callers have accused the university of recruiting “thugs” for its sports programs.

“I resent that,” he said. “It’s a terrible slam against the other students who represent us quite well. We recruit the people who will graduate and do graduate.”

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