A revival of sorts is taking place in Utah State football. In the last three years, USU has drawn three of the top five season attendance marks in school history, proving that the Aggie faithful are supporting the program. Throw in the fact that USU will be playing in a conference for the first time in three years and everything is headed the right direction for Aggie football.
The man in charge of the program in this exciting time of turnaround is Mick Dennehy, who enters his fourth year in Logan. In three years, he has set a solid foundation for success both on and off the field for this football program. This new era in Utah State University football began on Dec. 3, 1999 when the University hired a head football coach known for explosive offenses and an impeccable record both on and off the field. Mick Dennehy, a highly successful head coach at Montana from 1996-99, became the 24th head coach in Utah State University and in his first season at the Aggie helm in 2000 showed why the Aggie football program is in good hands. Dennehy (pronounced Den-uh-hee) replaced Dave Arslanian, who led USU to a 7-15 record in two seasons.
"We need to win some fans back with an exciting brand of winning football," said USU director of athletics Rance Pugmire on the day Dennehy was hired.
USU started to win the fans back as the Aggies averaged 19,910 fans per game for the then third best home average (now fifth) in school history his first season. In 2001 the Aggies set a school attendance mark averaging 21,784 fans without the benefit of hosting BYU or Utah. In 2002, USU reached the 21,000-mark for just the third time in school history with a 21,112 average.
Dennehy's first team won five games for the most victories by an Aggie team since 1997 and despite being picked to finish fifth in the Big West Conference in the preseason polls, USU's final league game against Boise State was for the conference championship.
USU produced three of the top-10 total offense days in school history in his inagural year here and the defense landed three linebackers and the only freshman on the all-Big West Conference first team.
Facing a difficult task as an independent in 2001 and 2002, Dennehy's teams showed a never-say-die attitude, posting strong results late in each of those years. In 2001 after opening the year with five straight losses, including four to future bowl teams, the Aggies ran off four straight wins. In 2002, USU put together a 3-1 streak after suffering a heart-breaking 35-34 loss to BYU.
Dennehy, who came to USU known for producing a high-powered, wide-open passing offensive attack, led Montana to three Big Sky Championships in his four years as head coach with a runner-up finish in 1997. The Grizzlies advanced to the Division I-AA playoffs in each of his four years and finished as the national runner-up in 1996. Dennehy was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson award in 1999, which is given to the Division I-AA Coach of the Year and built a 39-12 record for a 76.5 winning percentage in his four years, including a 27-5 (84.4 percent) conference mark. In 1999, Montana went 9-3 overall with a 7-1 mark in Big Sky play to claim the league title and finished the year ranked seventh in the country. The Grizzlies lost in the first round of the I-AA playoffs 30-27 to Youngstown State on Nov. 27. Montana's offenses with Dennehy as the offensive coordinator or head coach were among the most productive at the Division I-AA level and were consistently ranked among the national leaders, leading the country in total offense, passing offense and scoring offense in 1995, as well as in passing offense in 1993 and 1996.
In fact, Montana ranked in the top four in the country in passing offense in all nine of Dennehy's years at Montana and was in the top five in scoring and total offense in five of his last seven years.
Montana was ranked second in Division I-AA in passing offense (370.0 per game), total offense (517.4) and scoring offense (46.4) in 1999. The 1999 team led the Big Sky in scoring offense and scoring defense (23.1), marking the first time one school led the league in both categories since Idaho State in 1981. The Grizzlies also led the league in total offense and total defense (348.5) marking just the third time one school led in scoring offense, total offense, scoring, and total defense in the same season.
"Montana has had a model program and has dominated its league for years," Pugmire said when he hired Dennehy. "Mick has been at the heart of that success and we are fortunate to attract a coach of his caliber to Utah State University. I remember my many years at Idaho watching what seemed to be an unstoppable offense.
"As we checked references, it became very clear that not only would this be a great catch for Utah State, but this hire would be a great fit for the community."
Academics have also been very important for the Montana football program as the school produced 13 academic All-Americans, including 12 selections in Dennehy's tenure. Dennehy has had 55 of his 60 seniors earn a degree as well. Montana ranked first or second in the Big Sky in football academic all-league selections in 12 of the last 13 years. In addition, in 1999 Montana had four players earn GTE Academic all-district honors.
That attention to academics has continued at USU as the Aggies have had several players earn all-district honors for their academic achievements.
During his career at Montana, which included serving as the team's offensive coordinator and offensive line coach from 1991-95, UM won five league titles and advanced to the national playoffs seven consecutive times. Montana won the national championship in `95 and was runner-up in his inaugural season as the head coach in `96. Montana advanced to seven straight I-AA playoff appearances, the longest streak of any team in the `90s and the team's 93 wins in the `90s were third best in I-AA trailing only Youngstown State (101) and Dayton (98).
While serving as Montana's head coach for four years Dennehy saw 21 of his players named first-team all-Big Sky, with another 30 being tabbed during his five years as an assistant coach.
Prior to returning to his alma mater (he graduated from Montana in 1973 with a bachelor's degree in education) as an assistant ahead of the 1991 season, Dennehy was head coach at Colton (Wash.) HS from 1975-78, head coach at Helena (Mont.) HS from 1979-81, assistant coach at Montana State from 1980-81, head coach at Campbell County (Gillette, Wyo.) HS from 1982-87 and head coach at Western Montana, a NAIA school in Dillon, Mont. from 1988-90.
At Western Montana, he took over a program that had dropped football in 1987 and posted a 1-6 record in 1988. In 1989 the team improved to 4-4 and in 1990 went 5-3 under his guidance.
Dennehy played safety at Montana from 1971-72 and earned first-team all-Big Sky Conference honors in 1972. He is tied for second on the Big Sky single-season interceptions list with 10 pickoffs in 1972 and is tied for ninth in career interceptions with 16. He also earned the Golden Helmet Award his senior year as the hardest hitter on the team.
Dennehy, who was born June 13, 1950 in Butte, Mont., and his wife Sheila, have two sons: Jake, a four-year letterman at safety for Montana from 1994-97 and Mark, a former Grizzlies wide receiver from 1996-97.
In addition to his bachelor's degree from Montana, Dennehy earned a master's degree in educational administration from Washington State in 1977.