Tonight I attended the Missoula Sports Awards Banquet. Each year the area sporting community gets together and honors both high school athletes and coaches/administrators/volunteers in the Missoula athletic landscape. As is custom, the banquet always features a guest speaker who is well known both nationally and locally for his athletic pursuits.
This year the guest speaker was Mike Montgomery, the current head basketball coach at California. Besides winning tons of games right now for the Golden Bears, he has also held high profile head coaching jobs at Stanford and in the NBA for the Golden State Warriors. With such prominent jobs and massive success on his resume, many people might not know that he got his first head coaching job right here in Missoula coaching the Montana Grizzlies. Obviously, Mike fit the “national and local” criteria perfectly for serving as the guest speaker at the event.
This evening Coach Montgomery’s speech was entertaining, informative, candid, and humorous. As someone who very easily can zone in and out of long winded talks at the podium, I hung onto every word he spoke. The rich content of his speech combined with the confident and clear way he presented it had everyone devoting their undivided attention to him. For this post I just want to briefly go over the main items Montgomery touched on in hopes that I convey to all of you some of the interesting things he had to say tonight.
John Wooden: John Wooden is the undisputed king of all basketball coaches. To this day, coaches and players alike worship the ground he walked on and canonize him every chance they get. Coach Montgomery is no different. He started off his speech by saying how much Wooden meant to him and disclosed that he got to spend a fair amount of time with him during the twilight days of his life. “Monte” then shared the following quote from Wooden: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
Time at Montana: Mike Montgomery then talked about his days at Montana. He came to Missoula from Boise State to serve as an assistant coach. Jud Heathcote had just left the school and his longtime assistant, Jim Brandenburg, was elevated to head coach. Monte was the only assistant on the staff and when Brandenburg had health problems for most of the season, Montgomery was left running the team at just the age of 28. He got the head coaching job the following season but one of the stipulations was that he would serve as the Director of Basketball, mainly meaning that he had to hire the new women’s basketball coach.
Mike hired Robin Selvig, the most recognizable and successful man in the history of Grizzly Athletics. I never knew that Montgomery was behind Selvig’s hiring until tonight. At the banquet, Robin served as the Master of Ceremonies so there were many opportunities for the two to joke back and forth with each other. They had the room roaring in laughter as each man poked fun at the other’s expense. But towards the end of Montgomery’s speech, he specifically singled out Robin and called him one of the greatest men he knew.
Montgomery met his wife during his time in Missoula….while she was still a student at the University of Montana!! He said he didn’t think that would be allowed today. He talked about practicing in McGill Hall, working through one year contracts, and coaching some amazingly talented players. He also stressed how much FUN he had in Missoula, a couple times saying he probably had too much fun.
Picking a time to leave: Coach Montgomery talked about his philosophy on when to move on in the coaching world. He said that a coach should stay no more than 7-10 years at a school. He stated that after that time expires, there are just too many intangibles that can lead to your firing. Injuries, a bad season, changes in administration, unfortunate incidents, and other factors can all catch up to a coach. Monte said that it is always best to leave on your own power and then go someplace else where you can give yourself another 7-10 years.
He brought this point up to explain why he left Stanford. Although he came off of a wonderful 2004 season with the Cardinal, he felt he needed a change. He made mention that a new person came into the administration who wanted to implement even stricter admission standards than Stanford already had, thus making it very difficult for him to sign the players that he wanted to. He said he wanted a new challenge as well. So when Chris Mullin from the Golden State Warriors called with an attractive offer, Montgomery took it.
The NBA: Montgomery said that the NBA is full of entitled players. Although profitable, he said he didn’t make the best decision by entering the league. He said in college the coach is at the top of the totem pole and the players are underneath him but in the NBA that totem pole is switched around and the players are on top and the coach is at the bottom. He called the NBA a “player’s league.”
He said that most NBA coaches will never look at players when they come to the sideline after they are subbed out for fear of a tongue lashing or a nasty stare from that particular player. Montgomery said that Rick Carlisle would make a move to the center of the court and look away when he subbed someone out solely so the player could not “MF” him when going to the bench. He said that when players don’t feel like practicing they just won’t practice.
Baron Davis: During the end of Montgomery’s first season at Golden State, the team traded for Davis. Right away, Mike knew his days were probably numbered. He stated that while he coached at Stanford and Davis played at UCLA there was some friction that existed between the two men. When Baron got to Golden State, Montgomery could not bridge that friction.
Despite centering his whole offense around Davis and finishing the 2004-05 season strong, Montgomery never got the respect he needed from his player. Baron Davis decided to sit out the last 30 games of the 2005-06 season due to a sprained ankle. Mike was quick to point out that when he coached at Montana, our legendary trainer Naseby Rhinehart could have a player who suffered a sprained ankle back in playing mode two days later.
The most outrageous story came during the beginning of summer in 2006. Montgomery approached Baron and asked if the two could sit down and hash out differences. Baron told him that “his guy” would get back to him. The next day “his guy” approached Montgomery and told him that Davis was all booked up for the summer and would not be able to meet. Nope, Davis could not even devote ten minutes of his time during the whole summer to talk to his coach. Montgomery was fired in late August.
Future of College Athletics: Monte did not sound too optimistic about the future of the NCAA. He simply said that major institutions are driven solely by money. He said there is an imbalance of goals between the people running the NCAA and its committees (intellectuals focused on academics from smaller institutions) in relation to the large, influential major universities. The people focused on academics from the smaller universities simply don’t understand the millions and millions of dollars available to these large schools. Montgomery foresees the growth of power conferences with many more schools joining the major football conferences already in existence.
He also blasted the one and done rule in college basketball. He referred to it as a “sham” multiple times. He says many of the top players go to college for no reason other than to get eligible for the NBA draft. He says these players barely stay afloat during the first semester so they are eligible and then completely check out during the second semester, giving up on anything school related. He said he favors the role implemented currently in college baseball where you can declare for the draft out of high school but if you go to college you owe that institution three years.
On Montana’s Loss to Syracuse: After giving some good-natured ribbing about the lopsided loss to Coach Tinkle who was in attendance, Montgomery got a little more serious. He said that Syracuse had one of the best defenses he had ever seen. He said that throughout the whole tournament he thought that the opposing team Syracuse was playing might have a chance only to see that chance completely extinguished once the game tipped off and the team’s offense was completely shut down.
Ending Message: Mike Montgomery concluded his speech by asking everyone in attendance to be thankful for the opportunity to live in Missoula. He called his time in this city ten of the best years of his life. He apologized for not knowing exactly what to talk about during his address. After paying tribute to Coach Selvig he ended his speech the same way he started it, with a quote from John Wooden: “You can’t live a perfect day until you do something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”