By ERIC TABER
Forty-two years is a long time to hone a craft and become the best at something, and for many, a career can pass without a capstone achievement.
Earlier this week, the National College Basketball Hall of Fame announced that former Montana head basketball Coach Mike Montgomery’s forty two years of coaching have been enough to earn a place as one of the all-time greats, putting a capstone on a career that produced over 670 wins at Montana and beyond.
In November, Montgomery will be inducted into the National Association of College Basketball’s (NACB’s) Hall of Fame, the second coach in Montana’s storied coaching lineage to be enshrined in Kansas City behind Jud Heathcote.
“I was really honored,” said Coach Montgomery upon learning of his induction.
“When you’ve been in this business as long as I have you kind of think that maybe someday something might happen good for you,” he added. “For a little old guy that wasn’t a very good basketball player from Long Beach, it’s a good deal.”
Montgomery came to Montanan from Boise State as an assistant under head coach Jim Brandenburg, and was later hired as Montana’s next head coach in 1978, embarking on a storied career that would see him turn Stanford and Cal into Pac-12 powers.
Looking back, “Monty” thinks of his time in Missoula fondly, a place that helped get him to where he is today, after taking over for former Montana head coach Jim Brandenburg.
“It was the whole deal,” he says in relating his time at UM to his career.
“The best thing that probably ever happened to me was when he (Brandenburg) told me he wanted me to do the post game radio. So, I went up there with (former Montana play-by-play announcer “Grizzly” Bill) Schwanke, and he’d ask me a bunch of questions. I was young, naive, and probably in some ways brash, I don’t know if that’s the right word, but I’d just answer them.
“I didn’t know about political correctness or anything. If we played bad, I said we played bad. I really think that was why I got the job because people listening and administration might have said: ‘hey, this guy kind of knows what he’s talking about.’ It was a lot of fun.”
Winning is fun, and Montgomery did plenty of it at Montana, tallying 155 wins in eight seasons as a Grizzly, including four-straight 20-plus win seasons, and eight-straight trips to the Big Sky Championship tournament.
There was no real secret to his success at Montana, except for hard work, and some talented players.
“We spent a lot of time on the practice floor. I had guys, former players like Krysko (Larry Krystkowiak), just roll their eyes and say ‘geez Monty, we were out there for three and a half hours’. But details were important, fundamentals were important, toughness was important and I think there’s a place for that.”
When opportunity in the (then) Pac-10 knocked, Montgomery walked through the open door to Stanford, transforming the Cardinal into a contender, and after just three seasons, leading them back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1942.
While at Stanford, Montgomery extended a branch of the Montana coaching tree, hiring former Griz head coach Blaine Taylor in 1998 as an assistant with the Cardinal, who himself would move on to be a head coach at Old Dominion.
After an 18 year run at Stanford from 1986 to 2004, Monty then tried his hand in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors, before returning to the college ranks and taking the head coach job at the University of California in 2008.
Upon taking the head job at Cal, Montgomery again reached out for another branch in the Montana coaching tree, hiring one of Taylor’s assistants from Old Dominion, former Grizzly guard Travis DeCuire.
“It’s pretty amazing really. You can always look at Montana like the way people look at Miami of Ohio in terms of cradle of coaching. There have just been so many guys that have come through there and had success,” said Montgomery of Montana’s coaching tree.
Fast-forward to 2014, and the circle of Montana basketball coaches became complete once again when DeCuire was hired to lead the Grizzlies.
“Travis is very good,” says Montgomery. “He’s very thorough. He’s great with kids. I think that Montana situation is perfect for him. It’s a great community that supports its sports teams.”
With Montgomery as a mentor, DeCuire looks back at their time working together at Cal, having an insiders perspective on the amount of preparation, dedication and organization that led to a Hall of Fame nomination, and only has one reaction.
“It’s about time,” says DeCuire with a smile. “He started from the ground up. So to see him end his career on his terms is huge.
“I think he’s an example of hard work. He’s an example of commitment to being successful – not only his own success, but the people around him – and I’m just fortunate to be a part of it. I’m very excited for him.”
In retirement, Montgomery keeps himself busy doing broadcasting work for the Pac-12 networks and Westwood-One radio. A coach with that much experience can offer a lot of insight to a broadcast after all.
Much has been written about Montana’s coaching tree, and beyond the Bay Area and Missoula it still thrives. This season alone Wayne Tinkle led Oregon State to the NCAA Tournament in just his second year, and Larry Krystkowiak also let the Utah Utes to the NCAA tourney and the Pac-12 championship game.
As a broadcaster, Montgomery gets to see the UM coaching tree in action, and gets to see that it’s as close-knit as ever.
“You can still see things. When you watch Larry’s team you’ll still see things that we did and you’ll see it at practice. Sometimes I’ll go to practice and you hear the terminology and kind of chuckle that they remember some of those things, and he laughs about it.”
But back in Missoula, Monty’s legacy will live on as Montana’s second Hall of Fame coach. Not many programs can say they’ve had a single Hall of Fame Coach. The Griz can boast two, and for Coach DeCuire and future Grizzlies, that fact speaks volumes about the program.
“It’s another stamp in our tradition and what we stand for,” says DeCuire. “It’s huge for Montana basketball because this is where he began in terms of his head coaching experience. So as we continue to tell stories about who we are, who we’ve worked for, who we’ve worked with, it gives us a lot to talk about, and it’s just one more piece of the success.”