Appreciating Mike Montgomery

He came from a small, under-the-radar school. He took a job everyone believed was impossible. He inherited a program that had posted two winning seasons in 19 years. The coach who preceded him left in a huff, claiming the admissions standards were too high.

But Mike Montgomery proved everyone wrong. He never had the best talent, never had the type of athleticism or quickness found on the top teams. But he built a national powerhouse at Stanford. Later, he resuscitated a moribund program at Cal.

Montgomery blended “old school” strategy—teamwork, high-percentage offense, smart, tough defense, and camaraderie—to achieve things no one thought possible at Stanford.

A Final Four berth. A number one ranking. Seventeen winning seasons in 18 years. Four conference championships. A 70% winning percentage. Eight first round draft picks.

Stanford had made a big splash in 1982 by hiring “Dr. Tom” Davis from Boston College. But after four undistinguished seasons, including only one winning record, Davis resigned, publicly blaming the admissions office for failing to admit recruits he felt could turn the basketball program around.

Montgomery was a relative unknown who’d won two-thirds of his games at Montana, but never advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The bigger names shied away from the Stanford job, feeling that if Davis couldn’t win and didn’t want it, then it must be impossible to succeed on the Farm.

They were mistaken.

The new coach was a masterful teacher and strategist. The Stanford players thrived in an intricate system that relied on five-player movement, cuts and screens, and creating favorable angles, rather than one-on-one isolation. They understood the “why” of what Montgomery was doing, and they were quite capable of executing the “how.”

Fortunately, Davis hadn’t left a bare cupboard behind. Todd Lichti, Eric Reveno and Howard Wright gave Montgomery a good nucleus to build on. He beat the best schools for Adam Keefe, then got lucky with diminutive point guard Brevin Knight, who’d been pursued only by Stanford and Manhattan but turned into one of the best players in the country.

Other future NBA players arrived—Mark Madsen, Casey Jacobsen, Josh Childress, Curtis Borchardt, the Collins twins. The wins, the conference titles, and the NCAA bids kept coming. Once dormant Maples Pavilion was transformed into one of the toughest places to play in the country.

Along with the victories, Montgomery also brought class and a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor to the Bay Area sports scene. Even after two forgettable seasons as head coach of the Golden State Warriors, he never blamed anyone else, admitted it “probably wasn’t a good fit” and resurfaced at Cal, where he promptly turned around the Golden Bears’ program.

Six straight winning seasons, the school’s first championship in half a century, and four NCAA bids later, he retired with one of the most successful resumes in college basketball history: 31 winning seasons in 32 years, 16 NCAA berths, six conference titles, 677 wins.

Always held in the highest esteem by his colleagues, Montgomery was named an assistant coach on the U.S. National team in 2002 and won the prestigious John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award in 2004. Two years ago he was inducted into the eleventh class of the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

He’s now doing some TV work for the Pac-12 network and serving on a national commission addressing the recent abuses in college basketball recruiting.

As we approach this year’s March Madness, it seemed an appropriate time to acknowledge and appreciate Mike Montgomery.

We were—and are—lucky to have him.

Attendance woes: Earlier we noted that attendance for the college football post-season was down 4% this year. The NCAA just released the final overall attendance numbers for the 2017-18 season, and it wasn't pretty. The average crowd was down 3.23% to 42,203, representing the largest per game drop in over three decades and the second largest decline in history.

Some of the factors impacting bowl attendance, per our previous post, are specific to the post-season—the national obsession with the playoff, the proliferation of bowl games, and the late team selection date that increases travel costs.

But the three most important factors in the overall decline involve technology, television, and convenience: 1) older fans are turned off by uncertain game times and late kickoffs as dictated by television; 2) many millennials prefer to watch on their devices and are more interested in highlight packages and “red zone” updates than watching four-hour games; and 3) the home viewing experience keeps getting better and better, while the costs associated with attending a game in person keep getting higher and higher.

And those problems aren’t going away anytime soon.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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