Posted: 11:03 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012

Former Miami coach reflects on his time in Oxford


Former Miami coach reflects on his time in Oxford photo
Shane Montgomery

By Rick Cassano


He is surrounded by success now, and it is joyful. Shane Montgomery is happy and content coaching football at Youngstown State University.

Oxford is a long way from Youngstown, yet Miami University is never all that far from his mind.

Montgomery spent eight years at MU. He made lasting friendships. It’s the only place he’s ever been a head coach. And he got forced out after compiling one of the worst records in school history.

“It’s not the way I wanted it to end,” said Montgomery, sitting for an interview last weekend minutes from his Akron home. “But if you’re in coaching long enough, things like that happen. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself because I realized I’m not the only coach that’s ever been fired, and I’m not going to be the last. Some things happen like that for a reason.”

He was the RedHawks’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for four seasons (2001-04). He followed Terry Hoeppner as head coach the next four seasons and won two Mid-American Conference East Division titles, yet had a 17-31 record.

No Miami head coach with more than a year at the helm has a worse winning percentage than his .354.

It stings a bit as the 45-year-old Montgomery thinks about it now. He knows there are things that could’ve been done differently. But he also knows he gave his heart and soul to the program, and that makes the bottom line a little easier to accept.

“I hate that we weren’t able to have the success that we wanted and that the Miami community deserved,” Montgomery said. “We felt like we let them down. It was a tough ending, but I know I’m a better coach and person because of it.”

He was 37 years old and became the youngest Division I-A head coach in the country when MU Athletic Director Brad Bates announced his promotion prior to the 2004 Independence Bowl.

Montgomery’s offense was very successful during his days as offensive coordinator, and he was very appreciative of Bates for giving him the opportunity to be head coach. He still is.

The RedHawks were 7-4 and MAC East tri-champions in his first season. A 2-10 record followed in 2006. There was a 6-7 mark and another East tri-championship in 2007, plus a 35-10 loss to Central Michigan in the MAC title game.

In 2008, Montgomery’s squad lost its last five games and finished 2-10.

Some things were beyond his control. Injuries were rampant during his tenure.

“We lost a lot of great seniors off the ’05 team and went with a really young team in ’06, and we felt like we had a lot coming back in ’07 to be successful, but we had a ton of injuries,” Montgomery said. “We went through a spell between ’06 and ’07 where I think we put 12 kids on medical hardships that could no longer play football, and most were linemen, kids that we really felt good about in the future. Probably the biggest disappointment was at the end of ’07, not going to a bowl game.

“The ’08 season was heartbreaking. We didn’t play well against Vanderbilt in the opener, and we felt that was a huge game. We didn’t play well in the league, and the league was pretty good that year. When I look back at that year, you’ve got to make sure your offense and defense complement each other. We weren’t in sync all year, for a lot of different reasons. That was disappointing because I thought we had a chance to be a pretty good football team with a lot of people back.”

His final season included his final victory, a 27-20 triumph at Bowling Green. Miami was just 2-5 at the time, but was still alive in the MAC East race.

“And we came home and really laid an egg against Kent State,” Montgomery recalled. “We were up I want to say 7-3, and the next thing you know we turn the ball over four straight times and it’s 31-7 at the half, and it just got out of hand. I don’t know if we lost confidence, but we weren’t the same team after that game.”

The final score was 54-21. The RedHawks then lost to Buffalo (37-17), Ball State (31-16), Toledo (42-14) and Ohio (41-26). The last game was an afternoon affair at Yager Stadium.

Montgomery didn’t think it was his last game at Miami. He knew that was a possibility, but he was quoted after the game saying the 2009 season “starts Sunday with a team meeting.”

“I ran into (Ohio coach) Frank Solich going into my press conference,” Montgomery said. “He was very nice and said, ‘I hope you get to stay.’ I remember saying, ‘I don’t know, Frank. I don’t know.’ ”

Montgomery was gone the next day.

“I had been set to meet with the AD (and deputy AD Jason Lener) the next morning. That had been set up for a while,” Montgomery said. “They were very good about it. They told me as soon as I walked in. I think it was the first thing out of their mouths: We’re not going to renew your contract. I thanked them for the opportunity and just said I’ll resign.

“I remember thinking at that time, half of me wishes I would’ve known the day before, so maybe I could enjoy that last game with the team. The other half doesn’t want to know. I don’t know how I would’ve felt about that.”

Montgomery does have some regrets about things he could’ve controlled. He continued to call the offense when he became head coach and felt things became “stale” on that side of the ball.

“I hate to admit it, but we weren’t real creative on offense,” Montgomery said. “Looking back, we weren’t as creative as we needed to be because we weren’t physically better than people at that point.”

Did he become more conservative as head coach?

“Could be. I think that happens sometimes when you’re overseeing the big picture,” Montgomery said. “The other thing was I felt like, especially in ’07, we were really good on defense. Sometimes when you’re really good on defense, maybe you have a tendency to be a little more conservative because you have confidence in that side of the ball.”

Another thing he had control over was discipline. Montgomery said most of the kids he coached at Miami were high-quality people and behaved accordingly. Most, but not all.

“Looking at the last year, discipline was probably the No. 1 thing,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always been one to give kids second chances for making mistakes, whatever they are, but some kids aren’t worthy of it. I probably should’ve removed a couple kids from the team. It might’ve given us the edge to be successful.”

He still keeps up with Miami and has connections there. A number of players he brought in are still active. Current quarterbacks coach Mike Bath was on his staff. Current linebackers/special teams coach Matt Edwards was a player when he was an assistant.

Montgomery was happy to see the RedHawks win the MAC title and the Bowl in 2010 with players he cared about. He wishes he could’ve had more success with them.

“It’s natural that you doubt yourself. Did you do the right things?” Montgomery said. “The only thing you can do is learn from it. I was a young guy at the time, and I felt I was ready. I still think I was ready. We just didn’t get the job done for a lot of different reasons.”

He coached two of the best quarterbacks in school history and has fond memories of Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Betts. Both went on to get Super Bowl rings, Roethlisberger with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Betts with the Indianapolis Colts.

“Both very talented, but different personalities,” Montgomery said. “When Terry hired me, he said, ‘We’ve got a young quarterback. If we don’t screw him up, I think he can be pretty good.’ That was Ben. He was a guy that had a ton of talent, but needed to learn how to play the quarterback position.

“He’s very, very accurate. He can throw from all different positions. His greatest asset was extending plays, which he still does. He really developed and became a student of the game that he wasn’t early in his career. I think he would be the first to admit that he got by on talent alone the first couple years. He really got serious in the weight room. He probably put on 40, 50 pounds while he was at Miami.

“Josh, he almost had a linebacker mentality. He was a really physical kid with a strong arm, probably just as strong as Ben’s on certain throws. He was a kid that you could actually coach differently. Ben was a guy I had to learn how to coach for a couple years because he might take things the wrong way, where you could just get on Josh. That wasn’t my nature, but that’s how he responded.”

After leaving Miami, Montgomery spent one season at Akron as offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. He started at Youngstown State in 2010 and, after 3-8 and 6-5 seasons, the Penguins have taken flight this year.

YSU is 4-0 and ranked third in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Div. I-AA). It opened the season by toppling Pittsburgh 31-17 for its first-ever win over a BCS school.

Montgomery is having a blast as Eric Wolford’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. His offense is averaging 40.8 points and 446 yards per game.

“On paper, we’re a spread team, but we’re really more multiple,” Montgomery said. “We’re actually running the ball a lot more than we did at Miami. When you go from being offensive coordinator to head coach back to coordinator, it kind of shines a light. You realize to win today you’ve got to be able to run the football unless you’re just much more talented than everybody.”

Montgomery lives with his wife Sandy and two sons, Tanner and Trent, in Akron. They like the area, and he doesn’t mind the commute to Youngstown.

He doesn’t stress over returning to the Football Bowl Subdivision or becoming a head coach again. If the right opportunity comes along, he wouldn’t mind heading a program again.

“But it would have to be a really good situation where I felt like we had a chance to win and we had the support we needed to be successful,” Montgomery said. “And if it doesn’t happen, I think I’ll be perfectly happy with that. I’m enjoying what I’m doing here. We have a chance to win a national championship, which a lot of people don’t.

“Some guys are job chasers. I’ve always felt that if some people are looking for jobs every year, they’re probably not doing as good a job as they could do at their current job. When guys are doing the best job they can at the job they’re at, people notice.

“I’ve never been one to chase jobs. I want to go somewhere where I’m happy, where I enjoy going to work every day. Right now, that’s Youngstown State. As you get older, you understand there’s more to think about beyond yourself. My family is happy here.”

As for Miami, Montgomery still watches from a distance. He and his wife have many friends in Oxford.

“When you’re let go from a job, there’s always bitterness, no matter how it ends,” Montgomery said. “But being away now for four years and looking back and realizing how many great times I had there, there’s just a lot of fond memories.

“Even though we may not have won many games on the field, just about all of our players that stayed there graduated. When you get kids that are 17, 18 years old and you promise their parents you’re going to take care of them, that doesn’t mean just winning football games. Our kids are succeeding. That’s really what you want.”

The Shane Montgomery file

Age: 45

Hometown: Newark

High school: Newark Catholic

College: North Carolina State

Coaching history: Graduate assistant at N.C. State (1991-92), assistant at Tennessee Chattanooga (1993-2000), assistant at Miami (2001-04), head coach at Miami (2005-08), assistant at Akron (2009), assistant at Youngstown State (2010-present)

Notable: Montgomery, a quarterback at N.C. State, still holds the school’s single-game passing record of 535 yards (against Duke in 1989).

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