Montgomery looks and sounds undaunted
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Montgomery looks and sounds undaunted

East Carolina's third-year coach optimistic the Pirates will turn the corner

Photo: Scottie Montgomery

CARY, N.C. -- Scottie Montgomery returned to the annual Pigskin Preview where he first arrived two years ago as East Carolina’s rookie head coach. He oozed confidence and optimism in 2016.

He was nattily dressed in a grey suit with a purple tie. He stood ramrod straight. He looked reporters comfortably in the eye. He never hemmed and hawed or stumbled over ‘uhs or ahs’ with his answers. It’s always tough to keep up with his words either taking notes or later transcribing the recording.

Two seasons later, Montgomery has turned 40. He has been sobered by back-to-back 3-9 seasons. It’s tough to win in college football.

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But if you’re wondering about Montgomery’s countenance when he arrived in 2018 for the 16th annual Pigskin Preview presented by the National Football Foundation’s Bill Dooley Chapter Monday at the Embassy Suites, don't. Here’s how he looked and sounded at this year's event:

He oozed confidence and optimism. He was nattily dressed in a grey suit with a purple tie. He stood ramrod straight. He looked reporters comfortably in the eye. He never hemmed and hawed or stumbled over ‘uhs or ahs’ with his answers. It remains tough to keep up with his words either taking notes or later transcribing the recording.

“I didn’t expect it to be easy,” Montgomery said off podium before the event. “I’d like the outcome of the games past couple years to be different, but I can also say I didn’t expect the turnaround in recruiting and some of the things we’ve been able to do so fast and so quick. We’ve won some of the battles in the state. Hopefully when all is said on done, recruiting will have a great impact on what we’re trying to do this year. Also, being able to add some consistency on our coaching staff. I’m happy excited to get this year started.”

SOS -- Same old Scottie.

East Carolina is predicted to be in for another tough year, according to Phil Steele Magazine. The Pirates are picked fifth in the six-team East Division of the American Athletic Conference.

However, the trend for third-year coaches is improvement and there are numbers that suggest Montgomery can make that climb. Among 12 returning starters (five offense and seven defense), 38 of his 75 lettermen are seniors (17) and juniors (21).

Montgomery is returning to a scheme closer to the one he used as Duke's offensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015. Redshirt sophomore Reid Herring is the new quarterback entering fall camp, but one of the recruiting battles Montgomery referred to winning was for Holton Ahers. The hometown true freshman is from Greenville Conley. East Carolina's 2019 class already has 19 commitments with 12 from North Carolina.

“We think we’ll be led this year by Raleigh native Reid Herring at the quarterback position,” Montgomery told the audience. “He’s done a tremendous job for us in knowing the program and knowing the expectations of the program with leadership and leading the program on the field, but it will be a tight battle at quarterback.

“We’ve been blessed to recruit well in the state of North Carolina with Holton Ahlers joining us for this year and (redshirt freshman) Kingsley Ifedi from Charlotte. We’ve been very excited the past few years about being able to sign the two best quarterbacks in each class in the state.”

Quarterback play will be aided by three returning starters on the offensive line and senior wide receiver Trevon Brown, one of the top wideouts in the AAC. The O-linemen are center John Spellacy, guard Garrett McGhin and tackle D’Ante Smith.

Defense returns seven starters, but it was a unit that yielded 45.0 points and 541.7 yards a game. Montgomery changed defensive coordinators at mid-season and brought in David Blackwell from Jacksonville State as his new DC this fall.

Phil Steele names Brown as a first-team preseason AAC pick, but there are no defensive players named to his preseason first- or second-team units.

“I’ve been feeling pressure since I was 9 or 10 years old the first time I stepped on football field or basketball court ,” Montgomery said in response to a question. “I love the way you feel when you have to to go out to perform. As far as pressure, some people say you have to apply it. I’m going to apply a lot of pressure to our guys this year make sure we’re able to compete at end of the year. ”

He didn’t snap like an embattled coach at any questions he heard. He wasn't even an ornery Nick Saban on a good day. Montgomery looked sounded like anything but a third-year coach rattled by two 3-9 records who was beginning to doubt himself.

He looked an sounded like the same Scottie Montgomery that earned his first chance at being a head coach from two years success as Duke's offensive coordinator.

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-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

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Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom has also written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, Chargers.com, Rivals.com, and Gameday Central. He has won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003 and USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

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