Scottie Montgomery understands the value of people in his life. He has been fortunate enough to be around some truly gifted football coaches in his playing and coaching careers and has been smart enough to learn from each of them.DURHAM --
Now, as the associate head coach and offensive coordinator of the Duke football team, he is able to take those lessons and put them into practice.
“There are things that you learn from all the guys, but more than anything else you can see a great leader live being a great leader away from football,” explained the former Blue Devil wide receiver, who is now in his 10th year of coaching on the collegiate and professional level. “The biggest thing that I have gained as I have moved through great leaders and great people is the only way to be a truly dynamic and significant leader you have to make sure your guys respect you from a standpoint of who you are. Dealing with them on a daily basis, you treat them like men and at the end of the day they will respect you.”
Montgomery returned to the Duke staff in February of 2013 after three seasons (2010-11-12) as an assistant coach with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. Last season, he served as the Baxter Family Associate Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator/Passing Game while mentoring Duke’s wide receivers.
“What I really gained from all the coaches was that I learned different ways to get the most out of my players,” he added. “Because I have been around a number of coaches in my playing and coaching career in all phases of the game, I have never gone through a stagnant year of growth in the profession. Every year has been almost an overload of knowledge.”
Montgomery, an All-ACC wide receiver for the Blue Devils during his playing days from 1996 to 1999 under Fred Goldsmith and Carl Franks, had previously served as a Duke assistant coach from 2006-09 under both David Cutcliffe and former head coach Ted Roof.
But it was his high school coach, Ron Greene, who gave him his base for coaching. By the time he arrived at Duke, he already knew that he wanted to be a football coach.
“Coach Greene taught me how to run the business of being a football coach,” said Montgomery, who played at Burns High School in western North Carolina and led his Bulldogs to a 3A state championship in 1994. “He cut the grass, our weight room was clean and dynamic, our locker room was clean, and there was nobody else doing that but him. He fertilized the field, I’m sure with his own money, and we had one of the most beautiful fields in the state of North Carolina. Every single week there was standing room only at our games and he built a tremendous program. I learned a lot from being around him.
“When I got to college I realized the impact that Coach Greene had on me in my life,” he continued. “Other than my father, I wasn’t sure there was another person that could have had a bigger impact on me at that time in my life than Coach Greene. I quickly understood that when I got to Duke, I was prepared and equipped and that was mainly because of my high school coach.”
At Duke he pulled in 171 passes for over 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was named the team’s MVP twice and became just the third player in school history to lead the team in receptions for three straight years. He used his time in school not only to prepare for games and academics but for a career as well.
“After I got to Duke I realized I wanted to be a coach and spent a lot of time with the defense and with the offense and our offensive coaches and went through a lot of systems while I was here,” he explained. “You learned a lot from the people that you are around.”
Montgomery then played five years at the professional level for the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders in the NFL.
He returned to Duke to serve as an assistant under Roof and Cutcliffe, two years each, before joining the Pittsburgh Steelers for three seasons as the receivers coach under Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, a 38-year coaching veteran. Montgomery began developing quite a pedigree in the coaching profession, having worked on coaching staffs with guys like Bill O’Brien, now the head coach of the Houston Texans; Kurt Roper, now the offensive coordinator at Florida; and Arians, now the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
“It’s a combination of people who have molded me as a coach,” he explained. “There is Coach Cutcliffe from a passing game standpoint and Bruce Arians from understanding the importance of being able to run the football. When I left here I was a guy who would say ‘Let’s throw it, throw it, throw it’ and when I got to Pittsburgh I became a guy that understood time of possession, running the football efficiently, not necessarily just scoring off a run but also to maintain our defense. He gave me a better picture of the overall view of things in the NFL with so many great defenses, but mainly so many great offenses. You wanted to stay on the field as much as you could, not just to score quickly but mainly to make sure the other team didn’t get a chance to get back on the field or stay on the field with their offense. Like this past year, we scored 50 points in a game and didn’t win and it was because of a few possessions where we didn’t hold on to the ball longer and keep the other team’s offense off the field.
“Coach Cutcliffe taught me that at the quarterback position and every other position, it’s okay if you’re not the guy that wins the game, but you can’t be the guy that loses the game,” he added.
Now we have Montgomery as the offensive coordinator, the playcaller for a unit that returns a core of talent from last year’s ACC Coastal Division championship team.
“When I came back to Duke, I think everyone thought that I would be really, really heavy on throwing the ball on every down,” said Montgomery. “But when you spend time in Pittsburgh you understand how important it is to run the ball and establish a running game. That was the best experience I could have had at that point in my career. I had just left a Duke program that was top ten in the nation in throwing the ball with Thad Lewis, but we weren’t winning games — we weren’t where we should be. At Pittsburgh it was what they called ground and pound, ground and pound — and then boom, a big pass play.”
At Duke Cutcliffe talks a great deal about the system — a system that has brought 16 wins to the Blue Devils over the last two seasons.
“We have a systematic approach,” explained Cutcliffe. “People don’t understand how much the system and the way we practice applies to who we are. Scottie was with us as a very young coach early on, but boy did he buy into how we coach and practice. And I think he took a lot of that to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now that he’s back, he’s grown and he’s become such a great football coach. Scottie and I have had hours and hours of conversation, and he’s been in our system two different times, been away a little while, so there’s a little spice involved with him coming back with thoughts that can add to what we’re doing.”
The system looked to be doing very well last year, especially on the offensive side of the ball, as the Blue Devils set school single-season records for total offensive yards (5,966), total points (459) and total touchdowns (60). The 2013 group also became the first squad in Duke history to register 25-plus rushing touchdowns and 25-plus passing touchdowns in the same season.
“I can’t give it a statement, a sentence or a company line,” explained Montgomery, when asked about the system. “It is simply our rule: ‘Be where you are suppose to be, doing what you are suppose to be doing as well as you can do it.’ It’s so cliché, but that is our system. We have worked hard and the system begins to grow and branch out. Cutcliffe is the best boss of an offense I have ever seen, and if it doesn’t fit into our offense then it is out.”
This spring Montgomery worked hard on the establishment of the offense and on the basic system as well.
“We have worked hard this spring to be a really balanced offense,” said senior quarterback Brandon Connette. “We have depth and veterans at running back that we can depend on. We are trying to develop more depth at wide receiver. One of the first things that Coach Montgomery wanted was to have our wide receivers in such good shape that they could run a deep pattern, get back on the line of scrimmage and run another deep route. We want the receivers in the mentality that no matter who is in at receiver, they can go deep.”
The Blue Devils have a wealth of talent returning this year on the offensive side of the football with two veteran quarterbacks, an All-America wide receiver, a veteran offensive line and a solid stable of running backs.
“In the spring it wasn’t so much about plays but about evaluating our players,” explained Montgomery. “We did a good job of evaluating the players and that’s part of the system. It’s year-round, 365 days a year, being around Coach Cutcliffe and the system. We get together talk about everything as a staff and a team and work things out for what is best for the team and the system.”
At his old wide receiver position, Montgomery is well aware of the value of a player like Jamison Crowder, who can go deep on any defense in the country at a moment’s notice. But in order to win he just can’t depend on Crowder to make all the big plays.
“We want to create depth at the receiver positions. We can’t continue to lean on Jamison for all the big plays. But when we do lean on him, we have to have him making big plays,” added Montgomery, who knows what it feels like to have an entire offense leaning on you for the big play. “We do have some young talent that we feel will grow and give us great depth at the receiver positions.”
If you stay around football long enough, you know that in order to make an offensive coordinator’s eyes light up with joy quicker than anything else, just let him know he has a solid offensive line to establish the running game and protect the quarterback so he can get the ball to those talented wide receivers for big plays and touchdowns.
“Best offensive line I have been around at Duke,” he said when asked about the strongest point of his offense. “As a group, the way they are coached, it is the offensive line you always hoped would be here at Duke. They are tough, extremely smart and understand our system well and there is a maturity level, which is extremely valuable.”
As the offensive coordinator, Montgomery will have to call on all the coaching wisdom he has soaked in over the years to help him this fall. But the biggest question sitting in front of him right now is whether he will be calling plays from the coach’s booth in the press box or on the sidelines.
Montgomery has always been a very emotional player and coach, with an emotional investment in every game.
“I’m a lot calmer than I use to be on the sidelines,” he said with a big grin.
With the recent elevation of Jeffrey Faris to wide receivers coach, Montgomery will spend preseason practice in August making a decision on where he will work as the coordinator. He has done both, working in the booth with the Steelers and on the field with the Blue Devils. Either way you know when he does call a play, there will be a lot of influence from a bevy of coaches in his past in his decision.