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SUMMERS: From all-business to out of business

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Scottie Montgomery pictured as East Carolina head football coach on Nov. 17, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Scottie Montgomery came to East Carolina as the classic workaholic.

He was the guy who hates vacations, who is waking up for a new day around the same time he is falling asleep from the last one. He once told me that when he got a break during the late afternoon, he usually celebrated it with a five-hour energy drink so he could keep on going.

All that energy could not find its way to the right places, or players, at the right times enough of the time. In three years, it never materialized into more than a couple of meaningful football victories, and Montgomery's tenure ended late last week on the doorstep of the Pirates' final game of the season at N.C. State.

Three years ago, the same Wolfpack team that on Saturday afternoon in Raleigh ended this strange season with a 58-3 win over ECU played the role of victim. In 2016, the now-fired ECU coach started the season 2-0 with a win against the 'Pack that had Greenville believing the Pirates had not skipped much of a beat after deciding to fire Ruffin McNeill following four bowl trips in six seasons.

Montgomery was not with the Pirates for what would have been his final game. Defensive coordinator David Blackwell was at the helm, and that belief was long gone.

The truth is, a dangerously high number of ECU football fans don't attend games anymore, home or away, after three straight 3-9 seasons. Many don't plan to go back anytime soon.

The school still has no athletics director despite making last week what would be most athletic departments' biggest decision by announcing Montgomery's ouster. When the final seconds of the Pirates' failed campaign finally passed on Saturday, so too did Chancellor Cecil Staton's own deadline of having an AD in place by the end of football season.

Now the search for the two top athletic posts must somehow happen simultaneously, and like always, there are a handful of names attached to both vacancies. There were plenty of names around last time too, but even then those names were quickly crossed off the list until former AD Jeff Compher interviewed and hired Montgomery.

The athletic department's financial concerns, a big sag in season ticket sales and attendance and a fractured fan base make the job a serious fixer-upper this time.

Another up-and-comer leading ECU football would mean another blind roll of the dice, and at the moment, the Pirates are sitting on a short stack of chips. A proven track record is the right route, but those candidates are more expensive and tougher to land.

The new coach will have a refurbished stadium, but filling it will be a task. As attendance numbers dipped all season, most of the smallest-crowd comparisons dated back to the 2005 season — the first season Skip Holtz was in charge after two disastrous campaigns under John Thompson.

At the end of Montgomery's first two disappointing seasons — the first in Philadelphia after a loss to Temple and the second in Memphis after an absolute Tigers rout — the coach vowed major improvements that never happened. A great recruiter, he reeled in the likes of quarterback Holton Ahlers, but even with a majority of his own talent on the field this year and a new defensive mindset, the results were identical, if not worse, to the first two campaigns.

Despite those victories in the recruiting game, the coach also opted to stick to his guns with his offense. In the process, he overlooked quarterback Kurt Benkert, who went on to blossom at Virginia and is now on the Atlanta Falcons practice squad, and then missed on QB Gardner Minshew, who vaulted himself into national prominence and even some Heisman Trophy chatter this year amid a brilliant senior season at Washington State.

Montgomery's coaching journey undoubtedly is not over, though he likely will have to retrace some of his steps that brought him to this point in the road.

At the onset of his first season, we featured a picture of Montgomery on the cover of Reflector offshoot publication Mixer Magazine. We had him put on a full suit, and the cover shot was emblazoned with the headline “All business.”

That mentality never once wavered, and perhaps that's one of the biggest things that didn't work. The team went from a family-first atmosphere with a true father figure in McNeill to a much more corporate, appointment-only environment with Montgomery playing CEO.

Most college kids aren't ready for that.

Montgomery has an unquestioned drive to be a winning coach, but winning never became a regular enough result for him and the Pirates.

Before he takes another job, he should probably give vacationing another try. Maybe try enjoying it this time and not thinking about football for a while.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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