CARY, N.C. – Scottie Montgomery took his seat on the dais as East Carolina’s new head coach with Duke’s David Cutcliffe, his former boss, North Carolina’s Larry Fedora, N.C. State’s Dave Doeren and N.C. Central’s Jerry Mack.
Staring back at him was a crowd of 1,000 fans that attended the annual National Football Foundation Bill Dooley Chapter Pigskin Preview Monday in an Embassy Suites ballroom. But it wasn’t the initial moment Montgomery – a first-time head coach at the tender age of 38 – realized he’s no longer an assistant handling responsibilities delegated by the head coach.
The actual moment was much lonelier.
“The first time we had a team meeting and we’re about to break into individual meetings,” was how Montgomery described the moment. “I’ve been a position coach forever, so I’ve been in those rooms – quarterbacks, wide receivers, offense. I broke the team meeting, and everybody got up and left. Coaches and players went this way and that way, and I’m still at standing at the podium by myself. I’m thinking, ‘This is a lonely position.’ Coach (Cutcliffe) did tell me about that, but I didn’t listen. But now I get it.”
So that’s what they mean by it’s lonley at the top.
Montgomery’s debut as the man making all the important calls is now less than two months away when the Pirates open the season against Western Carolina on Sept. 3 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. He certainly doesn’t look and sound like a man in over his head or about to freeze in the headlights like a deer.
Montgomery answered questions from the dais with aplomb. Then he stepped down to greet boosters and answer more questions from the media with TV camera lights in his eyes. He handled it with ease.
“It’s a chance to be among fans and see old friends you haven’t had much time to spend with,” he said.
Montgomery played wide receiver at Duke from 1996 to 1999 out of Burns High in Lawndale, N.C., and played four seasons in the NFL. He spent the past two seasons as the Blue Devils’ offensive coordinator, so his transition also includes absorbing the passion of Pirate Nation that surrounds the Greenville campus.
It’s a more dynamic relationship than the one between Durham and Duke, a private school with a campus with a largely out-of-state student body. Montgomery is OK with passion and expectations.
“I’m a North Carolinian,” he said. “This means a lot to not only be the head coach at East Carolina but being able to help the kids of North Carolina and show them what we do East of (I-) 95. What we have out there are wonderful family-oriented and hard-working people. They know how hard you have to work to be successful, and that’s exactly what we’re making sure we do.”
Montgomery will likely have a honeymoon season considering his approachable personality – he’s the antithesis of a Nick Saban scowl — combined with the lowered expectations taking over a team that finished 5-7 last year. The Pirates are picked to finish at the bottom of the AAC East with Central Florida.
When Montgomery interviewed for the job he landed on Dec. 13, he had Cutcliffe’s endorsement.
“I told them they will be happy with him initially, but they will be 100 times happier once he’s in place,” he said. “Scottie is a man of character. He’s extremely intelligent, he gets along with people. He’s a terrific recruiter. When you write all the things you want a head coach, you guys in Greenville have one fine football coach.”
Montgomery smiled widely when he said he was ready for his first fall camp and season opener.
“I got butterflies in December, so you can only imagine what I have now,” he said. “What’s bigger than butterflies? If you’re not nervous, you’re not ready.”