East Carolina athletic director Jeff Compher was “looking for Superman” in his search for the school’s new football coach. He thinks he found him in Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery.
On Dec. 4, Compher fired coach Ruffin McNeill, a sixth-year coach and former ECU defensive back, after his team went 5-7 and narrowly missed bowl eligibilty. The pressure to replace the popular sixth-year coach was enough to raise the standards of the school’s next hire.
“At one point a member of our interview team said, ‘We’re looking for Superman.’ I guess that’s about right. We are,” Compher said Monday during a press conferece to introduce Montgomery. “We are looking for Superman. But we are because football matters at ECU.
“As I look at our next head coach I don’t see a cape and I don’t see an ‘S’ on his chest, but I do see a man who meets and exceeds the qualities that we’re looking for in our next head coach,” Compher said. “When the decision was made, I offered one person the job and he is the right fit for ECU and we are fortunate the he accepted our offer.”
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The 37-year old Montgomery, a Shelby native, played wide receiver for Duke from 1996 to 1999 and has coached for the Blue Devils twice. From 2006 to 2009, Montgomery served as the school’s wide receivers coach under Ted Roof and David Cutcliffe before taking the same position on Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers staff from 2010 to 2012. In 2013, Montgomery returned to Durham, where he would eventually become the associate head coach and offensive coordinator.
On Monday, Montgomery said his first priority as the Pirates’ head coach was to unite the locker room.
“The first course of action is recruiting and a lot of people are going to think that I’m talking about recruiting the state of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about we have to recruit the building,” Montgomery said. “The most important thing to me over the next two to three weeks are the men that are already playing for us. We are going to recruit them like they’ve never been recruited over the next two to three weeks.”
The first-year head coach, who played wide receiver in the NFL from 2000 to 2003, met with his new team before Monday’s 11 a.m. press conference and made a strong first impression.
“He seems like a very good guy,” said running back Chris Hairston, who just wrapped his fourth and final year with the Pirates. “He was hyped up, juiced up about coming in and getting the team right. He seems ready to do what has to be done. He seems very down to Earth, like he’s got his head on and he knows what he’s doing. I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do with the program.
“I talked to some of the other players and they seemed very happy. They seemed like they could get into him and it seemed like everybody was going to be able to get along with him and accept him just like family.”
Montgomery has helped guide Duke to three straight bowl appearances and was on Tomlin’s staff during the Steelers’ 2010-11 run to the Super Bowl, where they lost to Green Bay 31-25.
Upon his return to Duke, Montgomery helped the Blue Devils transition from graduated quarterback Anthony Boone, an all-ACC selection, to Thomas Sirk. This season, Duke averaged 177.9 yards per game, 253.4 passing yards per game and 431.3 total offense yards per game to finish the season 7-5 and earn a trip to the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 26.
Montgomery, who will coach Duke during its bowl game, has already started to work on assembling his coaching staff.
“We started the process but we still don’t know who you’re going to absolutely finish with, and out of the protection of the people that we potentially may have, may keep and may be brought in we’re not going to talk about them,” Montgomery said.
No matter who the next coordinators are, Montgomery said he will try to blend the team’s new schemes with its existing personnel.
“We know our personnel here … So you could see a couple off different schemes, but (there will be) some spread opportunities, pro, multiple opportunities that will look very similar to some of things that you have seen but with some fundamental differences from what you’ve seen.
“Defensively, we’ll try to marry our personnel once again. … From a schematically standpoint we’re going to be closely connected to the people that we have here. We’re going to put them in position to be as successful as they can possibly be. What’s more important: 99 people learning something or one person learning something?”