New East Carolina football coach Scottie Montgomery was in his element on Thursday night.
Joined by more than 200 ECU fans in City Market in downtown Raleigh at the Pirate Club Armada, Montgomery pressed the flesh and roused the rabble.
There’s little else to do in college football’s version of campaign season, the months between the end of spring practice and start of the actual season.
Montgomery, a former NFL receiver and Duke assistant, wore a dark suit and bright smile on Thursday. His first game as a head coach is still 18 weeks away but he was hitting the right notes.
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“This is the premier football culture in the state and I’m so happy to be here,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery was asked the difference between ECU fans, where football is a priority, and the following for Duke football, where he played before working as an assistant for seven years.
Montgomery, who’ll turn 38 next month, quickly pivoted around the potential landmine.
“I’m not answering trap questions,” he joked. “It’s a different type of passion.”
And it’s different challenge for Montgomery, who was Duke’s offensive coordinator the past two years and had previously worked as a position coach in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He has already handled the first challenge, soothing over any lingering angst over the ouster of former heach coach Ruffin McNeill. McNeill, former ECU player, is a respected coach nationally among his peers and shortly after his dismissal in December landed an assistant job at Virginia.
ECU athletic director Jeff Compher understands there was an element of surprise, even a shock as Compher put it, to the coaching change after McNeill went 42-34 in six seasons but 5-7 in 2015. But those feelings have dissipated once the fans have met Montgomery.
“I think they’ve seen the future for our program is very bright under his leadership,” Compher said.
Compher said the staff Montgomery hired and his first recruiting class were good first steps for a first-time coach. Compher’s also thinks the $55 million project to upgrade of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will be an integral tool in the program’s progress.
“I was very confident he would be the right hire and he’s exceeded all of my expectations thus far,” Compher said.
Everything since he was hired on Dec. 14 has been “a first” for Montgomery. The first recruiting class, the first spring practice, the first spring game and now the first summer.
Montgomery said he loves this part of the job, interacting with fans and building support for the program.
“We have so much energy right now, so much excitement,” he said.
Even the decision this weeky by quarterback Kurt Benkert to graduate and transfer didn’t really seem to phase Montgomery. Benkert was penciled in to be the starter last year before a knee injury cost him the entire season. He had been competing with Minnesota transfer Philip Nelson for the starting job in spring practice before his decision to play his final season of college football elsewhere.
“It was suprising but we’re going to spend most of our time concentrating on Pirates who want to be in Greenville,” Montgomery said.
There were plenty of Pirates in Raleigh on Thursday stoked for the future and what Montgomery can do with the proud program.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio