You know Mike Montgomery must have won a lot of games, because there’s the inevitable debate about just how many. That’s the way it is with coaching legends. Only through considerable research and debate did our paper settle on a number of wins for Marv Harshman, and that’s how it is for Monty. Sports-reference.com has him at 676 career wins, Cal makes it 677.
Whatever. He won a lot of whole lot of games in a 32-year head-coaching career (45 overall), and my concern is, he may not be getting the acclaim he’s due.
There will be debate about whether Montgomery is deserving of the Naismith Hall of Fame, and my vote would be yes. But the hall is the very definition of a moving target. He’s 19th on the career list for Division 1 victories, and only three coaches in front of him are not in the hall — Eddie Sutton, who is No. 7; Lefty Driesell, in 8th; and Lou Henson, in 10th.
But Montgomery is also ahead of two late Northwest icons who made the hall — Oregon State’s Ralph Miller, 21st on that list, and Harshman, who is far down the list because of the 13 years he spent at the start of his career at non-Division 1 Pacific Lutheran.
Long story short, the standards at the hall may have changed, and there’s unquestionably more NBA influence in the hall these days. Monty certainly won’t make it on the strength of his short tenure with the Golden State Warriors several years back.
He never won a national title, but he did go to a Final Four, something neither Miller nor Harshman did.
I’d lobby for him mostly on the basis of his stunning job at Stanford, and the school’s historic woes before he got there.
Think about this: Starting with the 1973-74 season through 1985-86 — 13 seasons — Stanford never reached .500 in Pac-8/10 games. During that stretch, it went 55-141 in conference.
Montgomery shows up, and in his first season, Stanford goes 9-9 in the Pac-10. Two years later, Stanford is 15-3 and in its first NCAA tournament since 1942.
But the real measure of Montgomery’s power at Stanford is in the fact that when the Cardinal was at its peak, it went toe-to-toe with the reigning colossus of the league, Lute Olson’s Arizona.
Chew on this number: From 1998 to 2001, four seasons, Stanford went 50 games over .500 in league. Fifty. In 1998 and 1999, Stanford went 15-3 and exchanged the league title with ‘Zona. Another 15-3 record in 2000 meant a tie with the Wildcats. And 16-2 in 2001 again won the league outright. The run was 61-11 over a four-year span of Pac-10 games.
After six years at Cal, Montgomery finishes 282-150 in Pac-10/12 games, a flat-footed tie for No. 20 all-time at .6527 with UCLA’s Walt Hazzard, who, oddly, had exactly one-sixth the wins and one-sixth the losses (47-25). Just ahead of them are Ralph Miller at .658 and Tippy Dye, the former Washington coach, at .656.
But among the guys who did this for awhile in the conference — 10 years or more — he’s fifth, and the company is pretty good. John Wooden, Olson, Ben Howland and Miller are ahead of him.
Montgomery’s 1998 Stanford team had a magical run to San Antonio and the Final Four, losing 86-85 in overtime to eventual winner Kentucky in the national semis. Otherwise, the NCAA tournament wasn’t always so kind to Monty; he had three No. 1 seeds, two of which were bounced in the second round (one of those in Seattle, by Alabama, in 2004). The third one carried to the Elite Eight in 2001.
In fact, Monty is pretty good proof of how hard it is to win in the NCAA tournament. Think he could coach a little? He ends with a record of 18-16 in NCAA-tournament games.
His run at Cal was successful but not off the charts. He took the Bears to four NCAA tournaments, going 2-4 in the big dance. But he had three conference players of the year in that span.
He was a bit of a throwback to a time when it was OK to say what was on your mind. And he usually did, often dryly. A year ago, I couldn’t bring myself to brutalize him when, one Sunday night against USC, he grabbed the Bears’ star, Allen Crabbe, in a Cal huddle to bring him to focus. No, it wasn’t right, but it was a call to urgency, a last resort to try to pull Crabbe out of a funk. The player seemed to understand, and so did his family.
Now he’s gone, and I wouldn’t want to be the guy following him. We may not see Mike Montgomery’s kind again soon.