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May 21, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 21, 2004
MEN'S BASKETBALL

Montgomery, Montgomery, (May 21, 2004)Stanford face challenges

Cardinal basketball coach leaves The Farm for opportunity to coach the NBA's Warriors

by Rick Eymer

Mike Montgomery apparently will accept the biggest challenge of his basketball coaching career: turning the Golden State Warriors into winners.

Montgomery arrived at Stanford in 1986 from Montana with little fanfare. His departure, however, has made national news.

Montgomery, who had a contract with Stanford through 2008, met with the Cardinal players late Wednesday afternoon to discuss the situation, Stanford Media Relations Director Bob Vazquez confirmed. While Montgomery had not officially accepted the Warriors' offer as of this morning, it appears to be just a matter of firming up the details.

"He thanked us for our hard work and said he's moving on," said one member of the Stanford basketball team who wished to remain anonymous. Montgomery reportedly spoke for 20 minutes, during which some of his players had tears in their eyes. At the end, Montgomery hugged each player before they left.

Warriors' head coach Eric Musselman was officially fired this morning, though he said he was told by Golden State executive vice president of basketball operations Chris Mullin he was gone on Wednesday evening.

"The team certainly showed some progress the last couple of years and Eric should be given some of the credit," said Mullin. "This was a difficult decision."

Montgomery reportedly has been offered a four-year deal by the Warriors that could be worth up to $10 million.

Montgomery could be hired as early as Friday, even though the Warriors were holding a press conference this afternoon. Montgomery leaves Stanford after 18 successful seasons, during which he compiled a 393-167 record and made 10 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament.

At least Montgomery already knows his way around the Arena in Oakland, having coached Stanford to several big wins there in the Pete Newell Challenge, including one of the most exciting victories in school history - an 84-83 win over Duke during the 2000-01 season. Casey Jacobsen sank the winning shot for the Cardinal, but now he's suddenly Montgomery's rival. Jacobsen plays for the Phoenix Suns.

Mike Dunleavy scored 13 points for Duke that day. Dunleavy is suddenly one of Montgomery's players with the Warriors.

Montgomery has sustained one losing season in 25 years of coaching. The Warriors have not made the NBA playoffs in 10 years, the longest current futility streak in the league.

Before Montgomery arrived at Stanford, the basketball program managed to win 20 or more games just five times, and none came after 1942. Montgomery's teams won 20 or more games in 13 of his 18 seasons on The Farm.

In fact, Montgomery-coached teams have won 32 percent of all Stanford victories (1,246) since the program's inception in 1913.

Between 1973 and 1986, Stanford had one winning season. Montgomery had winning records in each of his first six seasons with the Cardinal.

The highly decorated Howie Dallmar, also among Stanford's legendary playing greats, had a streak of six winning seasons between 1961 and 1966, and he's the second most successful coach in Cardinal history. Montgomery had winning records in each of his last 11 years at Stanford.

Stanford suddenly becomes a team in transition, with the imminent loss of junior All-American Josh Childress. The assistant coaches, including Tony Fuller and Menlo School and Stanford grad Eric Reveno, remain on the payroll to monitor the daily routine, which includes recruiting.

Fuller, a former head coach at Pepperdine, could be a candidate to assume the head coaching position. Former Stanford assistants Trent Johnson, who coached Nevada to its most successful season ever this year, and Willis Wilson, now at Rice, also have been mentioned along with Gonzaga coach Mark Few.

Another prominent name, Oregon's Ernie Kent, has been bandied about, though the former Stanford assistant and St. Mary's head coach is an Oregon grad and is among the most successful coaches in Ducks' history.

Montgomery steps into the fish bowl world of the NBA in which his every move will be scrutinized and second-guessed, and where respect is grudgingly earned.

College coaches who join the NBA ranks rarely do well. Lon Kruger, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Tim Floyd and P.J. Carlesimo failed more often than they succeeded in the pro ranks. Carlesimo, one of the many unsuccessful coaches in Warriors history, is known more for getting choked by one of his players.

Carlesimo, in his first year as an NBA coach, went 44-38 with Portland. The rest had losing seasons. Pitino has since returned to national prominence in the college ranks.

Larry Brown has coached successfully at both levels, but is more known for his globe-trotting ways. He rarely sticks with one team very long. He coached at UCLA (1980-81) and Kansas (1984-88) for a total of five years in his 31 years of coaching, and Brown also played professionally.

Montgomery thrives on stability, and establishing a system in which players know their role. The point guard is a integral part of Montgomery's schemes, and the point guard may be the most important position at the NBA level as well. Think Magic Johnson, or Jason Kidd.

Yet for all his feelings of loyalty and stability, Montgomery has yet to back down from a challenge, and coaching the Golden State Warriors should serve as his ultimate challenge. Does Montgomery have what it takes to deal with the mentality of the player-driven NBA?

Musselman was the most successful coach for the Warriors since the departure of Don Nelson and yet he often clashed with his players.

Montgomery is the most successful coach in Stanford history and he had the respect of his players.

Will Montgomery's act play well in the NBA? Stay tuned.


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