November 8, 2017 10:50:24 AM
Columbus High School football coach Randal Montgomery had talked with unbridled enthusiasm about the 2018 season.
After carrying Hazlehurst High to three appearances in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) state championship game, Montgomery knew the pedigree of a state championship team.
He felt like the Falcons could reach that rarified air in possibly 2018 and 2019.
If Columbus achieves that success, it will be without Montgomery, who said Tuesday he was fired by the Columbus Municipal School District.
In four seasons, Montgomery's teams were 20-26. Columbus qualified for the MHSAA Class 6A playoffs in 2015 and 2016. This season, the Falcons finished 2-9.
"(Officials) simply told me they wanted to go in a different direction," Montgomery said. "They asked me if I had any questions, and I didn't. The whole meeting lasted two minutes. I am really in shock. We had a bad season, but I didn't see this being the end result. We were working on something special."
CMSD Superintendent Philip Hickman and school board president Jason Spears couldn't be reached for comment by press time.
This season, Columbus opened with losses to West Point, Starkville and Noxubee County. Each squad is in the playoffs. That trio has combined to win 28 games.
Columbus then beat Vicksburg and DeSoto Central in consecutive games. Six-straight Class 6A, Region 1 losses followed, including a 21-14 setback at Hernando in the regular-season finale.
Junior quarterback Laterius Stowers led the way against Vicksburg and DeSoto Central. However, he suffered a separated shoulder against DeSoto Central that knocked him out of the next two games and limited his mobility in the final four games.
Montgomery was 'something good'
Still, the Falcons competed on a weekly basis. Off the field, the program had very few discipline issues. After seeing a school-record seven players sign with four-year and two-year colleges last season, the Falcons remain on pace to have close to that many this season.
"Coach Montgomery was something good about Columbus," said East Central Community College sophomore football player Christopher Deloach, who played football under Montgomery and was a part of the school's Class 6A state championship boys' basketball team in 2016. "It seems like when they have something good, they run them off. I really don't understand it. The team was young, but man, they were trying.
"You could see the talent all over the field," he added. "I really don't know why they would do that to a really good football coach."
The Falcons finished 8-4 in 2015 and 6-6 in 2016. That was in part due to the success of Kylin Hill, who ran for 4,000 yards in four varsity seasons, and is now a freshman at Mississippi State.
"The senior class accomplished a lot of things that had never been done before at the school," Montgomery said. "This year's team was part of the highest of highs (2015 and 2016) and the lowest of lows. We knew going in this would be a tough year. Everyone connected to the program understood that. In Class 6A, your youth is going to be exposed.
"We didn't catch any breaks this season, but you also have to step up and make your breaks sometimes," he added. "It didn't happen for us, but that didn't mean we weren't on track."
West Point coach Chris Chambless was shocked by the news.
"Columbus lost a good football coach and a fine man," Chambless said. "He was a great leader. You talk about the Xs and Os, and who you bring in next. What is not measured is what you lost as a person."
Montgomery met with the team Tuesday afternoon. He said the meeting was emotional. The Falcons only lose 14 seniors from this year's team. Of that group, only six were regular starters.
"I told them I loved them and I told them the lessons we learned this year would help them become winners in life," said Montgomery, who plans to coach again next fall. "It would have been very easy to quit after so many things didn't go our way this year. However, they never did. They kept fighting.
"If anything, that is what we established in this program. We established an attitude. We started from the bottom, so we had to fight for everything we got."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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