January 23, 2014 12:11:26 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
In coaching circles, first impressions are always important.
Randal Montgomery impressed in his opening remarks Tuesday after the Columbus Municipal School District officially named him the new head football coach at Columbus High School.
While it hurts to ask the question, it is a fair one.
Will we be watching the next coach named a year from now ... three years from now ... 10 years from now?
While any football program wants to win championships and advance players to junior and senior colleges, Columbus has a totally different need it should want filled right away - stability.
In the past 10 seasons, Columbus had four different football coaches - not including Montgomery. When Lee and Caldwell merged in the early 1990s, many expected Columbus to field one of the state's premier programs. However, more players and newer facilities have not led to becoming a power.
Montgomery comes to town as a proven winner. In the past three seasons, he led Hazlehurst High School to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 3A state title game three times, winning it once.
The rumored short list of finalists included at least two other coaches with state championships on the resume. This is a positive for Columbus. It shows your job was one that was in demand.
However, Rusty Funk previously coached at Columbus. Funk had state championships before coming to Columbus and is now thriving at Alabama High School Activities Association's Class 1A Marion County. Funk coached two seasons at CHS.
Few Mississippi coaches have the statue of Bubba Davis, who has also coached in the biggest games and won the biggest championships. Davis lasted two seasons and won four games.
Like those two, Montgomery has won a state championship and enters this job with the same optimism. Tuesday night, Montgomery said he fully expects to compete for championships immediately.
"We expected to compete for championships and we expect to do that right away," Montgomery said. "We want to be competitive every Friday night. I want fans to see kids who will lay it all on the line every week."
So why will this hire be different? Fortunately for Montgomery, there are positives.
Columbus currently plays in the MHSAA Class 6A, Region 2. Again, this is a positive for the Falcons. Tony Stanford coached CHS the past four seasons. In Stanford's first three seasons, the Falcons were in 6-1A and aligned with Southaven, South Panola, Olive Branch - a group the Falcons posted an 0-9 regular-season record against.
In its present region, Columbus should be able to compete with Madison Central and Starkville on an annual basis for the region title. Northwest Rankin has also made an excellent coaching hire. Murrah will have one of the state's premier quarterbacks next season. Clinton started seven sophomores on offense and six on defense in 2013. In summary, Columbus will be picked near the bottom of the region next season.
However, over the long term and under the current alignment, Columbus has every right to expect to be a playoff contender on an annual basis. It is easily one of the best four situations in this region. Northwest Rankin has had difficulty with restraints on baseball players playing football. Murrah has out-dated facilities and places a much larger emphasis on basketball. Greenville-Weston has 10 straight losing seasons. Working your way up the pecking order is doable.
As it stands now, Columbus has one playoff appearance since 2005.
Montgomery talked about holding players accountable on and off the field. He talked about a monitoring system between his staff and the teachers. He talked about relentless effort. Again, these are all positives for the Falcons.
However, one would be hard-pressed to find any major discipline issues within the Columbus football program of late. By all accounts, the kids were good, hard-working and dedicated to their craft.
Of all the adjectives one will apply to the 2014 Falcons, one will most likely not be conservative. Montgomery is known for a wide-open spread attack. Under Stanford, Columbus played tenacious defense and used offense to control the clock and manage the game.
It appears going in, the Falcons will be going in the exact opposite direction. If nothing else, this should generate more revenue at the box office. This is again a positive for the Falcons. With the exception of rival game against Starkville and West Point, Columbus attendance figures have not been strong, despite back-to-back 7-win seasons in 2011 and 2012.
LEADERSHIP AT THE TOP
Columbus wants stability in football, similar to what is has with Sammy Smith in boys basketball and Jeffrey Cook in baseball.
While Columbus needs stability in its football program, the stability would also be a huge asset for the superintendent's office. Some of the top positions in the administration have been in flux for the past 10 years with little consistency.
It would be best if the promises made to a new head coach or made by people who will still be here five years from now to honor those promises. Strong leadership in the superintendent's office and principal's office would go a long way toward helping the athletics program being the best they can be.
For now, Montgomery can't worry about that though. He has games to win, and he expects to win them - a lot of them - in 2014.
A year ago, starting quarterback Trace Lee was injured twice in the first four games. The Falcons had no solid back-up plan for such an injury and the results were predictable. Whether it was right or wrong, the Falcons were always reluctant to turn Lee - once healthy - loose and really open up the offense.
Each week, the team competed extremely hard and had a genuine pleasure playing the game. However, it seemed that a lack of attention to detail kept the program from reaching its full potential.
So, the Falcons have changed again. It is something way too familiar with the month of January.
Montgomery comes in a proven winner. Most likely, he will win again. The only question is will he be coaching in Lowndes County when he does.
Scott Walters is a sports reporter for the Commercial Dispatch. He may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter