January 21, 2014 10:20:49 PM
Randal Montgomery has never been one to back down from a challenge.
Thus, it seems only natural the new Columbus High School football coach is ready to tackle the task of making the Falcons a power in Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A play head-on.
Montgomery was officially named to that position by the Columbus Municipal School District in a regular school board meeting Tuesday night.
"This is a great opportunity for me to advance my career," Montgomery said. "Hazlehurst is a Class 3A school and Columbus is a Class 6A school, so this is a major step up. Columbus has historically had some really strong football teams."
Montgomery feels like Columbus has adequate facilities and is in the proper position to become a regular playoff contender. He already feels a connection to the community and believes the people can set it apart.
"When (athletic director Rusty) Greene starting taking me around the city and introducing me to people, I was really impressed," Montgomery said. "You can tell this a great city with a lot of opportunity. The facilities here are good enough for Class 6A. There are some things in place."
Prior to coming to Columbus, Montgomery posted a 43-4 record in three seasons as head coach at Class 3A power Hazlehurst. The Indians dressed 51 players this season, which is large number by Class 3A standards.
Hazlehurst appeared in the Class 3A state championship game in each of Montgomery's three seasons -- winning the title in 2012.
At Hazlehurst, the Indians used a spread offensive attack. Under Tony Stanford, the Falcons rode the strength of a dynamic defense to its success. Columbus had limited offensive big plays and relied mostly on a ground-game to control clock and tempo.
"We have a big challenge in front of us," Montgomery said. "I can already tell the kids are excited. This is going to be something new. We are going to bring excitement on Friday nights. I want to have a team that is going to lay it all on the line on Friday nights. If we do that, we will have a chance to win most nights."
Columbus finished 4-7 this past season. In four seasons under Stanford, the Falcons finished 22-23. In 2012, Columbus did return to the Class 6A playoffs for the first time since 2005. This past season, the program regressed, managing only two region wins. However, one more win would have placed the Falcons back in the postseason.
"We expect to win right away," Montgomery said. "We certainly expect to compete right away. I don't know how many games we will win, but there is no reason why we can't be competitive. You don't do all you do to prepare for a football season to be mediocre. You go out there and you are shooting for the stars. I expect to bring a championship mentality here. I expect to be competing regularly for championships."
Recent realignment aided the cause of Columbus as it moved to MHSAA Class 6A, Region 2 prior to the 2013 season. In the new region, the Falcons were paired with traditional powers Madison Central and Starkville. In the previous region, Columbus was starting at the death triangle of Southaven, South Panola and Olive Branch. Stanford's squad were winless in nine regular-season tries against those three teams.
The ability to remain in the new region could bolster the Columbus turn-around immediately. Realignment assignments last for two seasons. Columbus will learn its fate for the 2015 and 2016 seasons in the coming months.
As far as the immediate future, completion of a staff will be top priority, with a mixture of former coaches from Hazlehurst and current coaches from Columbus on staff. As far as the classroom, Montgomery's course load will also be determined later.
The new coach indicated he is expected to be teaching some English classes, as well as correspondent course classes and some ACT preparatory classes.
"We have a plan coming into this process of how we are going to monitor these kids coming in to this process," Montgomery said. "We are going to be proactive instead of reactive. A lot of time the plan we have is going to capture some of the problems before hand. We will hold our kids accountable. They will have to do what is right in the classroom and on the football field. As a staff, we will monitor the kids through the nine weeks. We will have paperwork for the kids to carry around and for teachers to fill out."
Prior to coming to Hazlehurst, Montgomery spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Canton High School and four more seasons at Velma Jackson High School. During the spring, Montgomery umpires Division I baseball. All of these experiences have helped shape the coach as he prepares for the biggest challenge of his football coaching life.
"Everything we do will be centered around winning football games and winning at the game of life," Montgomery said. "You are going to see a different brand of football now."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter