Duke is closing in on its spring game Saturday, but players are not the only ones who have gone through practices or simulated situations in the last month.
New offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery has gotten some good reps, too, calling plays for the first time in his career during two scrimmages held earlier this month -- with a third opportunity on tap this weekend. Montgomery says the practice has been great not only because he can make the calls, but because he can see how his players respond in stress situations, giving him a much better feel for what needs to be done once the season kicks off in August.
The biggest play-calling lesson he has learned so far?
"It’s hard to call a perfect call," Montgomery said in a recent phone interview. "You want to call a win every single time, but unfortunately you can’t do it. You have some calls that you want back that you see and they go score, and you have some calls you feel really good about and it’s a 2-yard gain or a 2-yard loss. You can’t get into calling wins. You have to lean on the preparation of executing every play you have."
Preparation has led Montgomery to this moment. After his playing career ended, he began coaching receivers at Duke with long-term goals carefully planned out. He knew eventually he wanted to become a coordinator, and eventually after that, a head coach. He left the Blue Devils to coach receivers for the Pittsburgh Steelers because he wanted the NFL experience. He returned to Duke last season to serve as associate head coach and passing-game coordinator while also working with the receivers.
That valuable experience prepared him for the role he has today, especially because he was able to help former offensive coordinator Kurt Roper make game plans and watch him call plays.
"It just puts you in more of a game-planning mode and really, working hand in hand with Kurt, it was great for us because he leaned on me and I leaned on him in a lot of situations in the passing game, and even in the run game," Montgomery said. "My other role as associate head coach was probably as big, if not bigger, than the role of passing-game coordinator. It was basically the execution of practice, helping run the program, really putting myself in uncomfortable situations that I hadn’t been in, being the liaison between the head football coach and assistant coaches with both their needs and concerns. So I thought all that was great for me and developing as a young coach."
With Roper now the offensive coordinator at Florida, a strong group of veterans should also make Montgomery's transition a little easier. He already knows the staff well and eight starters are back, including quarterback Anthony Boone and receiver Jamison Crowder, not to mention backup quarterback Brandon Connette. Plus, coach David Cutcliffe has served as his mentor for years. That has made the transition "seamless" in both his view, and Boone's view, too.
Montgomery recruited Boone out of high school and the two have a solid relationship. That also helps since Montgomery is coaching the quarterbacks as well.
"From a pass offense standpoint, his former knowledge of playing wide receiver and playing at the next level, understanding splits and route concepts, sharing those tips with us of what receivers think about mid-route, has increased our accuracy, increased our timing, just increased our overall knowledge of where players are going to be on the field," Boone said. "It’s been a great, great changeup for us."
For Montgomery, too.