Mark Montgomery Hopes To Bring Winning Culture To Maryland
Change was in the air when Maryland hired Mark Montgomery as its fifth head softball coach in program history.
The hiring of Montgomery shows that Maryland wants to get its program back to its winning ways, and as a result, a focus was put on thinking outside of the box during the hiring process. It also shows the Big Ten Conference's ability to change in order to become one of the best conferences in Division I softball.
“The Big Ten has been willing to make some changes over the years,” said third-year Indiana head coach Shonda Stanton. “You’re seeing the legends of the game continue to excel and you’re seeing the bottom third of our conference rise.”
Last season, Maryland finished last in the conference for the second time in three years and hasn’t had a winning record in seven seasons. Montgomery has his sights set on bettering the program in every aspect of the game from off the field with community service to on the field with the team's performance.
“You always want to set your goals as you can because that way you’re constantly striving for greatness,” Montgomery told Softball America in a phone interview. “You won’t always achieve it, but you always want to be striving for it and that’s what we want to do.”
The Big Ten is collectively coming off of one of its best seasons ever for softball. Michigan, Northwestern and Minnesota all hosted NCAA Regionals in 2019. Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois all made NCAA Regional appearances and Indiana was ranked for most of the first half of the 2019 season. Northwestern lost in Super Regionals and Minnesota advanced to the program’s first-ever Women’s College World Series.
The fact that Montgomery is the first male head softball coach hire in Big Ten history doesn't matter to him. He says, first and foremost, that he is in the business of empowering young women.
“It’s known by everybody,” Montgomery said. “I don’t think there’s anybody who is high enough in the softball world who doesn’t know that’s a fact. I feel like they view me as a coach who empowers his student-athletes, a student-centered coach and as someone who is going to work hard to make his team and the conference the absolute best that he can.”
Montgomery comes to Maryland after seven years at Louisiana Tech. He was the 2019 Conference USA Co-Coach of the Year and led the Lady Techsters to a conference regular-season and tournament title. La Tech made two NCAA Regional appearances and had five consecutive seasons of 30-plus wins. The program only had one 30-win season in its previous 23 years.
Of the current Big Ten coaches, Stanton has the most familiarity with Montgomery, as she spent 18 seasons at Marshall. Her staff was named the 2017 C-USA Coaching Staff of the Year and won the C-USA regular-season title before losing to Montgomery’s Lady Techsters in the conference tournament semifinal.
According to Stanton, success is hard to keep quiet. It doesn’t matter if someone is coaching in Ruston, La. or Huntington, W.Va.
“If you think of the caliber of athletes Mark was able to recruit to Ruston, you can only believe that success is going to translate…The only thing we can judge him by is what he’s done at where he’s been,” added Stanton. “Whether it’s in the media, other coaches or fans, we like to judge if someone is a good hire. In reality, things look extremely promising for Maryland based on his success.”
Maryland hasn’t had a winning season since 2013 when the Terrapins finished 31-26 and 13-8 in conference play. Since then, they’ve gone 99-235 with one .500 season, 27-27, in Courtney Deifel’s lone season as the UMD head coach.
“Maryland has made a great hire in Mark Montgomery,” said Deifel in the official press release. “He is a proven winner at every level. Mark has built his success on consistently developing and getting the most out of his student-athletes and I think he will continue to do the same at Maryland.”
Coaches in the Big Ten have been vocal about their support of Maryland's hire, simply because it makes the conference stronger.
"I want to congratulate Mark and welcome him to the Big Ten Conference,” said Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins in a statement provided to Softball America. “He is a veteran with a proven track record, and I'm excited to see what he brings to his new position at Maryland. I support all Big Ten coaches, and I am looking forward to getting to know Mark better and working alongside him to continue to elevate our great conference."
Montgomery didn’t take the easy route to the Power Five. He got his start coaching high school softball at Model Lab School on the campus of his alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University. He was a student-teacher and thought he was going to be an assistant coach, but was surprisingly named the head coach. From there, he became the head coach at Lafayette High School (Ky.) and then moved into the collegiate game as a grad assistant for Beth Pruitt at Kentucky in 2000 when the Wildcats won the SEC East.
His first collegiate head coaching job came at Georgetown College, an NAIA school in Kentucky. He was referred to that job by John Cropp, UK’s longtime administrator who worked directly with the softball program since its inception in 1997.
Montgomery's Division I arrival happened in 2003 when he was named the head coach at Centenary. In his second season, Montgomery led the team to its first winning campaign in 13 years and the program’s first NCAA Tournament. The following season, the squad won its second straight Mid-Continent Tournament title and returned to the NCAA Tournament.
In 2009, Centenary dropped down to Division III and Montgomery accepted the head coaching job at Northern Colorado for the 2011 season. The program won a school record 25 games and broke 21 records in his second and final season before he moved on to La Tech.
Throughout his 19 years as a collegiate head coach, he’s learned about the region that he’s in and how to recruit in it. Coaches like Stanton, Iowa State’s Jamie Pinkerton and Baylor’s Glenn Moore have all commended him for his recruiting abilities.
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“Every school needs to have a recruiting blueprint of what makes them successful,” Montgomery said. “I’m going up to Maryland and part of my job is to learn as much as I can about softball in the region, who the best travel teams are and who the best high school coaches are and make connections with them so that we’re feeding the Maryland program from the inside out. We want kids in our backyard to stay home and play.”
In addition to recruiting in his new region, he wants to maintain the relationship he’s already made within the state of Texas and on the West Coast.
One of his best recruits at La Tech, Morgan Turkoly, is a Texas native and became La Tech’s first All-American since 1990, while stamping her name throughout the program’s record book.
“He’s got a knowledge of the game. He knows what it takes. He’s going to strategize and he’s going to bring that competitive excellence,” said Stanton. “Mark will bring his strengths and we are excited to see the future of Maryland softball and excited to welcome him to the Big Ten.”
Some of the game's best assistants have learned under Montgomery throughout his 19 seasons in collegiate softball. Texas A&M’s Craig Snider graduated from Centenary after meeting Montgomery while he was a student-assistant at Lindsey Wilson College. Montgomery persuaded Snider to transfer to Centenary and become a student-assistant there. Snider is eternally grateful for that opportunity.
“Mark is a family man, first and foremost,” Snider told Softball America. “But as good a family man as he is, he matches that greatness on the field. He has been very successful at every stop along his journey. This truly is a great hire for Maryland, the Big Ten and softball.”
With Montgomery’s successful past, support from his coaching peers and knack for discovering and developing talent, it’s likely only a matter of time before Maryland finds itself back in the hunt for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.