Experience is the best teacher, even for teachers themselves. If you need evidence, look no further than Independence High School football head coach Mark Montgomery.
The former college offensive lineman has coached at the middle school, high school and college levels and has even done some radio duties along his journey, learning every step of the way.
That journey has led him to Independence, where he has taken over a program with high expectations after two straight playoff appearances. Montgomery sat down with the Register-Herald on Tuesday afternoon to discuss those expectations, how to manage a program, player safety and much more.
Register-Herald: Why did you decide to be a head coach or a football coach in general?
Mark Montgomery: I’ve been around it my whole life. My dad was a football coach and a coach of all sports as a lot of coaches were back then. I say I’ve been a coach my whole life because I’ve been around it with him. You look up to your dad and that’s what I always wanted to be. Now he told me not to be, but I didn’t listen and I’m still doing it and I haven’t had one regret about it. It was my dad and the coaches I had going through school too. From all of my coaches through college, they were just great men.
RH: Coming into Independence, they’ve been to the playoffs the last two years. You guys are 2-4 right now, how do you come into a program and maintain that success in the long haul?
MM: Coach (Chris) Vicars has done a great job here the past four years. My expectations were to keep that going. The bar was set pretty high and we got off to a rough start, but I believe we’re starting to get it turned around. We’ve played some really tough teams early on. If you look at the teams we’ve lost to, they’re all ranked near the top of their classes. The one victory that we got against PikeView, that was a good win against a good team and a very well coached team.
RH: It’s funny you mentioned Coach Vicars because you’ll face him this week when you play Summers County. What does that mean for your team and what kind of response do you expect?
MM: The kids haven’t said much about it. I’m sure all the upperclassmen that played for coach Vicars are going to be happy to see him. I’m sure they’ll want to show him what he taught them and hopefully he taught them more than what I’ve taught them so far and they’ll play really well. He’s doing a great job over at Summers and they have some outstanding players that are well coached. We’re going to have our hands full going over there.
RH: You’ve coach at the middle school, high school and college levels, correct?
MM: Yes. I’ve coached all the levels and there’s really not much of a difference outside of they’re a little stronger, they’re a little faster and a little bigger. It’s still football and it comes down to who blocks and tackles the best. I think a lot of times we as coaches really make football a lot more complicated than what it is. A good friend of mine says it’s not chess it’s checkers.
RH: Which level was your favorite to coach and why?
MM: It’s probably high school. I enjoyed the college atmosphere and those guys catch on quickly. They’re the best of the best. Middle school is still middle school and I like to see them develop, but there’s nothing like Friday night and dealing with this age group of kids.
RH: As somebody that has coached middle school, can you talk about the process of getting those feeder schools involved in your program so they’re more ready when they come to you.
MM: I’m fortunate that our head coach here at the middle school, John Quesenberry was my assistant when I coached here at the middle school. He does a lot of the same stuff we do, but each coach adds there own spice to their team. I appreciate him using the same terminology we use so that when those kids come up to the high school level, they’ve heard it before.
RH: Sticking with your experience at all three levels, what do people not know about the transition and jump from level to level?
MM: I think there are a lot of misunderstandings. Every parent thinks there kid is the best, but football is probably the hardest sport to play. It’s very time consuming, you’re working when it’s hot and you’re getting hit. There are big jumps from level to level. Rarely are the younger kids physically or mentally mature enough. Going to college, everyone thinks that their kid is a division one player. You look around each year and we don’t have a lot of division one players. There’s levels for everyone. If you want to go on and play in college, that’s nice, but until you see them live you don’t realize how big and how fast they are. That goes into the middle school level too. I’m a firm believer of kids not playing tackle football until they’re in seventh grade. I’ve told my friends that have kids and they adhere to that. Flag football leagues are great, I ust don’t think kids should be playing tackle football.RH: That’s interesting because you’ve seen football at all different levels and CTE has become a talking point. Studies have shown that former NFL player Aaron Hernandez had late stages of CTE in his 20s and a new study brings to light the possibility of diagnosing or catching CTE in living players. As a coach have you seen more concern from parents or a drop in participation, and how do you game plan to protect your players?
MM: I’m from a small school background. If you had a player hurt at small schools, you lost out at several different positions because you had to move kids around. I’ve never been one to have a lot of contact. I try to buy equipment so that we don’t have a lot of player-on-player contact. We have to have some because we have to teach different positions. We try to avoid taking players to the ground, we use crash mats, we tackle in the pads. Our fathers wouldn’t recognize how I coach and we coach. At this point of the season we hardly have any contact. Last week we were in shorts and shoulder pads up until Thursday. The only contact we had was against machines. We have to do something or the games going to be drastically changing and I just think a lot of coaches need to change the way they practice. My kids ask me “Coach why don’t we hit more?” and I tell them “I don’t want you for practice, I want your for Friday night.” I think good coaches change and adapt over time and that’s what we’ve tried to do ... the safety of these kids is my number one priority and if you love football, you’re going to teach it the proper way.
RH: Thank you for your time coach.
Independence will travel to Summers County to take on the Bobcats at 7:30 this Friday.