Joe Montgomery has been in school halls ever since he started kindergarten. It’s time for a change of scenery.
The nine-year Rock Hill High School head football coach announced his retirement Monday, pulling the curtains on a lengthy career that saw him win two state titles at Gaffney, two region titles with the Bearcats, and never yet “work” a day of his life.
“It’s time to make a change in my life, and it’s time for a change here in our football program,” Montgomery said Monday afternoon. “There comes a point when you need to do some other things before you make that next big event in your life, and I want to do some of those things.”
Montgomery’s chief concerns now are traveling and spoiling his grandkids in Georgia.
“I want to see as much as I can see while I can still get up out of bed and walk and go do it,” he said.
Montgomery steps away from the Bearcat football program after a 4-8 season, the team’s third straight losing campaign.
“He’s been pondering retirement for several years now and he feels with all of the sophomores coming back, that our program is in good shape,” said Rock Hill athletic director Bill Warren. “That’s what he wanted. He didn’t want to leave it all down.”
Montgomery coached the Bearcats for nine seasons, compiling a 55-54 record, while also serving two years as the team’s defensive coordinator under head coach Jim Ringer in 2003 and 2004. Under Montgomery, the Bearcats won region championships in 2005 and 2009.
“He’s done everything we ask of a head football coach,” said Warren. “He’s put in the time, he’s put in the effort, the dedication, he cares about the kids, he runs a clean program. If he decides to coach again, we wish him well, but I hope he enjoys his retirement.”
Warren and Principal Ozzie Ahl will have to glean the right man from what will presumably be a mountain of resumes.
“We’ll open up the job as soon as we can,” said Warren. “Then we’ll conduct interviews. I don’t know how long we’ll leave it open, but we’ll start taking resumes as soon as possible.”
Warren’s last football head coaching hire was Kyle Richardson at Northwestern, the final hire that he made as the Trojans’ athletic director before leaving for Rock Hill High School in 2010.
“I’m sure we’ll have one, two or three from inside the program probably apply,” said Warren. “We’ll look at all the resumes and Mr. Ahl and myself will sit down and decide who we want to bring in to interview, and that’s how the process will go.
“It’s an attractive job. We’ve got a lot of kids returning, so it’ll be interesting to see who all applies.”
Montgomery won state titles in 1992 and 1997 with Gaffney and also finished runner-up in 1993 and 1998. The 43-year coaching veteran helped Rock Hill to the 2004 state championship as Ringer’s defensive coordinator, and led Rock Hill to the state semifinals in 2008 as the head man.
Montgomery was 168-106 during his 274 games in South Carolina, and he also experienced great success further south, launching his coaching career in 1972 at Oviedo High School in Florida. He coached there for 10 years, (Pensacola) Pine Forest for four years, and (Lake City) Columbia for five years, before heading north to the Palmetto State.
Gaffney and Rock Hill high schools could be considered two of the highest pressure coaching jobs in South Carolina. Montgomery held them both.
“I always wanted to be in the situation where you had a chance to win a state championship,” he said. “In my first job, that was not the case, but after being in that first job I knew I wanted to put myself in a position to win state championships. And that’s Gaffney, and that’s Rock Hill.”
Montgomery’s big regret in the last nine years was not winning the big one with the Bearcats. Arguably, their best shot came in 2009 when they started the season 11-0, only to fall to a 3-8 Spartanburg squad in the first round of the state playoffs.
“That was tough for me,” he said, “because we had a state championship-type team. We should have been in the state championship.”
Asked if he was surprised that his coaching career lasted 43 years, Montgomery recalled his thinking when he was hired at Oviedo in Florida.
“I remember looking at the guy that first hired me, and he was 54, 55 years old,” said Montgomery. “‘I hope that’s not me.’”
Monday, the man who’s only ever worked in schools just laughed.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T