DURHAM, N.C. — Duke first-year offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery certainly has big shoes to fill in those of Kurt Roper, who left to take the same job at Florida in early 2014.
Roper had been with Cutcliffe on and off — but mostly on — since 1996, which is an eternity in the world of coaching. He’d coached at Duke since the Cutcliffe era began in 2008, and the Blue Devils have never lacked for good offense, particularly when it comes to the passing game.
In fact, the 2013 season — the one that clearly caught the eye of Florida’s staff — was historic, as Duke set program records for total yards (5,966), points (459) and touchdowns (60).
Montgomery, just 35 years old, won’t change any terminology or shake up the playbook significantly. But the former All-ACC receiver at Duke (1996-99), not to mention former NFL wideout (2000-03), is going to put his own touch on the offense.
After his pro career was over, Montgomery became the wide receivers coach at Duke from 2006-09 before spending three seasons in that same role with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He returned to Duke in 2013, adding "passing game coordinator" to his title. When Roper left, Cutcliffe, who values continuity on his staff, promoted Montgomery, whose ultimate goal was to be a coordinator.
That NFL experience, both as a player and a coach, is something that has already proven valuable.
"Since he was a player in the NFL, I think that gives him a little bit of an edge in understanding matchups and different things like that," tight end Braxton Deaver said. "Not necessarily that Coach Roper didn’t understand any of that, because he was a great offensive coordinator, but I think Scottie wants to press that a little more and get our matchups and really attack a little bit more, I’d say."
Cutcliffe said that he’s had a number of long conversations with Montgomery about what’s ahead for him, as he’ll be calling plays for the first time.
"There are basic principles in play-calling, if you’ve never done it. Scottie’s a great listener and takes great notes," Cutcliffe said. "He’s got to learn me and know that I’m going to go for it on fourth down. Be a play ahead in your mind and on third and five, you might run the football knowing that if it’s fourth and two, I’m going for it. So just learning your options are bigger, that’s the difficult part."
Everyone associated with the Duke program is confident that Roper to Montgomery will be a relatively seamless transition. At least when it comes to the football side of things.
But if there’s one difference between Roper and Montgomery that sticks out to the players, it has nothing to do with plays.
"Personality standpoint, Coach Mo is a a guy that gets fired up a little more than Coach Roper did. Not saying that Coach Roper didn’t get fired up, but Coach Mo puts a little more emotion into it," All-ACC wideout Jamison Crowder said. "That definitely helps out as far as being in meetings and everything. He kind of makes sure that you’re in tuned and involved."
"Aggressive" is the word Cutcliffe would use.
"I think this team … is going to benefit from a very aggressive-natured man, and that’s Scottie. Scottie played that way, and I certainly think he’s coached that way," Cutcliffe said.
To hear the word "aggressive" associated with a playcaller, it’s easy to assume it will manifest itself in the way that he calls plays.
As Cutcliffe said, though, Montgomery is going to take his cue in terms of how aggressive he should be from the head man himself. So the aggressive part of Montgomery’s demeanor is really just something that shows itself in his coaching style — although Montgomery himself brushed off that description.
"I think more than anything, it’s just that our guys, they’re a year older. They’re more mature. I like to put a little more pressure on every situation, in everything that we do," Montgomery said. "But with that aggressive nature, there’s accountability that has to be held. So we’re trying to be aggressive, but an aggressive call for us could be just inside zone.
"I want our mentality from a standpoint of what we do to continue to remain aggressive and make sure that our guys know up front when I call that that it’s an aggressive play. It’s just really putting everybody and holding everybody accountable. I’m probably a little bit more forceful sometimes with my words than they’ve heard in the past, but I think that’s a good thing. Pressure is going to prove itself to help us find out who the true competitors are."
Everyone around the program insists that this isn’t really a change at all, but Montgomery is still a first-time play-caller. But Cutcliffe’s track record in terms of choosing assistants has been pretty good, and he wouldn’t have made a decision like this lightly.
The Duke staff now has a very healthy mix of old and new blood, which is just the way Cutcliffe wants it.
And leave it to the Alabama native to compare the situation to farming.
"The beautiful part of it is is that Kurt Roper was incredibly good — is incredibly good. He was incredibly good for us. We’d been together since 1996. That’s a long time," Cutcliffe said. "But change will always encourage some growth. It’s just a new fertilizer on the same crop is what you hope happens, and I see it as being positive."