Leaving La. Tech was hard, but Mark Montgomery aims to uplift Maryland softball

Mark Montgomery was announced as Maryland softball's new head coach on Sept. 9, 2019, after seven years with Louisiana Tech. (Courtesy of Louisiana Tech)

Mark Montgomery isn’t sure how he got the words out — how he told his players at Louisiana Tech that he was leaving after seven years to take over as Maryland softball’s new head coach.

In the end, he read out a prepared statement he had meant to add more to but didn’t find the time — or the right words to say.

“It was probably the worst delivered message of my entire career,” Montgomery said.

But his players understood, even if the statement lasted all of 30 seconds. And as Sunday morning turned into afternoon, those players cycled through his office for hugs, to tell Montgomery they’d miss him and to wish him good luck with his next venture. It started with the seniors, the leaders he won a Conference USA title with in 2019.

That steady stream of players created what Montgomery described as a roller-coaster Sunday. At one moment, he’d be excited as he talked with someone from Maryland. The next, he’d be close to tears as he said goodbye to a player or staff member from Louisiana Tech.

But now, after Sunday’s highs and lows, Montgomery is turning his focus to his next opportunity: He’s taking over a program in College Park that hasn’t posted a winning season since 2013.

But Montgomery is eager for the challenge, joining the Big Ten with the aim of pushing for conference titles. Montgomery has seen the standard set by other Maryland sports, the conference success that’s become more norm than standout. He wants Maryland softball to be on that level, too.

“I know this will sound the most stupid thing ever, and I’m going to say it, and you’re going to print it,” Montgomery said, laughing. “I’m going in to go undefeated. And I know that’s not going to happen — that doesn’t happen in our sport. But we go into every game with the plan of trying to win that game. And we’re going to go into every season planning to be in Oklahoma City [at the College World Series].”

[Read more: Maryland softball announces La. Tech’s Mark Montgomery as new head coach]

He’s never made it to the pinnacle of college softball, but not for lack of trying. In his 19-year head coaching career, Montgomery’s teams have finished below .500 just six times.

And while he said he doesn’t want to be known as a coach who only turns programs around, the proof is in the pudding: He brought Centenary to the NCAA tournament twice, clinching its first winning season in 13 years in 2004. He then spent two years at Northern Colorado, helping the struggling program inch closer to a .500 record.

“I’m positive we would’ve had a winning record the next year,” Montgomery said.

[Read more: Maryland softball coach Julie Wright resigns after four seasons]

And before Montgomery arrived at Louisiana Tech, the Techsters had managed one 30-win season in the last 23 years. His teams did it five consecutive seasons and made two NCAA tournament appearances. 

But Montgomery wants to be known as a head coach who values building a team off the field, too. He hopes to create a positive culture and set his players up for success after softball finishes. That, he said, will translate to wins.

“If we’re doing that, and doing that the right way, we’re successful,” Montgomery said. “The outcomes kind of follow.”

Maryland had reached out to Montgomery to see if he’d be interested in the softball opening, a post that became vacant following Julie Wright’s resignation in August. And while Montgomery said “you don’t want to mess with happy,” the position intrigued him.

Interest turned into a phone call with the hiring committee. And the phone call turned into a visit to College Park. Once there, he met with four other head coaches at Maryland and was impressed by how the athletic department “wanted to make softball a priority.”

“Everything about the process really made me feel comfortable with the University of Maryland, and I guess its direction,” Montgomery said. “They want to become a strong contender for championships in the Big Ten year-in and year-out in all of their sports.”

The night before his visit with the athletic department, Montgomery took time to drive around College Park, hoping to get a feel of his potential new digs. He came away impressed, enjoying everything from the hills to the Greek-style columns on some of the older buildings around the campus. 

Montgomery’s meeting the next day solidified his belief that joining the Terps — and leaving Louisiana Tech, a school he had found success with — was the correct decision.

It didn’t make Sunday’s goodbyes any easier. But it made his greetings all the more thrilling.

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