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Wilbert Montgomery brings strong credentials to Cleveland Browns’ coaching staff

Posted Jun 6, 2014

Running backs coach loves the vision of Cleveland’s offense

Wilbert Montgomery takes a seat in the Cleveland Browns’ running backs room. He leans back in his chair, with his arms crossed and stares at the mural on the wall.

Jim Brown, Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner, three Browns legendary running backs, all have portraits in his classroom. All three of the players pierce a fire in Montgomery’s heart.

“I would like to see who is going to be the next Kevin Mack or the next Earnest Byner,” said Montgomery. “Being on that wall is the epitome of the National Football League. Who is going to be that guy? We have someone capable on this team, right now.”

When Montgomery was let go after a six-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens last January, he jumped at the opportunity to work with Kyle Shanahan. Montgomery was blown away at Shanahan’s vision for the Cleveland offense and the tremendous expectations the coordinator puts on his stable of running backs.

Montgomery has sunk his teeth in, and might be coaching the most competitive position on the roster. He raved about his talented classroom full of capable running backs, but it’s Ben Tate who he’s constantly pushing for greatness.

“It’s time for him to put the jacket on and the cap on and say, ‘Hey I’m the leader of this room,’” Montgomery said about Tate. “And it’s time for the young guys to challenge him to be great.”

There’s no member of the Cleveland Browns with a more distinguished NFL career than running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery.

The 59-year-old wasn’t always a football junkie, though.

Montgomery starred in the backfield for Abilene Christian, but missed his entire senior season with a leg injury. On the day of the 1977 NFL draft, Montgomery went about his business as usual. He woke up, got dressed and took a final exam. He didn’t expect professional football to be the next phase of his life.

Out of the blue, Montgomery’s phone rang. It was the Philadelphia Eagles, who informed the young running back they had picked him.

“I said ‘The Philadelphia who?’” Montgomery remembered. “I had never heard of that team before. I hung up the phone, walked out and took my exam.”

The next day Montgomery flew to Philadelphia. He never did fly back to Abilene Christian.

When Montgomery left the Eagles seven seasons later, he held seven team records, including most rushing yards. His iconic 42-yard touchdown in the 1981 NFC championship game sent the Eagles to the Super Bowl and is among the most revered plays in Philadelphia sports history. Montgomery was twice an all-pro and was eventually inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame.

Montgomery understands the ultra-competitive nature of the NFL, and how the running back position embodies that the most.

“I wasn’t afraid of hard work,” Montgomery said about his career. “I was afraid of losing a job. I was always playing out of fear and approval from the coaching staff.”

Understandably, after his playing days, Montgomery did not want to get into coaching.

He would help out Pinebrook High School in South Jersey, where he mentored future Heisman winner Ron Dayne. That was good enough for Montgomery.

But big-time coaches kept knocking at his door.

First it was in 1994. Hotshot defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes was assembling a potential staff, likely headed for the Eagles head coaching opening. Rhodes and his assistant Jon Gruden sat down Montgomery and threw the kitchen sink at the City of Brotherly Love’s best-ever running back, to join their staff. Montgomery didn’t bite. Rhodes and Gruden repeated the attempt in 1995. And they failed to persuade Montgomery again.

But Montgomery would have a tough time saying “no” to his next suitor. Dick Vermeil, Montgomery’s longtime head coach in Philly, had landed in St. Louis with the Rams and wanted his favorite running back to mentor his players.

“How does Coach Montgomery sound?” Vermeil asked Montgomery. He was convinced.

The first few seasons in St. Louis, Montgomery’s hesitation to join the NFL coaching ranks was validated. He wasn’t enjoying himself. The workload, the hours and the commitment were draining.

But it was the teaching part Montgomery loved the most, specifically with running back Marshall Faulk.

The future Hall of Famer became Montgomery’s top pupil. There was not a challenge Montgomery threw at Faulk that he couldn’t handle. The coach marveled at Faulk’s preparation.

“He just knew which things were going to take place, before they took place,” Montgomery said. “He was an excellent student. He challenged our other players to be great.”

And that’s what Montgomery will bring to the Cleveland Browns. He’ll challenge his stable of running backs to be great. He’ll challenge one of them to get their mural on the wall in the running backs room.