New Lions RBs coach Scottie Montgomery grew up dreaming of a better life in Detroit

Detroit Free Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Scottie Montgomery’s late mother, Vera, was a hardened lady who worked a mill job in rural North Carolina.

She got up at 4:30 a.m. to make breakfast for her family so she could be to work by 6, and sometimes worked a second job at night.

So when Montgomery would gripe and complain about his playing time or any of the other obstacles he faced in life, Vera Montgomery would put her son in his place.

“The expectation was if she was going to sacrifice at 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then work another job later in the evening, then our sacrifice would be we’re going to do whatever we have to do to make sure that we were successful for her making these sacrifices,” Montgomery said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine. “(I complain about getting) two carries? ‘You got to be kidding me. I was up at 4:30 this morning trying to get breakfast ready so I can go to work at 6 a.m.’ So, no, that didn’t go over very well.”

Montgomery inherited his late mother’s selflessness, and as the Detroit Lions’ new running backs coach and assistant head coach, he said that’s one trait he wants his backs to embody in Detroit.

“If I had to put three words together, it’s smart, tough and reliable,” Montgomery said. “We got to protect the quarterback and protect the football. We’re going to work our ass off on doing those things and then we’re going to be there to support our players in the room. It’s the brotherhood, right? We talk about it. It’s not going to always be in my hands. The football’s not going to always be in my hands. It may be in someone else’s hands, but we got to cheer and we got to be there for our brother just like if we were the ones carrying the football.”

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The Lions hired Montgomery in February to replace Duce Staley, after Staley left to take the same position with the Carolina Panthers so he could be closer to his ailing mother, a two-time cancer survivor, in South Carolina.

Montgomery’s addition comes a year after he interviewed to be Lions offensive coordinator.

Though he was passed over for that job in favor of Ben Johnson, Lions coach Dan Campbell said Montgomery impressed during the interview, and Montgomery said he and Campbell hit it off to the point “it was like I met Dan and then I had known him for 25, 30 years.”

“It didn’t work out, but it was good to be able to get in front of them because of this opportunity,” he said. “And we’re really happy about it.”

Montgomery’s wife, Ebony, is a Detroit native, and along with being closer to her family, Montgomery, who starred in football at Burns High in Lawndale, N.C., population 606, said coaching the Lions is in some way fulfilling a boyhood dream.

“A lot of people say they want to go to New York, right? A lot of people, ‘Yeah, I want to go to New York. I want to go to L.A.,’” Montgomery said. “Well, growing up in the south, especially when you grew up in the working south as an African American, you made it when you made it to Detroit. Because all the images that we had from Detroit were families — and not making this about minority or non-minority, but African-American families that were together, that were led by a mother and a father, and everybody was dressed so nice. The hats that my family members used to come back with when they would visit Detroit, everybody was dressed to a T, everybody was hard-working. The education was phenomenal. So it’s motivating to go somewhere with a history like that.

“So we’re blessed to be able to not only come to a place we spent a lot of time in anyway, but also the history of being able to, when I was a kid, thinking, ‘Man, if I could just finally, if I could just get to Detroit, it’s going to all change. Everything will be — we won’t have dirt roads, there’ll be streets and nice cars, and maybe one day we’ll work for Ford and then we’ll go from there.’”

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Montgomery, of course, is working for Ford — Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp, not the auto company. And he takes over a rushing attack that ranked 11th in the NFL last season at 128.2 yards per game but has personnel questions heading into the offseason.

The Lions are working to re-sign leading rusher Jamaal Williams before he hits free agency March 15. Williams has made it known he wants to return to Detroit, and his representatives met with the Lions on Wednesday at the combine, but he is expected to garner interest from the Panthers, Buffalo Bills and others on the open market.

Backup Justin Jackson also will be an unrestricted free agent, and D’Andre Swift has one year left on his rookie deal but has had battled injuries throughout his career.

Montgomery said he’ll work with Campbell and the Lions’ strength staff to develop a plan to keep Swift healthy and on the field, and he said he’s looking forward to coaching whatever collection of backs he has in Detroit.

“One of the most important things that I think that I’ve seen since I’ve been there is just that everybody’s on the same page,” Montgomery said. “Like, all the way from the head coach to all of us as assistants, and trying to support Ben and trying to support Dan the best that we can possibly do. And that’s the goal, man. We know that we can take another step and that’s what I’m hopefully coming to be a part of, taking the next step, continuing to polish.”

Silicone valley

Montgomery wore a dark blue, silicone bracelet on his right wrist as he talked with reporters Friday. The bracelet said, “Indianapolis Colts,” on one side — Montgomery coached running backs and was assistant head coach for the Colts last season — and said, “Keep tight,” with an image of a first on the other.

Montgomery explained the bracelet was something Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley gave select assistants last season as the Colts struggled through a tumultuous 4-12-1 season that included an in-season coaching change.

“We went through it a lot,” Montgomery said. “(Gus) was great during the process, and during that process he gave out to certain people this thing that says, ‘Keep it tight,’ and there’s a fist. And that means that any time it feels like you’re a little bit worried, or things are not going the right way, or this is going on and you’ve got no control over it, you can’t control it, so let’s just keep it tight. Let’s all stay tight in here together and keep it tight.

“So I was going to give this back to him this week because I’m taking it off and giving it back to him. He’s going to cry, but I’m giving it back, because we did, we kept it tight, but now I can’t wear this shit anymore.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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