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updated: 3/24/2011 10:05 PM

NIU's Montgomery has a big fan in Izzo

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  • In this Dec. 18, 2010, file photo, Michigan State associate head coach Mark Montgomery talks to his team during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Prairie View A&M in East Lansing, Mich. Montgomery is the new coach at Northern Illinois.

      In this Dec. 18, 2010, file photo, Michigan State associate head coach Mark Montgomery talks to his team during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Prairie View A&M in East Lansing, Mich. Montgomery is the new coach at Northern Illinois.
    Associated Press

 

When asked to advocate for Mark Montgomery during Northern Illinois' coaching search, Tom Izzo offered perhaps the perfect sentence to NIU athletic director Jeff Compher.

"(Izzo) said of all the assistant coaches he's had that have gone on to be a head coach, that he's the most prepared and ready to go," Compher said Thursday, "That really struck a chord with me."

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Considering Izzo's Michigan State coaching evergreen includes Tom Crean (Marquette/Indiana) and Mount Prospect native Brian Gregory (Dayton), that's quite the statement.

But on the day Compher introduced Montgomery as Ricardo Patton's successor, Izzo felt he needed to qualify his words about his 10-year assistant.

In the process, he complimented Montgomery even further.

"Tom Crean and Brian Gregory were off the charts, but they were only here four years or so," Izzo said. "'Monty' spent more time with us. Every year I let him do more and more -- and he's right up there with them in terms of understanding the game.

Montgomery's tenure at his alma mater included four years as Izzo's associate head coach. During the course of Michigan State's games, Montgomery stood up and directed the action almost as much as Izzo.

"That was his role," Izzo said. "He called our offensive things and I let him do it. He's an incredibly hard worker and organizer and I think he's going to be an incredibly good bench coach."

Montgomery, who received a five-year, $1.5-million contract, declared Northern Illinois to be a "sleeping giant."

"I think it's time for Northern Illinois basketball to take off," Montgomery said. "I had the same situation when I was at Central Michigan (from 1997-2001) where they were coming off 20 wins in five seasons.

"When you have some dedicated guys and dedicated coaches that have some vision and come with some excitement, you roll up your sleeves and you go to work and big things can happen."

Considering the Huskies are the only Mid-American Conference school to lose at least 20 games in each of the last five seasons, Montgomery's stance takes quite a bit of projection.

But Izzo agrees with that vision or he might have persuaded Montgomery to wait for the next job.

"Hiring a coach doesn't get you a championship," Izzo said. "It takes a whole department. With football being so good there, you think it can be done. And Mark will embrace football. Some coaches don't, but we do at Michigan State."

Montgomery met with NIU's returning players Wednesday night for 45 minutes and felt their body language betrayed an excitement for a new start.

He had yet to contact NIU's two fall signees -- one of which was Glenbard East point guard Zach Miller -- as of Thursday afternoon.

"We're excited," said Scott Miller, Zach's father and coach. "I think he's going to bring the kind of toughness defensively (that Michigan State had) and he'll push the ball. Those are things that Zach has grown up doing."

NIU assistant Todd Townsend recruited Zach Miller. While Montgomery said he will speak with Patton's assistants before choosing his staff, he sounded like he already has other coaches in mind.

Scott Miller hopes Townsend gets a chance to stay.

"He's outstanding," Miller said. "He's really making some inroads with the high school coaches. I was really pleased with Todd. It'd be a great move if he gets a chance to stick."

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