BERKELEY, Calif. — When Mike Montgomery walked off the court last week following an NIT loss to SMU, he had a sneaking suspicion that it was time to retire after more than four decades and 1,000 games as a basketball coach.
After waiting a few days to make sure his initial feeling wasn’t solely about the normal fatigue that comes at the end of a long season, Montgomery made it official on Monday when he retired after a remarkable coaching career.
“It’s all good, it’s all positive,” he said at a news conference. “It’s all for the right reasons. I feel really good about my decision at this time. I just think it’s time.”
Montgomery, 67, got emotional a few times during his retirement announcement, especially when talking about the commitment from his family, including son John, who was an assistant on his staff.
The Golden Bears went 21-14 and made the postseason for the sixth time in as many years under Montgomery but struggled late in the season and missed out on a return trip to the NCAAs.
Montgomery finishes his career with a 677-317 record, having also spent 18 years at Stanford and eight at Montana. Montgomery also had two disappointing seasons as head coach of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors in between his stints at Stanford and Cal.
“I wanted to go out on my own terms,” he said. “I didn’t want to go out because my health wasn’t good and my health is great. I wanted to go out making my own decision and not somebody else telling me I couldn’t coach anymore and I think I did that.”
Montgomery recommended assistant Travis DeCuire for the job, pointing to his work at improving the academic performance of the players and his strong relationship with the players.
“The players in our program trust Travis and that is huge in today’s business,” Montgomery said. “They want to play for him and he’s developed relationships with these kids and he’s developed relationships with people we need to recruit.”
Athletic director Sandy Barbour said DeCuire would be a “significant candidate” but she will conduct a national search to find the person who is the “absolute best fit” for Cal. Barbour plans to go to the Final Four in North Texas this week where she could meet with potential candidates.
Montgomery made the announcement after meeting with Barbour on Monday morning. He also addressed his team privately, breaking down in tears when telling them the news.
“It was my first time ever seeing him sad and actually crying,” sophomore guard Tyrone Wallace said. “It definitely shocked me. I’m just happy for him.”
Montgomery had one of the most successful coaching careers in Pac-12 history, building a program almost from scratch at Stanford and leading Cal to its first regular-season conference title in 50 years. He ranks third all-time with 282 conference wins and finished in fourth place or better in his last 15 seasons at Cal and Stanford despite often having less talent than some of his competitors.
Montgomery went 130-73 at Cal, posting the most wins in a six-year stretch in school history. He ranks third on the school’s all-time wins list.
“Clearly this program is in very good position and it’s thanks to Mike Montgomery and his staff,” Barbour said.
Montgomery underwent surgery for bladder cancer before the 2011-12 season but said he is in good health now.
Montgomery then led the Golden Bears to a 24-10 record that season, a runner-up finish in the Pac-12 Conference and a first-round loss to South Florida in the NCAA tournament.
He also helped Cal capture its first league title in 50 years in 2010. The Bears then beat Louisville in their NCAA tournament opener before losing to Duke.
Montgomery’s only other NCAA tournament win came last season, when the Bears beat UNLV in their opener before losing to Syracuse in the round of 32. The 2012-13 season was marred for Montgomery when he was publicly reprimanded by the Pac-12 and the school for shoving star player Allen Crabbe during a game.
At Stanford, Montgomery reached 12 NCAA tournaments with 10 straight second-round appearances and a trip to the 1998 Final Four. He took over a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since winning it all in 1942 and turned it into a perennial power that finished the 2003-04 regular season ranked No. 1 in the country.
He said he would like to stay involved in basketball somehow in the future, either as an announcer or helping the new staff at Cal, but admitted to some trepidation about his future.
“It’s a little scary to be honest with you,” Montgomery said. “I don’t know what I’ll do at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I’ve been walking into a gym every day for 53 years. Every afternoon I’ve walked into a gym. I’ll miss that but it’s time to try to find something else.”