NEW ORLEANS — Ravens coach John Harbaugh rattled off plenty of positives about his running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery on Wednesday morning.
Then Harbaugh stopped himself to add one more. "… At one time, he was the fastest human being in the world, did you know that? He was, a long time ago."
Montgomery acknowledges he was a pretty fast guy growing up in Greenville, Miss., in the early 1970s. During his high school days, Montgomery and his brother, Cleotha, clocked 9.3 seconds in the 100-yard dash on cinder rocks instead of the smooth, cushioned track surfaces of today. But the title of fastest man was often claimed by a few people, he said.
"Everyone considered themselves to be the fastest," Montgomery said. "My brother would tell you that he was faster than I was. It was the time. We ran on cinder rocks, so it was whoever had the fastest time that week probably would have been the fastest man in the world."
That speed caught the eye of several coaches and led Montgomery to a college career as a running back at Abilene Christian and a nine-year career in the NFL. Montgomery played his last NFL game in 1985 but has remained close to the game, coaching since 1997.
This week, Montgomery has been asked to reflect on several moments from his past as the Ravens prepare to face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday. Montgomery has been to Super Bowls as both a player and coach. He played on the Philadelphia Eagles team that lost to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV, which was also in New Orleans.
Montgomery began his coaching career in 1997 with the St. Louis Rams, where he eventually worked with famed running backs Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson before joining the Detroit Lions in 2006.
"It's so great to be coached by somebody like that because he's been through it," Ravens running back Ray Rice said. "He gets fired up like a player. He gets into the game. We've had our battles, but we knew all of our battles were out of love because he only wants me to write a chapter in my career that he's had.
"It's great to see somebody like that because he gets a greater feeling about one of us shining. I can give Wilbert all the credit and he would tell you, 'Nah, Ray did it.' But I would tell you straight up, 'My coach put me in the right position to be successful.'"
In five seasons with the Ravens, Montgomery has helped his group of running backs become steady contributors. Rice is a three-time Pro Bowler and in 2011 set a career-high in rushing yards with 1,364.
"Wilbert is a star," Harbaugh said. "He's a star coach, star human being, star father, and star husband. He was a star football player for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was an All-Pro player, one of the best backs to play the game.
"…He's a great coach. I think Wilbert is a rising star in the profession. To me, Wilbert could be a head coach in this league just like that and do a great job. Hopefully he'll get that opportunity."
Montgomery said the time to be a coordinator or head coach is behind him now that he's 58 and sees coaches and coordinators getting opportunities at younger and younger ages.
"I think the window for me to be a head coach or probably a coordinator has kind of passed me by," Montgomery said. "I like to just come to work and do a nice job and see if I can help someone else become a coordinator and help someone else become a head coach off of my staff."
The NFL is under scrutiny as several head coach and general manager vacancies have not been filled by minorities this year. After 16 years as an NFL assistant, Montgomery, who is black, said he stays focused on keeping his job but thinks the attention to minority hiring will produce change.
"I still think there are opportunities that's going to come," Montgomery said. "We are moving forward. It didn't happen this time, but it will happen next time. If you don't recognize it and you don't bring attention to it, then it will fall by the wayside. So attention has been brought to it and there's been a match lit, so now let's see how high and how long that flame is going to burn."
Montgomery added: "If I never become a coordinator or a head coach, I'm fine because what I have accomplished is good. I may not be at the top of the mountain but I have climbed that mountain."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times