DeKALB – One year ago, Ricardo Patton coached the Northern Illinois men’s basketball team. Jerry Kill was the head man of the football program. Carol Owens led the women’s hoops squad.
In 11 months, athletic director Jeff Compher has had to replace all three of those positions, the biggest three coaching spots in college athletics. Compher has dedicated himself fully to each of these hires, even missing part of a family vacation in Florida to get this one done.
This comes after he made and fulfilled a promise to the football team that it would be the first to know of Doeren’s eventual hire and being forced into action when Owens suddenly departed, bringing in a first-year success story in Kathi Bennett.
After Wednesday’s hire of Michigan State associate head coach Mark Montgomery to replace Patton, Compher looks like he’s 3-for-3.
“On paper, it looked great, but when he talked about how they did it through recruiting high school kids and recruiting the right kind of people to come there and get it done,” Compher said. “It just really excited me because I knew that it was the right combination of coaching, that with his leadership we could duplicate that here and I felt very confident.”
At the outset, this didn’t look like an easy hire. This wasn’t the football team, knocking on the door of the Top 25 and a top tier mid-major destination. This is a program that gets outdrawn by high schools. And yet Compher had candidates from Gonzaga (Ray Giacoletti), Purdue (Paul Lusk), Indiana (Tim Buckley) and Michigan State. Montgomery wasn’t the first choice among the finalists, as the Daily Chronicle confirmed with multiple sources Wednesday, but he might just be the right choice, and was snatched up by NIU before other schools made headway with him.
“The most important program came calling and that was NIU, and that was the most important thing,” Montgomery said when asked if he entertained offers from other schools. “I thought this was the best opportunity too, so it doesn’t really matter who was calling as long as NIU called, and that’s what I’m excited to be a part of now.”
Montgomery has Mid-American Conference experience at Central Michigan and learned next to Tom Izzo for the past 10 seasons, each of them ending in the NCAA tournament. He’s helped coach six NBA draft picks. His main recruiting areas have been Chicago and the Midwest. From every angle, Montgomery is a hire who exceeds expectations for a victory-starved fan base.
“We had a lot of great interest for this job,” Compher said. “One of the things that I equate it to is that people talk about fit, is that a lot of people that you talk to, they look good on the rack, but when you kind of start trying them on a little bit and making sure that it works both ways, sometimes those things don’t work out.
“From my perspective, not only did we get somebody that we wanted from the start, we got the best fit for NIU.”
• John Sahly is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.