March 24, 2011
NIU Men's Basketball Press Conference Transcript:
Jeff Compher, NIU Associate Vice-President and Director of Athletics
"First of all [Dave Kaplan], thank you so much for coming in and hosting the show today, it means so much. Before I talk about our coach, I want to everyone to realize that this isn't just the NIU basketball hirer, this is an NIU hirer. This is for the entire university. I want to thank Todd Turner from Collegiate Sports Associates for their work. I want to thank President Peters and our amazing university administrative team and our faculty for what they've done to make this happen. I want to thank my wife and family, who have not seen me much the past two weeks, and also want to thank our creative media relations staff for arranging this virtual press conference.
"As we started the process of finding a new coach, we were looking for someone who and great energy and was a hard worker, had a good experience recruiting the Midwest, good experience as a Division I coach. We needed to have someone who understood what it was like to be a co-promoter for a basketball program and someone who would be willing to get out in the community. We need to have someone who understands and would emphasize that we want each of our players to earn a degree while they're at NIU, and also, a person that has the desire to be here and is the right fit for NIU. I believe when you can find the right person with the experience, character, belief and desire, and all of those things come together, and we were able to find our next coach, Mark Montgomery, better known as Coach Mike.
"He's a former Big Ten player who earned his degree and was good enough to play in Europe for several years after being at Michigan State. He came back to the U.S. to coach at the high school level, and then went on to coach in the MAC at Central Michigan University, where they enjoyed a tremendous turnaround in his four years. The last 10 years he has been with Coach Tom Izzo and helped him go to three Final Fours and several Big Ten Championships. I spent the last two days with him and I have to tell you that the qualities that he brings to us and to the players -he had a chance to meet with the players last night--he is a genuine caring person that will help turn our program around, and I'm very pleased to introduce our next men's basketball head coach, Coach Monty, Coach Mark Montgomery."
Mark Montgomery, NIU men's basketball head coach
"I'm very excited, like Jeff Compher said, expect a lot of energy, a lot of excitement, I just want to get started working. I want to thank President Peters for giving me this opportunity. I said it already, Jeff Compher and the committee, Dr. Hemphill, Dr. Freeman and Christian Spears. I met with them all in Chicago and I got a great feel. I was so excited after the interview. I want to thank my wife too, Alex, a big trooper all through my career. We were so excited after the interview that we came down to campus and drove around just from what the excitement of what the committee had to say, and the excitement of hopefully getting the opportunity to be at Northern Illinois. It's a dream come true."
On his thoughts of being able to win immediately
"I think it is a sleeping giant. When you're an hour away from Chicago and you have a great academic institution, you have great facilities, you have a recruiting base, you're in a great conference like the Mid-American Conference, it's just going to take myself and a great coaching staff to come in here and recruit good, coach good through individual workouts through getting relationships with the guys. I think it's time for NIU basketball to take off. I had the same situation when I was at Central Michigan where they were coming off just 20 wins in five seasons. When you get a group of dedicated guys and dedicated coaches that have some vision and come with some excitement, you roll up your sleeves and big things can happen. Like I said earlier in my message, the facilities here, the campus here, it's a friendly environment, the community is going to get behind us, this thing is ready to take off so I'm very excited."
On how working under Tom Izzo can help him moving forward
"Actually, I should have thanked Coach Izzo in my first statement. He was one of my big mentors. I was working with him for 10 years. The thing with Coach Izzo, he's going to instill integrity and a work ethic into all of his coaches. He gives us the opportunity not to be assistants, but to be future head coaches so a lot of responsibility that way. If I need a lending hand or some advice, I will always call Coach Izzo, he's always willing to pick up the phone if that's talking X's and O's, if that's talking relationship, or if that's talking scheduling a game, I look forward to and always will stay in close contact with Coach Izzo and the Michigan State coaches."
On if he will be bring Izzo's tough style of play to DeKalb
"That's just a winning style of basketball. Any time you can play defense and rebound, you're going to have opportunities to win the game. I think to be successful at this level, you're going to have to have a certain amount of toughness, and that's one thing that Coach Izzo stood for and the program stood for. That's not something I'm going to shy away from. I want our teams to be physical. I want to be tough on defense. I want to play an aggressive style of man-to-man. At the same time, offensively, I want aggressive, a fast-breaking team, sharing the basketball, getting your other teammates involved, but it's definitely going to be starting on the defensive end."
On his timetable of turning things around
"We're going to try to get better every day. It's hard to put a timetable on it. We're going to go out and compete and start as early as next week when I get here. We just want to get better every day, and then start recruiting better, get our kids in here and get our kids to graduate, believing in what it takes to get NIU basketball. The long-term goal is to compete for championships. We want to be in postseason play. That's what I come from, that's what I want to instill here. We want to definitely in the last two or three weeks of the season, we want to be competing for league championships."
On his reception from the current players
"I thought the reception with the players was great. It was a chance to be with them for about 45 minutes. I thought they had a lot of excitement from just looking at their body language. They're used to the old staff and the old coach and change is tough at the beginning, but they were very receptive to things that I've asked them, academically right way I asked them right away to stay on top of their books because I'm not on campus right now, and let's get in that weight room and get in the gym and put some extra time in."
On how coaching at Central Michigan has prepared him for life in the MAC
"Starting off at Central Michigan is going to help me because I'm not going from the Big Ten to this is the first time I'm in the Mid-American Conference. We had to recruit at the Mid-American level. You have to recruit a lot of kids. When you're at a school like Michigan State, you're looking at the best kids in each state. When you're recruiting for the MAC, you have to look at a wide range of kids. You still want to recruit the top athletes, but at the same time, you want to have to have a longer list of kids from different states, form different high schools. You have to be involved with some junior college kids so it's going to be longer list. Everyone knows at the Big Ten level, you're chartering them and you're flying them, at the Mid-American level, you're taking bus trips so it's definitely not going to be something that I haven't experienced. A lot of relationships with high school coaches throughout the Midwest from the Central Michigan era and the Michigan State era. I just think that coming from Michigan State, what helped me is postseason play and instilling defense and toughness, and the ability to touch a lot of different people."
On the importance of connecting with community
"I think connecting with the community is very important. They're going to be the backbone of this to. The community, the faculty, the students; I had to get out like I tell Jeff and the rest of the staff here that I'll be at speaking engagements, if that's from the Rebounder's Club to the Rotary Club to the fraternities and sororities, I'm going to be very visible. Getting out to the Chicago area holding coaching seminars, opening things up to practice, we're going to try some different things here to get everyone a part of this and take ownership in this program."
On if there will be more recruiting from Chicago and the suburbs
"We're looking for players, if that's in the Chicago area, if that's in the suburbs or if that's in the farm areas, we're going to be everyone. If there's a player there, we're going to make sure that we turn over every stone, lift branches, go city to city, state to state, school to school, AAU coaches all throughout the Midwest, we're going to recruit because we know that's the backbone of turning this program around."
On the type of players he wants
"We want scorers, shooters, rebounders, we just want team guys that are going to come in here and play for the school that's on the front of the jersey and not what is on the back."
On Izzo's reaction when he told him about his offer from NIU
"Coach was very excited. The first thing he said was, `you should've had it years ago, but you're in the right situation.' As long as I'm happy, this is definitely with coach talking to the president the AD, he felt really sound that this thing was going to get turned around. He was very excited. Then I wanted to talk getting into the game and then he wanted to talk about different things like that. He's excited. Coach couldn't get off the phone thinking about how excited he was that I got this opportunity."
On his relationship with Izzo
"It was definitely a working relationship. We bumped head many a times because we are such great competitors and we want nothing but wins for our guys, but from knowing Coach even before coaching at Michigan State, he recruited me out of high school. He's always been a father figure, definitely walk into your office and it's not just basketball, but it's about life and that's something that I'll always cherish and remember for the rest of my career."
On the difficulty of leaving Michigan State and Izzo
"Michigan State is always going to be home, but at the same time, everyone at Michigan State knew that my life-long dreams and goals were to become a Division I head coach and running my own program. Michigan State will always be a special place in my heart, being a former player there and working with some of the best coaches in the country, but with an opportunity like this, coming to NIU, it's not as hard to leave as people think. I'm going to miss Michigan State. I'm going to miss the Big Ten, but I'm looking forward to competing against those guys and other teams in the country."
On his coaching staff
"I'm definitely going to sit down with the guys on the current staff. I think they put a lot of time in here, and when you have a new coach come in, sometimes you might have something good right here, like I said, I've been coaching for 14 years so I have a lot of other guys over the years that I've had relationships with and I look forward to talking to those guys, but I think within the next couple weeks, we'll have our staff together."
On if any other schools were contacting him
"The most important program came calling and that was NIU, and that was the most important thing. I thought this was the best opportunity to 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."
On his thoughts of the campus and community
"The first trip was a rainy Sunday and me not knowing where I'm going and my wife driving, it was just like, `hey, let's just get down here and look around here.' A lot of the buildings were closed. The second trip, it's not just the buildings; it's the people in the buildings. It's a great campus. It's a great opportunity. The facilities are incredible. I've just been smiling ear to ear since I've been here. It's going to be home here, hopefully, in a couple weeks. I'm just excited."
On Montgomery's contract
"We'll find out about it soon enough. It will be out probably pretty quickly. It'll be for a $300,000 salary with five-year contract."
On how enthusiastic he was about Montgomery's credentials
"I thought it was one of the key factors for me. 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 get it done. 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."
On the recommendation that Izzo gave for Montgomery
"I found that you don't really often talk to Coach Izzo, you listen. I did a lot of listening when it came to Coach Monty. He went on about not only his character, but his ability to coach and recruit, and how he relied on him as associate head coach for game planning, for practice planning, for scouting, all of the kind of essential elements that maybe most fans don't always think about, he relied on him to do. He had so much respect for his ability, but also kind of like a proud parent knowing that he has risen through the ranks of coaching and has done so well. He has a good history. He told me that of all the assistant coaches that he has that have went on to be head coaches, that he's the most prepared and ready to go. That really struck a chord with me because there been some great head coaches out of that program and under his tree. I felt very good about that. I told [Montgomery] yesterday that he is president of your fan club. I just really enjoyed talking with him. If you think you like Coach Izzo just from watching him on TV as many people do, when you talk with him, you gain an entirely new respect for him and what a good man he is. I think anyone that's been around him or associated with him, that's going to rub off quite a bit."
On the early signees
"No I have gotten a chance to [speak with them]. After I leave this press conference, I plan on calling both recruits and their parents, and of course, all of the current players' parents. These last 48 hours has been non-stop meeting ___ members here and coaches and media people here, but definitely I'm going to reach out to both recruits as early as today."
On his experience recruiting in the Chicago area
"Probably recruiting, I think to spending a lot of time and meeting his family and chasing him around the country was Shannon Brown from Proviso East. He turned out to be a pretty special player for us. I've always recruited the Chicago area. I'm looking forward to keep building relationships and maintain the ones that I do have."
"I think one of my goals is, especially with the Chicago area and just the state of Illinois, when you can recruit kids within a five hour radius, especially in the state, getting more kids on campus, getting kids to commit to NIU, it's just going to get a bigger fan base when you get to high school coaches and the AAU coaches to come down here and see what we have to offer. When it's a local kid, just the excitement in their high school coaches and families and their friends that they can come see him play is important."
"The most important thing from our perspective is, as I said earlier, we have the right person for the job. We had a lot of great interest for this job. 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 from NIU."
On if he had any doubt that he would get a collegiate head coaching job
"I don't think there was any doubt on my side of it, but sometimes it takes that AD, or like you said, that fit. There's a lot of good coaches throughout the country, you just have to patient. You have to do your job. You have to keep excelling in your profession. I just kept going to more seminars, meeting with more and more coaches. I was in a great situation at Michigan State. I wanted to make sure that I was fully prepared when it was time to take my head coaching job, but there was never any doubt in my mind and the people around me that I was one day going to get that opportunity and I'm planning on taking full advantage of this opportunity. You want to be in the right situation and NIU is the right situation for me so the wait was well worth it."
On if he's been close to a head coaching job before
"I thought I've been close for a few head coaching jobs, but like Jeff said, it might not have been the right fit. That never discouraged me. I think sometimes early in your career, you need to go and interview just to get experience and see what it's like, and then from there, you have to find different jobs that you are the right fit for. Like I said, there's a lot of good coaches throughout the country and when you're an assistant coach and you get the opportunity, you just have to thankful and I'm very thankful for this opportunity."