Dec 14, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears guard Justin Cobbs (1) talks with head coach Mike Montgomery after the Golden Bears drew a foul call against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the second half at Haas Pavilion. The Golden Bears defeated the Bulldogs 67-56. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Bay Area Buzz 3/31: Mike Montgomery, Mark Jackson, Sonny Gray


Retiring now would be fitting exit for Montgomery

Mike Montgomery may well retire Monday after what seems like 220 years of college coaching, and if that is so, it is so perfectly Montgomery to do so while the rest of the business is talking about the four regional finals and the advent of this year’s Final Four.

In other words, radar, look down.

Montgomery, who just finished taking his 35th team, the 2014 California Golden Bears, to the third round of the NIT, has never been all that adept at the look-at-me-coaching part of coaching, so going out while everyone else in the business is looking in another direction would be the perfect way for him to leave.

To recount his career is an exercise in history-wading. He’ll end up one good season short of 700 wins (at 676, he ranks 189th all time), he’ll have one losing season in 35 years on the job, he’ll have a Final Four appearance and an NIT championship, and no scandals. He’ll have a failed but educational experience in the NBA, and even a few years of television so that he can check off the “easy money” box on his bucket list.

He’ll also have a closet full of earth tone suits, all the better not to look like a fashion plate, a dandy or an attention-seeker. He liked the simplicity of coaching, has worked at three schools where the media crush was barely a whisper (Montana, Stanford and California), and his occasionally flinty personality with the prying eyes of the outside world was largely a ruse.

He is, by own his description, “a gym rat,” someone born to the job rather than the perks. Oh, he got paid a series of fairly princely sums once he left his first post at Montana, topping out at $1.75 million, but he would retire with two more years left on his current deal, so he reached the point where the money no longer prodded him out of bed each day, if ever it did.

And he finishes, if this is in fact the end, as an “old-school” coach while never really becoming too old for the changing natures of the game and its business practices. You don’t do 35 years without being adaptable, and you don’t do those 35 at three different places without being able to adapt to changing conditions.

Oh, he made his set of mistakes, to be sure, as anyone who’s done the same thing for 35 years would. The most noteworthy would probably be his shove of Cal’s Allen Crabbe a year ago, but as troubles go, this is fairly minor stuff. Mostly he operated on a fairly stable set of principles that served him and those to whom he imparted them well.

And if you need to ask what his reputation is . . . well, when he took the Cal job, Cal fans who remembered him mostly from his years schooling the Bears from Stanford found the hire to be the zenith of Sandy Barbour’s work as athletic director.

It’s not exactly Nick Saban going to Auburn, or Ulysses S. Grant deciding to finish up with the Confederacy, but the fact that Montgomery could trump local culture shock says something about his rep even among his enemies.

He will probably dispute this notion given his joy in arguing with those who fancy themselves experts in his world, but his career zenith was the 1998 Stanford team with Arthur Lee, Tim Young, Mark Madsen, Kris Weems and the now-famed Collins twins. That group won 30 games, and came within an overtime loss of Kentucky in the national semifinals of a possible national championship.

That would have been one of those gratifying/uncomfortable moments he sought out and dreaded at the same time. The achievement would have delighted him, and having to explain it again and again would have annoyed him. But even the annoyed Montgomery was an entertaining Montgomery, and Montgomery would be annoyed to know how his annoyance could entertain.

And secretly, he would have enjoyed it anyway, because he wasn’t entirely opposed to being annoyed from time to time even for his own entertainment.

–Ray Ratto, CSNBayArea.com

Warriors’ playoff results hold key to Mark Jackson’s job

This just in: Mark Jackson will not be fired this week.

Kidding! Jackson’s job is secure, well, let’s say until the end of this season. Then, who knows?

The Warriors’ coach has become the subject of speculation, debate and rumor since Jackson banished an assistant coach from the team, which led to a story on Yahoo Sports claiming that there is dysfunction at the top of the Warriors’ food chain (no examples were given), intimating that Jackson is no lock to finish out his contract, which has another season to run.

This might be a bad time for speculation about Jackson’s job security, except for two things.

One, it’s a healthy sign that people are talking about Jackson and his job, because it means that the Warriors matter. If this wasn’t a hot and relevant team, nobody would care much about the coach (see: most of the past 20 Warriors’ seasons).

Two, there’s no danger of this chatter distracting the Warriors, who are pretty solidly united behind Jackson, maybe even more so because of the recent stir. Stephen Curry made a strong pro-Jackson statement, and so did respected team elder Jermaine O’Neal, who said, “When you have a chance to win 50-plus games, but you win five games in a row and lose one, and all of a sudden the coach should be fired, that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. Especially from a city that is so hungry for a winner. When you’ve got something good, fully cherish it. … We’re in the midst of trying to do something really special.”

So cherish away, absolutely, but understand that the relationship between coach and ownership is a constantly changing organism, and nothing is guaranteed.

Just ask Mike Woodson. Woodson coaches the Knicks, who beat the Warriors 89-84 at Oracle on Sunday. Last season Woodson was a golden guy in New York; this season his stock has plummeted. When the Warriors played at Madison Square Garden, the notoriously dyspeptic fans chanted, “Fire Woodson!”

Joe Lacob, the Warriors’ co-owner most involved with personnel decisions, declined to offer Jackson an extension after last season’s dramatic run to the second round of the playoffs. Jackson, many believe, felt he’d earned an extension. However, Lacob’s management style leans toward a more conservative approach.

The Yahoo story said Jackson showed interest in the Nets’ and Clippers’ coaching jobs. Jackson swears he absolutely did not. Who knows what Lacob believes?

After this season, the Knicks’ and the Lakers’ jobs could be open, and the threat of him jumping could be incentive for the Warriors to extend Jackson.

Everything hinges on the upcoming playoffs. Going into this season, Lacob probably expected the Warriors to finish among the top four in the Western Conference and earn home-court advantage for the first round.

The Warriors traded valuable draft picks to get Andre Iguodala, to improve the team instantly, and if the Warriors don’t reach the second round, Lacob might consider that underachieving.

On the other hand, Jackson is Lacob’s guy. Lacob hired Jackson, who had never coached, even though Jackson wasn’t the unanimous choice of the team’s brain trust. Lacob is a proud guy, and to fire Jackson or let him slip away would be an admission that Lacob messed up a major hire, or at least couldn’t find a way to make a seemingly good thing work.

Here’s something else Lacob will have to consider: Regardless of how the Warriors do in the playoffs, something is working right. Not only are the Warriors highly competitive in the dog-eat-dog Western Conference, but they might be the league’s most entertaining team.

Jackson has given Curry, Klay Thompson and the rest of the team artistic freedom within the team concept. A tighter leash might have strangled this team, but Jackson lets ‘em rip.

Sometimes stuff just works, magic happens and an owner would have to think twice about disrupting delicate – and rare - chemistry.

–Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle

A’s Sonny Gray deserves his turn in the spotlight

Obviously, nobody wanted to see Jarrod Parker go down for the A’s. The kid’s legit, and it’s a typically cruel twist of baseball fate that he went down while in line to make that Opening Day start of which every Little League pitcher dreams.

Sonny Gray had that dream, too, though, and now he gets to live it. Hell, he deserved it anyway. Parker was going to get the call because Bob Melvin is a fine and decent man who understands how to manage personalities as well as he knows how to manage big-league games, but Gray is the more dynamic talent and the stronger psyche.

This is no offense to Parker, mind you. Again, he’s beyond legit. An All-Star talent. His loss is immense.

But Gray is to the 2014 A’s what Tim Hudson was to the 2000 A’s.

A less-than-imposing physical presence whose entire vibe — not just the ridiculous stuff but also the mound mannerisms that practically scream into the other dugout, “I’m about to wear you out all night” — makes him the kind of starter nobody wants to face. Ever.

“He could be my favorite guy to watch in the game by the time this year ends,” a longtime scout (now retired but living in Scottsdale, Ariz.) told me this week. “Sonny Gray walks out there like he’s the big brother joining his little brother’s friends in a little stickball game out in the street. He knows he’s better than everyone, but he’s smart enough not to flaunt it just in case something goes wrong.

“But you know what? Nothing goes wrong. Big brother is going out there to dominate, and he does.”

Will Gray dominate all year? Of course not. Baseball is too advanced these days for a youngster to get over for too long before a weakness is found and occasionally exposed.

–Mychael Urban, San Francisco Examiner

Tags: Cal Golden Bears Golden State Warriors Mark Jackson Mike Montgomery Oakland Athletics Sonny Gray