Can Philip Montgomery turn back the clock at Auburn?
Auburn's new offensive coordinator was one of the best in the business the last time he was an assistant. And it's clear that the Tigers are banking on that again.
During the same introductory press conference in which Hugh Freeze said he wanted his defensive coordinator to be “masterful” with Xs and Os — which turned out to be Ron Roberts — the new Auburn head coach said he was thinking about making a major change.
Freeze has called offensive plays for most of his time as a head coach, with the notable exception of the two years in which he was a tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Ole Miss. But he hinted that era might be coming to an end.
“I’ve called plays my whole career,” Freeze said. “I honestly, sitting here today and contemplating, (think) that maybe in the new world of rebuilding the Auburn football team and the work it’s going to take to capture the players and recruit, maybe I should get some help in that.
“And really what kind of spurred it on, truthfully, is some of the texts I’ve gotten. And I’ve watched them and I’m like, ‘Wow, they’re really good at what they do.’ Probably better than me, and I think I’m pretty good at it.”
Right before Freeze was introduced at Auburn, Philip Montgomery’s time at Tulsa was coming to an end. After ending a three-year streak of losing seasons with back-to-back bowl berths in 2020 and 2021, Tulsa finished 5-7 in 2022, and Montgomery was out.
Like with the defensive coordinator search, Auburn was linked to a variety of potential offensive coordinators over the last two weeks. Some, like new Wisconsin offensive coordinator Phil Longo, were big-name play-callers. Others were more of position coach and recruiting types — ones who would conceivably get the role while Freeze kept calling plays.
Then Freeze hired a different archetype altogether.
Montgomery is not exactly like the others who were linked to the position. He’s coming to Auburn straight off an eight-year stretch as a Group of 5 head coach. And the last time he was an offensive coordinator, he was one of the best in the country.
Auburn hasn’t officially announced Montgomery’s hire, but that hasn’t been the case for any of Freeze’s inaugural staff moves. Montgomery changed his profile picture on Twitter to the Auburn logo Sunday night, and he now lists himself as “OC/QB coach” for the Tigers in his bio.
The next time Freeze speaks on the record — or makes any sort of statement on his hires, whichever comes first — it will be interesting to see if Montgomery is one of those offensive coordinators who made him contemplate not calling plays at Auburn.
It wouldn’t be surprising if that was the case. After all, Montgomery was known as the man behind Baylor’s massively successful offenses of the late 2000s and the early 2010s.
“Coach Montgomery is an outstanding playcaller,” former Baylor quarterback Nick Florence told friend of the newsletter Max Olson in 2013. “He’s always looking out for the QB and takes shots when it’s good to take shots. He has great balance with playcalling, and you can see that on the field. It’s not a science — he has a great feel for the game.”
Montgomery parlayed that success with Baylor, which included Robert Griffin III’s Heisman Trophy campaign in 2011, to a head coaching job at Tulsa from 2015 to 2022.
The results with the Golden Hurricane were up and down, but there were some common threads throughout that bode well for his return to strictly offensive coaching. After all, consistency isn’t going to be easy to come by when you coach at the smallest FBS school in the country, and one that routinely finishes outside the top 100 nationally in recruiting.
And there are big believers in what Montgomery could do when he returns to offensive coaching, specifically when it comes to quarterbacks.
Matrix Analytical, an analytics firm founded by longtime college football mind Dave Bartoo that assists athletic departments in coaching searches, tweeted this about Auburn’s hire of Montgomery:
In 12 seasons as an FBS quarterbacks coach, Montgomery’s starters averaged at least 7.8 yards per pass attempt 11 times. That happened four more times at Tulsa, including both the 2021 and 2022 seasons. (Auburn hasn’t hit that mark with a primary QB since 2017.) More than half of those 12 quarterbacks averaged 8.3 yards per attempt, with three more coming in the Tulsa years. And his last four quarterbacks at Baylor all averaged at least 9.0 yards per attempt.
Montgomery, like Freeze, is known for his work at developing quarterbacks and coming up with schemes that help his offenses overcome talent gaps.
It’s not hard to see how that blueprint makes a lot of sense for Auburn, which hasn’t recruited at quite the same level of its biggest rivals — particularly along the line of scrimmage.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Auburn Observer to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.