Tony Montgomery loves East Mississippi Community College.
The former New Hope High School baseball standout played the sport at EMCC, spent eight years as an assistant baseball coach to head coach Bill Baldner, and the past four seasons as the Lions” head baseball coach.
Montgomery doesn”t know why, but he said there is something about Scooba he enjoys.
That”s why Montgomery was pained Tuesday to learn the EMCC Board of Trustees voted Monday night not to renew his contract as the school”s baseball coach.
“It has been a great run,” said Montgomery, whose contract expires June 30. “There is nothing I would change about it. I love this place, and I always will. I will always recommend it to anyone who wants to come here.”
Montgomery guided the Lions to a 23-25 finish this season. The record was a step up from the 11-37 mark the program posted in 2009, but it wasn”t enough to prevent a coaching change.
EMCC athletic director Mickey Stokes said an advisory committee made up of trustees recommended to the school”s Board of Trustees that a coaching change be made. He said the Board of Trustees then voted to approve the recommendation. He declined to reveal the tally of the vote.
Stokes said the decision was made based on the success of the program, its win-loss record, and the direction the program was going.
Montgomery guided EMCC to a 20-30 finish in 2007, his first season. In 2008, EMCC went 29-18, which was the program”s most victories since 1994. The success resulted in the school building a new baseball stadium. Unfortunately, the construction of the field prevented the Lions from having a fall season. Montgomery said the team didn”t get on the field until two weeks before the start of the 2009 season.
Montgomery and his staff worked hard to transform the program after that season. They made inroads in the district, signing many of the players from their protected list that they consider to be the best in the area. Montgomery also said the Lions made significant progress out of state, landing several top players he believed were going to keep the momentum going next season.
“It is real disappointing because our freshmen really did a good job (this season) and pretty much led our team,” Montgomery said. “I would have been surprised if we didn”t win 35-plus games (in 2011) and had a chance to fight for the state title.”
Montgomery said he would have liked to have had another year to work with his current players and blend in a talented recruiting class, but he said he holds no hard feelings against EMCC President Dr. Rick Young, Stokes, or any members of the Board of Trustees.
“Sometimes when one door is closed another door opens, and this might be the best thing that ever happened to me,” Montgomery said.
The Columbus native, who as a senior helped lead the 1991 New Hope High team to a state championship, said he wasn”t sure where he would wind up. He said he would consider remaining in coaching, possibly at the high school level, and that he wouldn”t discount any opportunities.
“The most disappointing part is leaving, not that I am not going to be coaching,” Montgomery said. “If I had to put on rubber gloves and some boots and I was the guy who had to dig out trash cans every week I probably would have stayed. Having to leave after being here so long is the toughest part.”
Montgomery said he leaves knowing he ran the program with the best interest of the school as his primary concern. He said his goal always was to instill good character in his players and to teach them to respect the game.
This past academic year, the Lions earned the NJCAA”s All-Academic Team honor for having a composite grade-point average of better than 3.0 as a club, which included two NJCAA Distinguished Academic All-Americans and three other NJCAA Academic All-Americans.
“I feel the program is in better shape than when I got it,” Montgomery said. “I had a lot of players in four years here go to the next level.”
Stokes said EMCC assistant baseball coach Josh Snider wasn”t named interim head coach and that all questions about the program should be directed to him. He said the school will look in the state of Mississippi, regionally, and nationally to find the best baseball coach. He said the schools would like to complete the process in three to four weeks.
Stokes also thanked Montgomery for his service to the school.
“He has been a good employee and we wish him the best in whatever he does in the future,” Stokes said. “We will help and support him in any way we can.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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