After setting franchise single-season lows in rushing yards and yards per carry in 2013, the Ravens and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery have decided to part ways.
The organization announced Friday that Montgomery, an assistant with the Ravens since 2008, would not be returning in 2014 after electing to pursue “other coaching and life opportunities,” according to head coach John Harbaugh in a released statement. The 17-year coaching veteran also played nine years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Detroit Lions.
Montgomery coached the Baltimore running backs over the last six seasons, three of which were Pro Bowl campaigns for Ray Rice, but the running game averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per attempt as the Ravens finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs this year for the first time since 2007. Run-game coordinator Juan Castillo has received the most heat for the season-long struggles of the offensive line, but both Rice and backup Bernard Pierce had the worst seasons of their careers in 2013.
“I have a great deal of respect for the person Wilbert is – not just as a coach, but also as an outstanding family man and someone who inspires everyone around him,” Harbaugh said. “In addition to his knowledge of the game and ability to connect with his players, Wilbert brought a passion to the Ravens that helped our team – and the individuals on it – reach tremendous heights.”
The timing of Montgomery’s departure comes less than a week after the first-half benching of Rice in the season-ending loss to Cincinnati. Harbaugh initially explained that Rice not being in the game was “a decision really with the offensive coaches” before he returned for the final series of the second quarter.
Asked to further explain two days later why Rice was benched after receiving a carry on the Ravens’ first offensive play of Week 17, Harbaugh’s response was more cryptic, leading some to wonder if all was well within the coaching ranks.
“I really can’t explain that adequately right now, in all honesty,” Harbaugh said on Tuesday. “That was something that happened during the game that, when I looked over and saw it, I put him back in the game. I don’t have an answer for you right now. He should have been out there.”
It remains to be seen whether more changes are coming as offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is interviewing for head coaching openings with Washington and Detroit and Castillo’s future has also come into question. Harbaugh said Tuesday that no changes were being made to his staff at the moment but acknowledged that his assistants could explore outside opportunities as well.
Under Montgomery’s tutelage, Rice ran for 6,180 rushing yards and 3,034 receiving yards in six seasons. His 9,214 total yards from scrimmage are the most in franchise history while his rushing total stands second only to Jamal Lewis (7,801).
Fullback Vonta Leach made it to two of his three Pro Bowls while working under Montgomery in Baltimore.
“Coach Montgomery was a great coach to play for,” Leach wrote on his official Twitter account. “Learned a lot for [sic] him over past three seasons. One of the best Rb coach [sic] in the business. I hate it for coach that he looks like the fall guy for our running game problems. Coach have [sic] had pro bowlers for years in the backfield. There was more thing [sic] one thing or one person. We did not get it fixed as a whole group.”
In 2009, the Ravens ground attack set a team record with 22 rushing touchdowns and ranked fifth in the league in rushing yards per game (137.5). Montgomery guided former Ravens fullback Le’Ron McClain to Pro Bowl recognition in 2008 and 2009.