After an unexpectedly dominant win at East Carolina on Saturday, University of Tulsa football coach Philip Montgomery was approached by one of his underclassmen.
The message delivered: “Coach, next year is going to be our year.”
The victory in the season finale gave the Hurricane a fourth win and perhaps set the stage for further success in 2020, given the number of playmakers returning particularly on offense: the starting quarterback and his backups, all of the running backs and the top two receivers.
“We were really young offensively this year,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got a really good core; now where can we take it? How much better can we be? Those guys are hungry to get right back to work and that’s what you love about our group.”
The biggest question surrounding TU football is whether Montgomery will be back, as expected by those close to the program. No announcement was made Sunday, and after the game Montgomery said he plans to go on the recruiting trail Monday while working to finalize the Class of 2020.
Asked whether he feels confident he will be the coach next season, Montgomery said: “I don’t know. I hope so. ... I’ve come to realize things like that are out of my hands.
“My job is to continue to keep leading these young men in the best way that I know how. I’m not going to change who I am or what we do. I believe in all of those things. It’s up to the powers that be.”
Montgomery’s record is 25-37 through five seasons, with 17 of those losses decided by 10 points or fewer, including three painful setbacks this year. The Hurricane lost to SMU and Memphis in American Athletic Conference play on missed field goals.
“I think our conference just continues to get better and better and better,” Montgomery said. “We’re right in the thick of it. If the ball bounces or a call goes a different way, all of a sudden this season looks completely different. At this stage right now, we’re close. But we’ve got to get over the hump.”
Montgomery has two seasons left on his contract as a result of the extension received in December 2016 to his original five-year deal. A factor in the decision is a multimillion-dollar buyout amount, an obstacle during a financially challenged time at TU.
Another likely factor is how competitive the Hurricane was this season despite the disappointing record that led to a third straight year without a bowl appearance and a last-place finish in the AAC West.
“This season didn’t end up the way we wanted it to, but we could very easily be a three-loss team, maybe a two-loss team, if a couple things here or there (go differently) or one or two plays even in several games,” quarterback Zach Smith said. “I think everyone sees that. That’s the hard thing, because we know how good we are. We just didn’t execute at times during the season.
“I think he 100 percent deserves to come back. We’re not going to do anything but build on this and get better for next year.”