By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
For years, generations really, Bixby has been celebrated as “The Garden Spot of Oklahoma,” a nod to its rich agrarian heritage.
From produce to sod, Bixby exports the better part of itself to the anticipating multitudes.
As the community along the banks of the Arkansas River has grown in size and numbers, so, too, has the list of its chief exports.
Today, thanks to overseer Loren Montgomery, Bixby is better known for its football production than its sod farms.
Over the last six years, Montgomery’s high school football teams have won five state championships in Class 6A-II.
Gold balls are growing on trees.
Bixby is The Garden Spot of Football.
Visitors once flocked to Bixby in search of tomatoes and cantaloupes. Now, college recruiters flock to Bixby in search of linebackers and wide receivers.
For a century, the fertile soil of the river valley has been hallowed ground for Bixby farming families.
For the last decade, the synthetic turf of Spartan Stadium has been sacred sod for Montgomery devotees.
Since the December coronation of Bixby’s undefeated football team, the city has reveled in the glorification of its two brightest lights. Montgomery has been saluted as unanimous Coach of the Year in Oklahoma football, as determined by the state’s two largest newspapers. Wide receiver Brennan Presley has received a scholarship to play at Oklahoma State University and has been crowned Gatorade Football Player of the Year.
These are heady times in Bixby, due in no small part to Loren Montgomery.
He has built a championship football program, a downright dominant football program, in much the image of Jenks, where he drew his first coaching breath.
Certainly, the last six seasons have been Jenks-worthy. Since the OSSAA in 2014 divided Class 6A football teams, creating Class 6A-I and Class 6A-II by enrollment numbers, Bixby has been a superpower.
In 2014 and 2018, Bixby completed 12-1 seasons with celebrations. The 2019 team finished 13-0.
Bixby is riding a 25-game winning streak.
Teams in 2015 and 2016 survived some obstacles along the way and managed to take home gold balls with 9-4 and 10-3 records.
Even with an 8-5 record in 2017, the Bixby brand still managed to shine, reaching the championship game.
In that six-season run, Montgomery’s teams were 64-14.
To find Montgomery at this gold-plated level of his profession might be a surprise to many. Indeed, it is a surprise to Montgomery himself.
Unlike the majority of coaches on a hall of fame trajectory, Montgomery did not dream of being a head coach. Or even being a coach at all.
He was an offensive lineman playing at an all-star level at Sand Springs, under Hall of Fame Coach L.D. Bains. He received a scholarship to Northeastern State University.
Still, Montgomery did not consider coaching. He did, however, major in education, partly due to his mother being a career educator. His future, he believed, was in the field of special education.
By the time his eligibility was running out at NSU during his senior year of 2000, Montgomery began to consider coaching.
He planned to teach in the Tulsa area, close to his parents’ home in Sand Springs. If he were to coach, he reasoned, he should locate at a school with a successful football program.
For his teaching internship, he landed at Jenks.
Jenks just happened to have that “successful football program.”
Fresh off the college campus, Montgomery did not know the Jenks football coach, Allan Trimble. Really didn’t know much about applying for a coaching spot.
But Montgomery had perseverance.
He tried to reach Trimble by telephone. To no avail.
He left messages. Several. Trimble did not return a call.
Reaching Trimble, meeting with Trimble, became a challenge for Montgomery. He wanted a spot on the Trimble team.
“I was going to have him tell me no before I moved on to the next (job),” Montgomery said.
“I didn’t know any better.”
He gave it one last try. He drove from Tahlequah to Jenks, unannounced, on the chance of meeting Trimble in his office.
“I just sat outside his office for more than 30 minutes till he showed up,” Montgomery said.
Jenks and Trimble had already won four consecutive state championships. Montgomery wanted to pair his teaching internship with a coaching internship.
“I said I will make coffee, I will be a fly on the wall. I just want to learn,” Montgomery said.
Trimble was impressed. He offered Montgomery a position right on the spot.
It was the beginning of a special connection. Jenks won the next two state championships in Class 6A.
“I thought coaching was easy,” Montgomery said, laughing. “We didn’t lose a game those first two years I was at Jenks.
“He treated me just like an assistant coach.”
And he was eventually hired as an assistant coach, earning more responsibilities each year. In his 10th season, 2009, Montgomery was handed the added responsibility of interim head coach when Trimble drew an OSSAA suspension.
In that role, Montgomery responded with a 9-1 record, taking Jenks to the state finals.
“I had the perfect job at Jenks,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to leave. I’d never applied for another job. I was hired to teach in the same place where I did my internship.”
Following the 2009 season, before Trimble was reinstated for 2010, Montgomery explored the possibility of moving. Pat McGrew was resigning after 11 seasons as head coach at Bixby.
Montgomery scored an interview for the position, but it was more like he was asking all the questions.
He wanted to know if Bixby would commit the resources for a first-class weight room, for additional coaches. “A lot of the things that we had built into our program at Jenks,” he said.
The answers were obvious. Bixby had already revamped its football facilities, with turf, expanded press box, endzone office space.
Montgomery was offered the job. And in August 2010, he was preparing for his first season as a head coach, a full decade after taking a seat at the Allan Trimble table.
Under McGrew, Bixby had been performing at an elite level in Class 5A, with three state runner-up finishes in its last five seasons. For 2010, Bixby was headed into Class 6A due to the city’s rapid population growth.
Montgomery said that his first four years at Bixby “were rough.” His teams qualified for the playoffs in his first two seasons, but not in the next two. His four-year debut record was 18-24.
Trimble always was just a telephone call away.
Montgomery recalled one revealing conversation as he was facing a situation “that I was extremely unhappy about.”
Trimble responded: “Well, you’ve got two choices. You can come back to work for me, or you can go back in on Monday and get your plow in the ground. What’s it going to be?”
Montgomery chose the latter option. He put his “plow in the ground,” met with his staff and refocused his energies. It was a turning point for him, for his program.
“We knew we had some really great kids coming back for the ’14 year,” he said. “And that’s when 6A was splitting.
“We had a whole lot of players that bought into what we were selling as far as the way we train year ’round, the way we practice, the way we attack our summers,” he said. “They could see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
And, at the end of that tunnel, after a 12-1 finish, the light was shining on Bixby’s first football state championship.
It was the beginning of the harvest.
Montgomery acknowledged the contributions of his former boss who died in December 2019.
“Coach Trimble was so influential in what we do,” Montgomery said. “That is where I started. That is where I cut my teeth. From the coaching perspective, that is all I know.
“From the way our practices are structured, from the way that I try to coach our coaches.
“Just the way he developed players. He was such a big believer in strength and conditioning, and developing those program kids before it was ever a trendy or cool thing to do.
“A lot of coaches give lip service to lifting weights as important. Strength and conditioning is important. Coach Trimble was, I think, a pioneer in that area.”
At Bixby, Montgomery has a full-time strength coach.
“It is the most important thing we do,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I think the way we strength-train and develop players, lift our kids year ’round, is the cornerstone of our program.”
And, as head coach, as overseer of the football program, Montgomery is chief practitioner. “I’m in there working with the guys,” he said.
At 41, Montgomery is fit and trim, a testament to his weight commitment.
He is not the laid-back type. He is straight-ahead serious. Demanding. Determined.
“I prefer structure,” he said. “When we walk into the weight room, I want to see things going in a certain way, and a certain level of intensity.
“I like things organized. You’ll see that in practice. You’ll see our practices are extremely well run and organized and coaches coaching hard.
“I understand that a little bit about myself, that I’m probably not as much of a player’s coach. So, I try to have some guys on staff that are those guys. You can’t have all 10 of you be Loren Montgomerys.
“I’m pretty serious. I don’t think I’m a big yeller. Used to be. I’ve learned there’s a better way to get your point across,” he said.
“I think I’ve become a little bit more relaxed on some things, maybe now that I’ve had my own kids. I think that changes your perspective. Also, being a head coach changes your perspective.”
Montgomery and his wife, Jessie, have two children, son Guy and daughter Sloane.
For the last five years, Montgomery has been Dean of Students at Bixby’s Ninth-Grade Center.
Coaching has been good for Montgomery.
“In order for a football program to be successful, you’ve got to have commitment from the community and administration, to build facilities like (we have), to provide the weight room that we need to be successful.
“And then you have to have coaches that believe and are willing to work their tail off and do things over and over and over the right way, and to care about kids, and build relationships with kids every day.
“It’s time-consuming. It’s stressful. But it’s a group effort.”
Together, they face the expectations of entering a football season as a defending champion.
“To be honest, I think it increases the pressure,” he said, talking about the challenge of remaining on top.
“We absolutely cannot become complacent or let our guard down. We have to ask, how are we going to make our program better this year.
“It almost creates just a little bit more anxiety on how we’re going to build on it. We can’t let our coaches or players become complacent in the way we train.
With five championships in six years, with an atmosphere veiled in gold, Montgomery and Bixby do not appear to be negligent.
“I am very lucky,” he said. “I recognize that.
“But you’ve got to have luck. You’ve got to get breaks.”