On the first day of preseason camp more than three weeks ago, Jay Johnson was hurrying through a quick post-practice lunch in his office at the Champions Center when he was asked to ponder a curious situation regarding the most important player on his Colorado Buffaloes’ offense.
Quarterback Steven Montez has been a fixture in the Buffs’ attack going back as far as 2016, when he kept the ship afloat on several occasions in relief of starter Sefo Liufau during CU’s run to the Pac-12 South Division title. Since then, though, there has been a revolving cast of voices bending Montez’s ear with advice. Johnson is Montez’s third quarterbacks coach and third offensive coordinator of his CU career. Including the soon-to-unfold 2019 campaign, those roles have altered each of the past three seasons.
It is a situation that easily could have turned into a source of frustration for Montez. Yet with Montez’s senior season finally set to kick off Friday night against Colorado State, both the pupil and his latest mentor believe the turnover of coaching personnel has been a blessing in disguise for CU’s signal-caller.
“He is more of a veteran type of player, but I think with all the quarterbacks we try to have a very transparent and a very open relationship that we can kind of work off each other a little bit,” Johnson said. “I’m sure I approach things differently than the previous guys in certain capacities, and in a lot of capacities it might be the same.
“Steven has been very coachable and has really been trying to be a sponge and soak it all up. We probably approach things a little different schematically, and so in a certain way I think it’s kind of good for him. As you get older, it’s sort of a new challenge. That new challenge I think is kind of keeping him on task. We’re trying to really dig into the why — why this is happening, why are we doing this—and I think he’s kind of gravitated toward that.”
During Montez’s redshirt season of 2015, he worked solely with Brian Lindgren, who doubled as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. Former coach Mike MacIntyre then brought in former Buff Darrin Chiaverini to share the offensive coordinator duties, with Lindgren still serving as Montez’s quarterbacks coach. When Lindgren moved to Oregon State following the 2017 season, offensive line coach Klayton Adams joined Chiaverini in the co-offensive coordinator roles (with Chiaverini calling plays for the first time), while Kurt Roper was added as quarterbacks coach.
Though those carousels at least revolved within the same offensive system, Montez’s final offseason at CU has posed a different challenge. Johnson and first-year head coach Mel Tucker are bringing an entirely new approach to the Buffs’ offense. Montez believes having worked directly with several different coaches made him uniquely suited to adapting on the fly heading into his final season.
“I’ve been blessed with just fantastic quarterback coaches, from Lindgren to Rope to coach Johnson,” Montez said. “They’ve all been great. They’ve all known the game. They’ve all been super sharp. Personality-wise, they’ve been a little bit different, so you kind of have to adjust to that. But once you go into meetings, you’re sitting there and you’re ready to learn. You’re not worried about, ‘Oh man, why are we getting a new quarterback coach?’ You’re there to learn and they can obviously teach you something. I don’t know nearly enough about the game as I’d like to, and I know everyone else in the quarterback room feels like that. We go into those meetings, we take out our pen and our paper and we just open our ears and listen.
“It’s about learning from the different mentors that we’ve had come in. I think they’ve all kind of brought something different to the table that they’ve emphasized. Coach Lindgren wanted us to sit there and learn the offense and know every detail about what we’re doing and what we could do in making adjustments off of that stuff. And then coach Rope came in and taught us more about the defensive side of the game. Then coach Johnson took it a step further and really made us dive deep into defensive coverages, defensive fronts. Now we’re ID-ing (middle linebackers), we’re checking techniques. It just kind of all built off each other. I don’t know if that just comes with maturity and getting older as well…but you just keep growing in knowledge of the game.”