BERKELEY -- Dodging praise and fighting off emotions on his final day as Cal's basketball coach, Mike Montgomery used the podium to deliver a passionate endorsement of associate head coach Travis DeCuire as his successor.
Whoever gets the job will have enormous shoes to fill.
Montgomery retired Monday after six successful seasons at Cal and the most accomplished career of any Bay Area men's basketball coach of the past half century.
"I feel really good about my decision. I just think it's time," Montgomery said during a 35-minute news conference in which he showed a seldom-seen soft side by nearly breaking into tears several times.
In addition to the six years he spent at Cal, Montgomery, 67, coached for 18 seasons at Stanford, where he had his greatest success, leading the Cardinal into the NCAA tournament 12 times, including his last 10 years in a row. He left Stanford after the 2003-04 season to coach the Golden State Warriors, compiling a 68-96 record before being fired after two seasons.
Montgomery underwent surgery for bladder cancer 21/2 years ago but said his health is "great" and that he wanted to step away from coaching on his own terms.
He also put some heat on Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour to give serious consideration to DeCuire, who has been part of his staff in Berkeley for all six seasons.
"We've got the guy in this room that should have this job," Montgomery said. "I'm really hoping Sandy comes to that conclusion, ultimately. We're positioned very, very well."
Montgomery praised DeCuire as a strong strategist who had a huge hand in helping Cal improve a sagging academic reputation that the current staff inherited.
"We have a terrific group of young people that are ready to take the next step," Montgomery said. "In my opinion they're ready to move forward with Travis at the helm."
Barbour said she'd conduct a nationwide search to find a replacement for the man she called "a coaching icon." The process will take her to Arlington, Texas, this weekend for the Final Four.
She confirmed the athletic department has hired a Texas-based search firm, and that UC Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks and vice chancellor John Wilton will have a hand in the final decision.
She also said Montgomery's endorsement carries weight. "You pay attention," she said, calling DeCuire "a significant candidate for the job."
DeCuire, 43, was grateful for the support from "a future Hall of Fame coach."
Sophomore guard Tyrone Wallace said he was "shocked" by Montgomery's retirement decision, and carried on the campaign for DeCuire.
"We definitely respect him, and that's important," he said.
Added freshman Jabari Bird: "I would love to see Coach Travis get the job."
Among those who could be a candidate is former UCLA coach Ben Howland, who said Monday was about celebrating "one of the greatest coaching careers of our era. He's someone all coaches can look up to. He's the complete coach, a very good X and O coach and teacher. They're as hard to defend as anybody I've ever coached against."
Howland guided UCLA to three straight Final Fours through 2008.
Rarely sentimental, Montgomery acknowledged he was at a loss to wrap his arms around the occasion or his career, which spanned 32 seasons on the collegiate level and produced a record of 677-316, with just one losing campaign.
He fashioned a record of 130-73 at Cal, the best six-year span in school history, with the Bears earning four NCAA tournament berths and winning their first Pac-12 title in 50 years in 2010.
At Stanford, Montgomery took a perennial conference bottom-feeder and built it into a program that competed with Arizona and UCLA at the top of the conference and reached the Final Four in 1998.
"I don't know what to say," Montgomery said when he took the podium. "I did my crying earlier."
Montgomery thanked his family, including wife Sarah and son John, who worked on his coaching staff. At different moments during his address, Montgomery implored his wife and grown daughter Anne to stop crying because it was adding to his emotions.
"He actually gets very teary-eyed watching movies," Sarah Montgomery said. "He's a real softy."
Montgomery was hired by Cal before the 2008-09 season, two years after being dismissed by the Warriors. He knew immediately that the job and the campus culture would be different than it was at Stanford, but the change invigorated him.
"I really like the people here," he said. "That's not to say ... that probably didn't come out right. I really enjoyed the friendships and the people I've met here, their passion for the university. It's been a great experience at Cal."
Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at twitter.com/JeffFaraudo.
A look at coaches Cal might target in its national search. PAGE 7
Purdy: Emotional Montgomery reflects on stellar career.