Tony Lindsay had plans to bring Montbello back to the glory of high school football.
It will not happen.
This is a story about how new executive decision-making shocked the sports community in a historically neglected neighborhood in northeast Denver. Where education politics came together with the efforts of one family to mentor young people and build a football juggernaut. And why their legacy will be continued with a newly set up program down the road.
Lindsay, a longtime DPS head coach, won a Class 5A state championship last spring in Far Northeast, a regional co-op team composed of several area schools. Far Northeast will disappear in two years to coincide with the reopening of Montbello’s varsity athletic programs. Lindsay expected a seamless transition of his coaching staff and players into the new high school. He told The Denver Post in August, “We’re trying to be a powerhouse.”
Then, in late December, Montbello’s leadership team conducted interviews with the head football coach and told Lindsay that he had not been selected.
“I don’t know what they wanted,” Lindsay told The Post. “Communication was not good. Not transparent. … They hurt my children.”
The decision stunned those who witnessed significant growth under Lindsay’s watch. Far Northeast scored 3-27 in three seasons prior to his arrival in 2017. Lindsay has since led the Warriors to a 28-21 record, made consecutive post-season appearances and broke barriers as the first black head coach in Colorado preparatory history to hold a record. state football title.
Do more puzzles? Montbello instead hired Stanley Richardson, the same head coach who presided over Lindsay for two seasons in Far Northeast and compiled a 1-19 record. The Warriors finished winless in 2015, and Richardson left the program for assistant coaching stops at Smoky Hill, Mullen (including a 4-7 season as head coach), and Denver East.
“To say I’m stunned that Tony Lindsay was not selected as head coach of the reconstituted Montbello High School football team is a gross understatement,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in a Facebook post featuring The Denverite’s first story about the decision of the school. “He gave his heart and soul to many young men on the program and is respected and honored by players and parents. He brought a state championship to the far northeast when no one predicted it.”
Montbello Athletic Director Damian Brown worked with the school’s newly formed leadership team — Principal Neisa Lynch, Assistant Principals Jason Ortiz, Katie Grace and Kevin Wilson, and Dean of Operations Chris Warren — to select the next head football coach.
When asked what led to Richardson’s hiring, Brown said: “It was a rigorous application process that we came up with as an administrative team. Through that process, we wanted to look at the amount of evidence given to us by each interview candidate. We were looking for coaches who were organized, structured, and disciplined, who would guide the mission and vision of our school, and we headed in that direction.”
Lindsay will not finish the renovation in Montbello. But he’s far from done mentoring football players in the northeastern Denver neighborhood he calls home. Lindsay’s next project is his most ambitious yet.
“Now we’ve let the light shine on us,” Lindsay said. “Because of this situation that we were going through, it actually opened up for us. There is a positive.”
You have to go back to the 1970s to understand the strong football foundation of the Lindsay family.
Brothers Tony and Troy were dominant prep running backs at Thomas Jefferson, who later earned college scholarships to Utah and Colorado State, respectively. Their families later grew up with sons who played a lot of college football and beyond: Gabe Lindsay (Oklahoma State WR), Tony Lindsay Jr. (Oklahoma State QB) and Phillip Lindsay (CU Buffs/NFL RB).
Tony Sr. played briefly in the CFL before returning to high school in 1990 as TJ’s assistant football coach. He landed a head coach job with Denver South in 2007, racking up 78 wins and seven post-season appearances over the next 10 years. Lindsay’s 2012 team – led by cousin/running Phillip Lindsay – made it to the Class 4A title game.
Those family ties were strengthened in Far Northeast when Tony Lindsay hired his four sons—Tony Jr., Gabe, Matthew and Dom—as assistant soccer coaches in the same Denver neighborhood where they all grew up. That connection to the hometown resonated with many Warrior players.
“It means a lot. Of course, our entire coaching staff is part of the Lindsay family,” said Arenn Banks, a junior wide receiver from Far Northeast, on CHSAA media day last fall. feel, knowing that the Lindsays are a strong football family. That makes you want to come play for them and be proud of them. …Have the first black head coach to win a state championship? That’s a great feeling.”
Andy Martinez, senior quarterback for Far Northeast, added: “Growing up with football, they were always strong minded and never gave up. They just had a dog mentality and I feel like they bring that to the community. We want to continue that.”
Lindsay’s coaching staff also became a force to revive Montbello. The school closed in 2010 and will reopen this fall, thanks in large part to the education efforts of assistant coaches Gabe Lindsay, Brandon Pryor, and numerous community members at DPS school board meetings. Success in rebuilding the Far Northeast football program fueled even more buzz for a redesigned Montbello.
Lindsay’s staff led the fundraising efforts to expand the weight room and install stadium lighting, more stands and a new field. They also lobbied to renovate the school’s HVAC system and library, as well as hire an athletic liaison to help with college transcripts and recruiting needs.
“We got into a situation that was undesirable for most,” said Pryor, a Lindsay family friend and former University of Oklahoma linebacker. “We put love into the situation and fought for not just athletics, but the whole culture of the school and the community. … We were the catalysts for Montbello at the reopening. Before we started educational activism, the opening of Montbello was not on the table. We fought hard for three to five years to reopen Montbello. We are also proud of that.”
Brown, Montbello’s freshman athletic director, acknowledged the Lindsay family’s role in rebuilding the program.
“Coach Lindsay has been a great coach while he was here. We can never forget what Coach Lindsay has done for the Far Northeast,” said Brown. “Coach Lindsay and Gabe Lindsay have also been great advocates and supporters of ours. “
But that wasn’t enough to save Lindsay’s job.
So the Lindsay family is shifting its focus to establishing a brand new high school program — located less than three miles east of the Montbello campus — at the Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy.
“We’ve been here for five years and built the program from scratch,” Gabe Lindsay said of Far Northeast. “We built it up with 70 kids and freshmen, JV and varsity. We won the state and came back the following year and won our league. You fire the coach then? That makes no sense.
“They thought getting rid of my dad would be like us. But that is not true. We live here.”
* * *
Carmen Matthews is a 1990s Montbello graduate who played college basketball with a scholarship in Kansas Wesleyan and returned to Denver to start a family. Her son, Jessie, is a freshman at the Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy – a DPS-run innovation school that is part of the Far Northeast soccer team.
Gabe Lindsay and Pryor are co-founders of the academy that kicked off this fall with about 90 students enrolled in its inaugural class. The academy’s curriculum simulates the experience of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with a mission to “provide a school environment with high standards of excellence and serve as a safe space in which to explore oneself and black history,” according to the website.
Jessie Matthews enrolled in the Academy as a freshman and played his freshman year of high school in Far Northeast last fall. He was one of 13 freshmen who wrote. Then, in late December, the Far Northeast coaching staff informed the family that Tony Lindsay would not be retained in the future move to Montbello.
“Nobody at the school told parents anything before they did this to Coach Lindsay,” said Carmen Matthews. “That hurt the most. They decided to push him out of a position outside of football as a community leader and mentor. … (The coaching staff) was on the starting area to rebuild Montbello.”
About two weeks passed with families in the Far Northeast in limbo about the future of their program. Montbello has still not acknowledged hiring Richardson on the school’s official website or Facebook page. Meanwhile, the Lindsay family pushed for the acceleration of the development of a CHSAA-sanctioned football team at the Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy.
“When we first opened that school, it was always in the back of our minds to start a football program,” said Tony Lindsay. “We will finally have a high school in Green Valley Ranch that will look like another Montbello. That is what we strive for. We strive for that school to grow and become large. Be something.”
DPS accommodated both schools with a January 12 decision that finally provided clarity. It announced that Montbello will delay the implementation of varsity athletics until the fall of 2024 to allow for the school’s ongoing construction.
Far Northeast athletics will remain intact for the next two seasons, including the football coaching staff, before the regional program is discontinued. That’s when Lindsay plans to transfer his team to the Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy. The family’s youth soccer program — which has already been rebranded from Warrior Nation to The Lions’ Den — is expected to send its more than 180 current athletes to the academy instead of Montbello.
“We intend to become one of the best football programs in the state,” Pryor said.
The school envisions an enrollment that will exceed 800 students in one day. The current goal is to reach 125 by next fall. The youth football program aims for steady growth to develop enough players ready for the game over the next two years.
Tony Lindsay embraces this unexpected chapter of a storied Colorado high school football career.
“We’re going to do everything we can,” Lindsay said. “As you can see, we have a lot of energy behind us. We’re going to work on it.”