-- Mike Montgomery realizes he'll probably age more in the next six months than he did in the last 26 years. That's the price for making the move of his coaching life across the San Francisco Bay.

Last spring, Montgomery passed up his final years of eligibility for a life of Final Fours, conference championships and adoration of his basketball genius at Stanford.

The NBA lure doesn't just attract youngsters hoping for instant wealth and fame. Montgomery declared himself eligible for the huge paychecks and tantalizing challenges of the pro game.

"I just couldn't pass it up," Montgomery said. "It's something that I've always wanted to try. If not now, when? If not here, where?"

Montgomery eagerly stepped into the morass of defeat and turmoil that is the Golden State Warriors, who had just 13 more wins than Stanford over the previous 10 seasons despite playing 504 more games than the Cardinal.

So why would the 57-year-old coach curtail his Stanford legacy for a job that's certain to further whiten his temples and stretch the bags under his eyes? Why end 18 years at a big-time university for a hot seat in a league where 23 of the 30 teams changed coaches in the last two years?

He had roughly the same answer given by Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, Tim Floyd, Lon Kruger, Leonard Hamilton and most of the college coaches who made the leap in recent years.

Because it was there.

"There are things that I miss about Stanford, but this is something that I really needed to do and wanted to do," Montgomery said. "If you have an athletic background, you always crave a challenge. Stanford was a challenge, but this is what I needed at this point in my life."

Montgomery, who spent 35 years in college coaching, knew all about his peers' dim track record in this transition. Floyd, Kruger and Hamilton all failed in recent years, with Pitino, Tarkanian and John Calipari among the casualties before them.

Last summer, Larry Brown became the only coach to win an NCAA title and an NBA championship -- 16 years and five pro jobs after he left Kansas.

Though Montgomery saw an opportunity he couldn't resist, other college coaches have stuck with their life's work. A few weeks after Montgomery was given a four-year, $10 million contract with the Warriors, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina's Roy Williams resisted the overtures of the Los Angeles Lakers.

"The allure of coaching in college has no price," Krzyzewski said. "It's one of those priceless things. I've never made a decision based on what was going to make me the most money. It was what was going to give me the most happiness, and I've been really happy and fulfilled at Duke."

When Krzyzewski's interest in the Lakers was made public, dozens of students and fans held a campus demonstration urging him to stay. No such efforts were made at Stanford, mostly because Montgomery took the job almost immediately after his interest became known.

Montgomery also acknowledged being a bit weary of the nonstop grind of recruiting and the fickle nature of the NCAA tournament, where a season of excellence can be wiped out in one bad game. Last season, Stanford won its first 26 games but was upset in the second round by Alabama.

And when the unpleasantness of player discipline and NCAA regulations becomes too much, many of the best college coaches can't resist -- even if their stay probably won't be long. Even Krzyzewski refused to close the door completely on his NBA aspirations.

"A lot of people, based on history, make a lot of issues about coming from college to the NBA," Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said. "I've always said basketball coaches are basketball coaches. (Montgomery) has transferred his knowledge over to the NBA. He's an excellent basketball mind."

When friends or Stanford boosters mentioned the problems college coaches have in the pros, Montgomery always countered with a logical defense: Every coach has a problem holding an NBA job.

"It's a tough profession," he said. "That has nothing to do with your background. It's not easy, but it's a tremendously attractive challenge to almost every coach."

Montgomery got the job shortly before the Warriors' office essentially shut down for summer vacation, but the coach couldn't relax. He made the traffic-clogged commute from Menlo Park to Oakland almost every day, only to sit around the Warriors' offices waiting for fall to arrive.

"I could see him getting antsy," said Chris Mullin, who hired Montgomery shortly after taking over the Warriors' basketball operations. "When there's time off in this league, there's time off. There's nothing to do. I don't think he's used to that."

Everything accelerated after the players reported for training camp in San Diego last month. Montgomery learned something new almost every day, from ways to maximize effective practice time to the location of the Warriors' road hotels.

The Warriors hired three assistants with extensive NBA experience to ease Montgomery's transition. Terry Stotts and Keith Smart have been head coaches in the league, and Mario Elie won three championships as a player.

"(In college) I could always fall back on 26 years of practice plans that worked for me," he said. "Now I have to do some things on the fly. I've always been a guy that liked to work on a thing until it's fixed. I don't have that kind of time now."

Montgomery lost his NBA debut Wednesday night when Nick Van Exel -- a fearless veteran infuriated by boos from his former fans -- scored 13 points in the fourth quarter of the Trail Blazers' 78-75 win. Instead of taking a few days to adjust, Montgomery jumped into preparations for back-to-back weekend home games, followed by a five-game, eight-day road trip.

Clearly, he's not in the Pac-10 any more, but Montgomery still loves the challenge of his new life.

"And it's not like I can never go back -- I hope," he said.

Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery cuts down the net after his team defeated Rhode Island to win the NCAA Midwest Region final in 1998. Golden State Warriors Coach Mike Montgomery signals his players from the sideline during a recent game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Former NBA star Chris Mullin, right, hired Montgomery shortly after taking over the Warriors' basketball operations.