This article originally appeared
in Basketball Times.
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YOUNG BUT NEVER SLICK
It’s a Monday morning at Utah
State University, and sports information director Doug
Hoffman is making his routine visit to the men’s
basketball office. He greets head coach Stew Morrill and
runs down a list of media requests, to which Morrill
replies, “I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to do
that and I don’t want to do that.”
The two spend a few minutes discussing the upcoming week
and the conversation always concludes with Morrill
telling Hoffman, “Okay, sure I will do all of those
Attention is something that Morrill likes to hide from.
He is very reluctant to talk about himself. By his own
admission, to a fault. Perhaps that is why his
impressive achievements have been greatly overlooked.
Humble and very unassuming, many could bump into the
Utah State coach and not even know who it was they just
brushed. But quiet doesn’t not mean unapproachable.
If you want to talk about “team,” Morrill will hold
court for hours. If you would like to engage in a
discussion of teaching, Morrill will pull up a chair and
have his meals brought to the table.
His peers use words like sincere, class and integrity
when describing the 51-year old Utah-native. Oklahoma’s
Kelvin Sampson affectionately refers to him as a
“throwback” who is concerned only with teaching and the
finer points of the game of basketball.
And that is something that Morrill embraces.
“I am definitely old school,” laughs Morrill. “I love
the preparation, figuring out what we are going to run
and figuring out what I am going to teach. I tell people
all the time that being old school is not a bad thing;
it’s just not new school.”
Now in his 19th season, the old-school coach has racked
up over 350 wins, has taken each of the programs he has
coached to postseason and has done it with little
Exactly the way he wants it.
After posting back-to-back win seasons at Colorado
State, Morrill’s move to Logan, Utah came as a surprise
to a lot of people. Many viewed it as a step down, but
Morrill wasn’t concerned with high-profile.
“Utah State is a better situation than people think,”
says Morrill. “Plus it was an opportunity for me to be
closer to my mother and my brother and sister. My family
lives just an hour away so it was an easy decision.”
And no word means more to Morrill than “family.”
Like all coaches, Morrill puts in long hours working his
craft, but when the whistle blows his attention turns to
his wife Vicki, and their four children, sons Jesse (25)
and Alan (23) and daughters Nicole (20) and Tiffany
And if you thought talking “team” or “teaching” struck a
good chord with Morrill, ask him about Jesse’s possible
future in coaching. Nicole’s studies at Utah State or
the nearly 50 foster children that Morrill’s have hosted
and the proud father will talk you right through the
So it’s not surprising that his days at Montana, with
former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, are among his
fondest memories as a coach.
“We were both single then,” says Morrill. “Mike and I
both met our wives and started our families when we were
at Montana. We had a lot of success on the court as
well, but meeting our wives and getting married in
Missoula was special.”
Morrill jokingly admits that he also realized -- during
that time -- that he might be able to coach.
Morrill spent eight seasons as an assistant under
Montgomery at Montana. Following the Grizzlies’
second-straight NIT appearance in 1986, Montgomery left
for Stanford thus beginning the head-coaching career of
Morrill credits the influence of coaches when he was
young as being the reason he pursued a similar path and
continued to put across the same message -- do things
the right way.
“Anyone who knows Mike knows that is what he is all
about,” says Morrill. “Growing up, I had so many coaches
that stressed the same thing, and I really wanted to
have an opportunity to make the same impact on others.
And Morrill has done just that.
Utah State failed to earn a postseason bid in Morrill’s
first season, but in the past five seasons, Morrill has
amassed over 120 wins, which include back-to-back 28 win
campaigns and five straight postseason appearances. Not
bad for a coach who had to work with a series of five
one-year deals at Montana.
In recent years, Morrill has had lengthy and lucrative
opportunities presented to him, but has decided to
remain at Utah State. He has even joked about the trend
of hiring young-slick coaches, saying, “I was young
once, but I was never slick.”
Stew Morrill might not be slick, but he is real. He has
witnessed a lot of changes in the game over the years,
but he continues to coach today with the same set of
values instilled in him at an early age.
“If I ever second-guessed a coach or one of my teachers,
it would not have gone over well in my house,” says
Morrill. “Today, parents second-guess more than the
players. Things are much different in today’s game, and
I am still learning to adjust. I was never an earring
guy, but I have even learned to adjust to that. If a
player wants to have an earring then that is okay.”
Adjusting, but not compromising, is what has made
Morrill the excellent coach that he is. But even after
another sensational season at Utah State, Morrill
wonders aloud just how long, “Old school will survive.”
Family, teaching and hard work are terms often used by
Morrill, and absurd, appalling and ridiculous would be
good words to describe any discussion of the “the best
coaches in America,” that does not include the name Stew