Anybody who knows Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan knows that whatever success he’s had, it’s never about him.
It’s always about his players, his fellow coaches and the fans, and whoever else might have contributed along the way.
But we know better. Or at least we should know better.
Reese Morgan has a special gift for coaching football and for building relationships with the people he meets through the game.
He has been successful in each of his coaching jobs, perhaps his best work coming at West High where, in eight seasons from 1992-99, Morgan led the Trojans to three Class 4-A state titles. West was mired in mediocrity before Morgan was hired, but he steadily turned the Trojans into a power, winning the first of his three state titles in 1995 and compiling a 62-7 record during his final six seasons from 1994-99.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was so impressed with Morgan that he hired him as an assistant coach before the 2000 season. Morgan has been working under Ferentz ever since, beginning with a three-year stint as recruiting coordinator from 2000-02. Morgan also coached the offensive line from 2003-2011 before moving to his current position as defensive line coach.
The decision to hire Morgan has been crucial to Ferentz’s long-term success. I’d go as far as to say that it’s one of the five best decisions that Ferentz has made as the Iowa head coach. And that covers a lot of decisions over 15 years.
It’s not often that a high school coach makes the jump to coaching Big Ten football, but credit Ferentz for knowing that Morgan was special. Nothing against West High or high school football in general, but Morgan was ready for a bigger challenge when he accepted Ferentz’s offer.
Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz, who is Kirk’s oldest son, raved about the 63-year old Morgan during a Wednesday news conference in which both he and Morgan met with the media.
Brian was thrilled, and probably relieved, when his father hired Morgan, because Brian was attending rival City High at the time.
“I think it was huge moment for the program, and it was a huge moment for me personally because it gave City High a chance to beat West High, which I greatly appreciated in 2000,” Brian Ferentz said to reporters.
Brian then went on to praise Morgan for his ability to identify talent where others either don’t see it or they aren’t looking. Morgan was convinced after seeing Chad Greenway play nine-man football as a quarterback/safety in South Dakota that Greenway could excel as a linebacker for the Hawkeyes. Morgan now looks like a genius, considering that Greenway ranks as one of the best linebackers in school history and is entering his 10th season in the NFL as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
Morgan also saw Brandon Scherff’s potential early on and now we’re seeing it with Scherff having developed into Iowa’s next great offensive lineman.
“So you look at all these guys, and what’s Reese Morgan’s impact on the program? I’d start with them, and then I’d go all the way through to the way we think, the way we act, the way we do things,” Brian Ferentz said. “You’re not going to find a guy who’s more Iowa than Coach Morgan, you’re just not. Humble, hard-working, and he has a saying — you can throw this back at him, and he’ll wonder how you found out. He believes in prideful simplicity, and I think that’s well said.”
Brian wasn’t aware that Morgan was sitting in the press room and listening to him speak. Morgan quickly deflected the attention, though, when he started to address the media by praising all of his colleagues.
It was typical Morgan in how he made everybody but himself sound so important. He started by praising recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson, who also helps with the defensive line.
“I’m just really proud to work with him,” Morgan said of Johnson. “He does a tremendous job.”
Morgan then complimented the rest of the defensive coaches before getting to Kirk Ferentz, whom he praised for doing things the right way.
Hiring Morgan was certainly an example of Kirk Ferentz doing things the right way.
Here are four more examples of that:
Hired Norm Parker as defensive coordinator: Having Parker on his original staff meant that Ferentz didn’t have to concern himself too much with defense because he knew it was in good hands. Ferentz gave Parker freedom to run things his way and Parker responded on a regular basis by building Iowa into a reliable and fundamentally sound defense.
Moving players to positions where they have flourished: Dallas Clark, Eric Steinbach, Robert Gallery and Jonathan Babineaux are just four examples who come to mind under this category.
Rebuilt his coaching staff: The situation had become stale at Iowa about three years ago and it was starting to have an impact on the field. Iowa lost 17 of 29 games during a stretch from late in the 2010 season until the end of the 2012 season. Ferentz responded by almost hiring a whole new staff over the past two seasons. He now has six new position coaches on his staff, including his son, Brian.
A more creative approach to recruiting: Iowa needs all the help it can get to offset some of the program’s built-in disadvantages with recruiting. Ferentz is allowing his assistants to use social media, most notably Twitter, in order to connect with prospects. He also has allowed administrative assistant Max Allen to use Photoshop to enhance mail sent to recruits.