On January 9th, Utah State Head Coach and 6-time Conference Coach of the Year Stew Morrill announced he will retire at the end of the season after almost 30 years of coaching and teaching young men. Let’s take a look at the career of the man who moved mountains for a small school.
“I’ve been a very lucky man to be at Utah State,” Morrill stated in the press conference announcing his retirement. “Not many coaches get to end their career retiring. It just doesn’t happen much anymore. So, I feel very fortunate and thankful that we’re able to do it this way.”
Ask most what they know about Utah State basketball, and the first thing that comes to mind are the outstanding home crowds that fill Smith Spectrum, and recently, the hair of Aggies players Sean Harris and Jalen Moore. However, those things would be completely irrelevant if it weren’t for the man who lead Aggie nation to prominence.
The legacy that the 62-year old Morrill leaves behind is one of consistency and making good players extremely productive. His Aggies teams didn’t churn out NBA-ready talent. Guys like Shawn Daniels, Desmond Penigar, Cardell Butler, Spencer Nelson, and Nate Harris played under Morrill, names that don’t ring out in the echelons of college basketball, but were good enough to control the court in Logan for years. That was never what Utah State was about, they were about winning and consistency.
In his 28 seasons, his Montana, Colorado State, and Utah State teams never lost more than 17 games, which happened to be the only losing season of his career (his first season at Colorado State). Over a stretch of 11 years, from the 1999-2000 season until the 2010-2011 season, the Aggies only finished below 3rd in their conference once (the Aggies spent time in the Big West, WAC, and Mountain West conferences during that 12-year time frame.) Every year in that timespan the Aggies made a postseason appearance.
Morrill’s career .682 winning percentage (602-281), and .729 winning mark (384-143) at Utah State deserves respect and inspires awe at what he has accomplished in the Utah college town in particular. Over the past 14 years, USU has treated Aggie fans to the sixth best winning percentage in all of D-1 basketball. Last season was the first time in 15 years that Utah State hadn’t won 20+ games. Four Morrill teams went undefeated at home in a season. The Aggies don’t lose a lot, and they downright refuse to lose at home.
The Morrill coaching tree extends to an impressive length.
Blaine Taylor served as the head coach at Old Dominion University, where he was the winningest coach in school history, and who is actually enjoying plenty of success this season. Jeff Jackson formerly the head man at Furman, Don Verlin who leads the Idaho Vandals, Randy Rahe who is the head coach at Weber State and more who have earned assistant positions all over the country. The number is sure to grow in the years after Morrill’s retirement.
One knock on Morrill’s Aggie teams was his inability to make a run in the NCAA tournament, having won only one of his 10 tournament games at USU, though Utah State fans do have a memorable win over Ohio State in the first round of the 2001 NCAA tournament to cherish.
“We ran a basketball program the right way, in my mind. I’ve got peace with that,” Morrill said in the retirement conference. “We graduated our players at a high level, we didn’t cheat, believe it or not, and we won enough games to keep working. I’m proud of that, and I feel good about it.”
Morrill teams have been a treat to western mid-major basketball for years, and many coaches likely heaved a breath of relief at the announcement. The rest of us are left to marvel at his reign at the helm, and his team’s performances at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.