Muir Coaching Job Lets Mike Morris Come Back Home : Prep football: Mustangs’ new coach returns to his roots and says it’s like a dream come true.
Skeptics say you can’t go home again.
But Mike Morris is returning to coach football in Pasadena after a two-year absence. The first-year coach at Muir High says he couldn’t be happier.
“That’s definitely where my roots are, even though I live in Santa Monica,” Morris said.
Morris, 48, was an assistant at cross-town rival Pasadena High off and on between 1977 and 1988. He is a graduate of Pasadena High and Pasadena City College.
After stepping aside from coaching in 1989, Morris decided to return as defensive coordinator at Palisades High last season.
But he says he was never comfortable as an assistant with the Dolphins.
“It was a situation where you don’t know how well you have it until you don’t have it,” he said. “Part of (Palisades High’s) thing was that football had to be fun to (play), and I didn’t really think that was true. Football is not supposed to be easy. It’s something you have to work hard at to do well.”
Morris also admits that he missed coaching in Pasadena.
Fate played a hand in his favor when recently hired Muir Coach John Rome resigned in June to accept a position as offensive coordinator at Glendale College.
“I happened to be in Pasadena the day the Star-News announced that he had resigned,” Morris said, “and then I talked to a couple of people about it, and I was very intrigued by the idea of coaching there.”
From his experience as coach at St. Monica and Fremont high schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Morris wasn’t interested in returning to coach just any high school team.
He wanted it to be special, and the Mustangs, one of the top-ranked teams in Southern California year in and year out, fit the description.
“That’s what really made me go back,” Morris said. “I wouldn’t have taken any other coaching job in Southern California, but Muir is something special to me. It’s like Pat Riley saying he wouldn’t go back to the NBA for any team but the Knicks. I could relate to that.”
He said becoming coach of the Mustangs, who have won or shared CIF Southern Section divisional titles three of the past six years, is like a dream come true.
“I was talking to (former Pasadena High Coach) Gary Griffiths, and he was telling me the only way I’d ever be happy is if I had a team of my own to coach,” Morris said. “I think I really needed that test as a coach, and at Muir I knew I was getting among the best talent in Southern California. One of the nice things as a coach is to have talented players, and at Muir we have the speed and everything else you could want.”
The tradition of talent and success may have worked against the Mustangs in recent seasons. Morris is the fifth coach at Muir since Jim Brownfield resigned for medical reasons after guiding the Mustangs to consecutive Southern Section titles in 1985 and 1986.
Brownfield was followed by Dwain Thornton, Herb Robinson, John Tyree and Rome. Tyree coached the Mustangs the last two seasons, including a co-CIF Division II title in 1989. Rome resigned before coaching a game.
Morris said he realizes that a lot of expectations have been placed on Muir coaches--by school administrators, team boosters and the coaches themselves--since Brownfield’s departure, but he does not seem too concerned about the prospect of criticism.
“If there is any pressure at all, it’s from me,” he said. “My expectations are always greater for myself. It doesn’t come from what I hear people saying around me.”
For that matter, Morris says, he has been impressed by his discussions with Muir Principal Al Fortune and the school’s administration.
“They’ve been everything you could ever ask for, and the people at Muir really care about the kids,” Morris said. “They really want to win--not only to have a winning image but to have a winning character image, and that’s important. To me, character is a big part of winning in football.”
Morris says he isn’t worried about dealing with the Muir boosters, either.
“There is a very strong parental group here, but if you’re doing a good job they’re going to support you,” he said.
In Morris’ mind, the only negative thing soi far has been stepping into the program on such short notice.
“Because of that, we’ve had to ask (the players) to practice all summer, and they’ve been able to do that,” Morris said. “We’ve really worked them hard because of all the catching up we’ve had to do, and they’ve done it.”
It doesn’t help Morris that his team must face Southern Section powers such as Eisenhower, Fontana and Bishop Amat away from home in non-league games.
But Griffiths, who had Morris on his staff for five seasons at Pasadena High, says he will do just fine.
“I think a lot will depend on whether he can surround himself with good people, and I think he will,” Griffiths said. “I think he already has pretty good knowledge about the game of football. . . . He’s just very sound on strategy and game situations.”
Morris says he is simply hoping to maintain a winning tradition that started long before he arrived at Muir.
“That’s part of the reason why I took the job,” he said. “It’s been such a great program over the years. I just want to give it some stability.”