Homegrown talent: PA connections key in Morgan’s promotion to head coach/AD

Published 7:25 pm Thursday, March 22, 2018

Brian Morgan played at Thomas Jefferson and was on Kenny Harrison’s first freshman team when Harrison was just beginning his coaching career in 1997.

He went on to a record-setting career as a kicker at Grambling State and started his coaching career there before earning his bachelor’s degree in December 2005.

Now, Morgan, 34, begins his head coaching career in his hometown, where he began his second stint just last season following a three-year run as running backs and special teams coach at Lamar.

Brian Morgan, right in foreground, yells instructions as Memorial’s special teams coordinator during a scrimmage against Baytown Sterling in August. Morgan was approved as head football coach and athletic director during Thursday’s Port Arthur ISD board meeting. Also pictured, from left: senior running back Elijah Hines, outside linebackers coach Matthew Royce, offensive co-coordinator Cornelius Harmon, Morgan and then-head coach Kenny Harrison. (I.C. Murrell/The News)

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The 2001 TJ graduate’s promotion to Memorial head coach was approved by a 5-2 vote at Thursday’s Port Arthur ISD board meeting at the Memorial cafeteria.

Morgan, who was not at the meeting, learned earlier in the day he tabbed to become head coach but didn’t find out about his approval until seeing alerts on social media.

“It’s really hard to explain to people what the town of Port Arthur means and where you went to school,” said Morgan, who graduated in the next-to-last TJ class. “You can say over and over the importance of both, but it’s hard to convey the pride I have and the affection for the town and the school. You know what it means to be successful.

“The team has a rich history of athletics. It’s our job to protect and add to it.”

Brandon Bartie and Kenneth Lofton Sr. voted against Morgan’s hire, while Debra Ambroise, board President Donald Frank Sr., Dianne Brown and Joseph Guillory voted in favor of it.

Still, Morgan said, “… [the board] showed they reward loyalty.”

Frank said the board saw in Morgan a homegrown person who knows the history of PAISD football and has been a part of it as it did in Harrison when he was hired in 2009.

“We’re acquainted with someone who knows what it means to be from Port Arthur and to have that kind of impact and care for this city,” Frank said. “To call upon him now to assume the helm of this leadership, we place the mantle in his hands.”

Bartie and Lofton deferred comment to Frank.

Harrison, who left last month to become Humble Summer Creek’s head coach after posting a 69-36 record at Memorial, offered his congratulations to Morgan on Twitter.

“Congratulations @coachbmorgan,” Harrison tweeted. “Great hire for PA Memorial. Class of 2019 is a special class. It will be a magical year.”

PAISD Superintendent Mark Porterie said in making public comments that Thursday was “one of the proudest days of my career” after he and Principal Glenn Mitchell spoke with 15 players about what they were looking for in a head coach. Porterie did not identify any candidates publicly or to the players.

“That was the last thing we needed before we made a final decision,” Porterie said.

“I asked what they want in a head coach, and they told us. As educators, we’re tasked with making decisions for students. Today, we asked the students for their thoughts.

“The conversation went so well. It was something that I didn’t expect from young people. They said, ‘We want someone strict and strong, not someone scared of us. [The coach needs] to have chemistry. We want someone so strict, we won’t smile until they smile.”

Board President Donald Frank Sr. and Porterie did say 15 out of 25 finalists were contacted via phone between March 14-16 about the open combined position, and that administrators and members of the search committee interviewed 14 of them face-to-face Monday and Tuesday. Frank said seven of the finalists were interviewed Monday and seven others Tuesday for an hour each.

One of the 16 pulled out of the running to accept a coaching position elsewhere, Porterie and Frank said.

“We all had each candidate to show what [plans] they had through PowerPoint and other presentations,” Porterie said. “We asked questions and they asked us questions.”

Memorial economics teacher and former Super Bowl-winning linebacker Bobby Leopold, Memorial graduate and former NFL cornerback Danny Gorrer, PAISD assistant superintendent for secondary curriculum and instruction Melvin Getwood, Porterie, Mitchell, PAISD human resources director Kathy Londow and community members Frank Neal and a Mr. Reyes (first name was unavailable) made up the search committee, according ot Frank.

“It was unanimous by them that Brian was the person,” Donald Frank said.

Morgan has a history of playing and coaching in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, one of two historically black conferences in NCAA Division I. Through the 2017 season, he remained the SWAC’s all-time leading scorer among kickers with 324 points (50 field goals and 174 extra points). He is a three-time All-SWAC and two-time All-American who led the Tigers to back-to-back black college national championships.

Morgan returned to Port Arthur in 2006 and served as running backs and linebackers coach under Ronnie Thompson at Memorial. Morgan also has been a graduate assistant at North Texas (2009-10) and coached running backs, linebackers and special teams at Prairie View A&M (2011-12) while also serving as recruiting coordinator.

He returned to Jefferson County to join Ray Woodard’s staff at Lamar in 2014. That season, Lamar posted its only winning season (8-4) since relaunching the football program in 2010.

The next year, Lamar was 5-6, but Morgan tutored the nation’s leading rusher in then-junior Kade Harrington, who rushed for 2,092 yards and 21 touchdowns. Harrington finished second in balloting for the STATS FCS National Offensive Player of the Year, the Football Championship Subdivision’s version of the Heisman Trophy.

Woodard was fired after the 2016 season, forcing Morgan to search for another position before he was hired back at Memorial.

Each of the Titans’ head coaches in history have had connections to TJ. Dean Colbert was Jefferson’s coach when he was named to the Memorial post in 2002, Ronnie Thompson (TJ coach from 1978-81) replaced him in 2006 and 1991 TJ graduate Harrison succeeded him in 2009.

Defensive ends coach Thomas Brooks served as interim head coach between Harrison’s departure and Morgan’s promotion.

Porterie said Morgan will also supervise the middle and high school athletic programs and work with elementary school coaches in his role as athletic director. Harrison had shared the role of athletic coordinator with boys basketball coach Kenneth Coleman.

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews


About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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