Former Arab football and baseball coach Bill Morgan was remembered Tuesday as a great friend, a great coach and a community icon.
Morgan, 82, died Sunday at Marshall Medical Center North. His funeral service Tuesday at Arab Church of Christ, where he was a member.
A three-hour viewing before the service drew hundreds of current and former educators, politicians and friends – and of course, a lot of current and former coaches and players.
“Coach Morgan was a beloved icon in our community who will be deeply missed,” said Arab Superintendent John Mullins.
Oscar Glasscock, who just finished his first season as Arab’s head football coach, regretted he didn’t get the chance to meet Morgan, who has been in poor health for months.
He was there to offer condolences to the Morgan family, including Dr. Keith Morgan, the team’s physician.
“I never met him but I’ve heard enough to know he was beloved in Arab,” Glasscock said. “Pod (Patterson) filled me in on him a lot.
“He’s the one name you hear about when it comes to coaching in this town.”
Patterson coached Arab from 1989 to 1994.
Chris Leak and Morgan coached the Arab baseball team from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. Leak was the head coach but Morgan wasn’t an assistant, Leak said Tuesday.
“I tried for several years to get him to coach,” Leak said. “Finally, he said OK, but when he did, he grabbed my arm and looked right at me and said, ‘I ain’t gonna be just no pitching coach, either.’
“He was serious and he was all in.”
James “Shorty” Smith also coached baseball with Morgan. They grew to be close friends over the years.
“We had some good times together, I’ll tell you,” Smith said Tuesday. “He was something else. You didn’t have to wonder what was on his mind, he’d tell you.
“We worked together for a long time and we never had a cross word. He was something special.”
Morgan was known as an old-school type of coach who believed in hard work and discipline – and he practiced players that way. But there was more to him than that, according to Leak.
“He had what most people thought was a gruff exterior, but at heart he was a big, ol’ teddy bear,” Leak said. “I’ll tell you what, he loved kids.
“If I had just one sentence to describe him, that would be it. He loved kids.”
After a sterling amateur playing career during which he played in four different Southern states – Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana – Morgan began what can only be described as his life’s calling: coaching and teaching young men.
After he quit a job in the mid-1960s to take another high school job that fell through, fate brought Morgan to Arab, which would become the home for him and his family.
Then-Arab head football coach Buster Gross, through a mutual friend, hooked up with Morgan on phone call and hired him by the end of the call.
Morgan became Gross’ defensive coordinator and ultimately Arab’s head baseball coach in 1966.
Though the relationship was supposed to be short term, Morgan and Gross
worked well together and coached as a team for 10 years, producing many victories on the field.
In 1970, Morgan restarted the school’s defunct baseball program at Arab.
In 1974, Morgan followed Gross to Emma Sansom High School as the football defensive coordinator and the head baseball coach. His baseball team again made it to the state playoffs in 1975.
In 1977, Morgan returned to Arab, where his family had continued to live while he coached in Gadsden. Again, he served as defensive coordinator for Wayne Trimble and head baseball coach.
During the 1978 football season, his stingy defense shut out four teams and held its opponents to an average of seven points per game.