Ten years ago this past June, former Arab Tribune Sports Editor Donna Matuszak (Hamby) wrote in these pages: “Once upon a time, long ago in this very land, Bill Morgan was known as a coach, a very tough coach.”
He’s still known for all of that, as reflected in the obituary sent out this week by Arab Heritage Memorial Chapel. The first line reads:
“Coach Bill Morgan, 82 of Arab, passed away Sunday Nov-ember 4, 2018, at Mar-shall Medical Center North.”
I don’t think I’ve ever read that in an obituary before. I don’t think even Paul “Bear” Bryant’s obituary refers to him as coach on first reference.
But with Bill Morgan, it seems appropriate. Matuszak-Hamby’s article on June 4, 2008, came in advance of Coach Morgan entering the Marshall County Sports Hall of Fame later in the week. He was the 10th individual with Arab connections to enter that Hall of Fame.
Honesty compels to reveal right now, my path and Coach Morgan’s didn’t cross that much during my years in the Arab school system. I certainly knew who he was. He and coach Buster Gross and the players – Rudy Wooten, Ken Tyler, Roger Ralph, Danny Maze (and many, many more) – were heroes of mine growing up in Arab.
We would actually try to get players’ chin straps after home games.
But about the time I got to Arab High, Gross and Morgan were off to Emma Sansom. Just after I graduated in 1977, Morgan returned.
But I certainly knew about Coach Morgan. That’s why, in October of 2012, I jumped at the chance to meet Coach Gross at Coach Morgan’s home. Gross was in Arab to attend the Southside game.
Unfortunately, the old head coach’s memory was slipping, but Coach Morgan sat right beside him and spoke key words and phrases and suddenly Coach Gross would remember things he had probably long forgotten.
They talked of players and big games and hard practices and told some stories that had previously been secret – at least to most people.
One involved a stunt pulled prior to the Arab at Tarrant game in 1970. Arab fans saw long banner when they entered the stadium that night: “You can take Arab out of the country but you can’t take the country out of Arab.”
Nice welcome from the city crowd, Arab folks thought, except it wasn’t the home crowd that did it. The idea was hatched by Coach Morgan.
“We pulled some good ones,” Morgan said that night, laughing.
Later on, before a game against Scottsboro, Morgan and Gross told the Arab players in the locker room about a fight involving Gross and some unknown Scottsboro booster.
There was no fight.
“I tore Gross’ shirt,” Morgan recalled that night. “He walked in right before kickoff, that shirt all torn, and he says, ‘I done whipped mine. You gonna whip yours?’”
Special memories those were to me, and I was thinking about that night as I said hello to a who’s who of coaches and former coaches and players at Tuesday’s viewing at Arab Church of Christ.
There was former Arab head coach Pod Patterson and his son, Wesley. There was Bill Wharton, Andy Lee, Chris Leak, Shorty Smith and I’m sure many others I just didn’t see or recognize.
Plus, I was there for only 30 minutes. By the time I left, the line to pay final respects to the old coach was nearly to the back door.
“We lost a buddy, son,” an emotional Patterson told another well-wisher.
Later, Patterson spoke about what made Coach Morgan so special to him. His voice cracked as he said, “He was a friend who would take the shirt off his back and give it to you, if you needed it.
“He loved my two boys (Wesley and Matt) and they loved him. They called him pops because he was really like a grandfather to them.”
Arab lost a grandfather this week. And a teacher. And a coach.
As Superintendent John Mullins said, the community has lost an icon.
And for many at Arab Church of Christ on Tuesday, they’ve lost a friend.
A very good friend.
• Michael St. John, the longtime Voice of the Arab Knights football team, underwent successful surgery at UAB on Monday. He’s silent for now but is back home recuperating and should be back on the air in the not to distant future.
St. John and Ronny Shumate have called Arab football games for more than 20 years.
• Auburn appears to still be in the running for former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, who last week made a visit to the school as he continues to look for a place to transfer.
Bryant already had taken visits to Arkansas, Missouri and North Carolina.
• Kickoff for Bama-Citadel on Nov. 17 has been set for 11 a.m. (SEC Network). More importantly, kickoff for the Iron Bowl has been set for 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 24 (CBS).
Auburn-Liberty will kick off at 3 p.m. on Nov. 17 (SEC Network Alternate channel).