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WC preps for life after Morgan

Warren Central coach Robert Morgan retired from the school after classes on Friday. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

[4/17/04]Players and coaches at Warren Central Friday tried absorbing the news that longtime coach Robert Morgan had retired.

But just as fast as memories of Morgan came out, thoughts of the upcoming season and preparations for spring practice took center stage.

Losing Morgan will provide a huge void in a program that has had only two coaches in the last 33 years, but the team knows it must keep the success rolling.

“He told us before he told the players and I hope I can speak for the rest of the coaches when I say we were sad, we’re going to miss him,” said Curtis Brewer, a Warren Central assistant coach since 1971. “He will be dearly and sorely missed.”

Morgan finished teaching classes on Friday, then left the school. He has been unavailable for comment. The Mississippi State spring football game, which his son Brett will play in, is today.

“It hurt me a lot,” said 2003 Vicksburg Post Offensive Player of the Year Larry Warner, who will return for his senior season. “He’s been like a father to me. It’s hard. Everyone was stunned when he told us. It was a big surprise.”

An interim head coach is scheduled to be chosen at Thursday’s meeting of the Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees.

“That decision is up to the board,” said Brewer when asked who the interim coach would be. “Until the board approves anything, it’s unofficial.

“Right now, we are getting ready to start spring training.”

The search for a new coach will commence soon, school officials said Friday.

“If you’re looking at Coach Morgan as an individual, it’s going to be tough to replace him. Nobody is going to be as successful at Warren Central as Coach Morgan has been,” Vicksburg Warren athletic director Lum Wright Jr. said. “I think it’s going to take a person that can adjust to this community and those kids, and realize what kind of success this program has had.”

Morgan has led the team for the past 19 years as head coach and served 16 more before that as an assistant.

“This is such a big blow to the community,” Vicksburg High coach Alonzo Stevens said. “He was a class act, a fantastic football coach and a super person. He’s been so good for us as coaches and this community. He was the man.”

Morgan’s on-field contributions 168 wins, 19 straight playoff appearances and two state championships speak for themselves. But it is the way he dealt with the players that stands out for most coaches who have coached with, and against, the Vikings.

“He touched so many lives,” said St. Andrew’s athletic director David Bradberry, who has known Morgan all of his life and had several coaching battles against the Vikings. “I had a daddy tell me once that he wished everyone’s son could play football for Robert Morgan.

“I don’t think there is a bigger compliment to say about someone.”

Bradberry was an assistant for Morgan in the mid-1980s before taking over as head coach in Greenwood.

The coaches’ paths crossed in 1988 when the Vikings defeated Bradberry’s team for the school’s first state championship.

The Vikings waited six years before another state championship landed at the school. The Vikings defeated Provine in the 1994 state title game. The team played in the 1993 game, but lost to South Panola.

“This is a great loss,” said WC principal Mack Douglas. “I had hoped I wouldn’t be faced with this change while I was still here.”

Morgan came to Warren Central in 1968 as an assistant coach for a fledgling Viking program.

He worked for Lum Wright starting in 1971, and was an assistant until 1985, when he assumed the reins upon Wright’s resignation.

“He had the ability to always have his team ready for battle,” said Vicksburg coach Alonzo Stevens, who recorded one of the Gators’ two wins over the Vikings in the schools’ one-sided rivalry. “The kids always played hard. If you ran up on a Robert Morgan-coached team, you knew they would make very few mistakes.”

The Vikings began last season slow, but quickly found their footing and ended the regular season with an 8-3 record. WC defeated Vicksburg 35-6 in the final regular season game of the season to win the Region 4-5A championship.

A playoff loss to Southaven in the first round ended the season, but the Vikings were young.

Several of the key components from that team will return next season, including 2003 Vicksburg Post Offensive Player of the Year Larry Warner and fellow speedster Fred Payne.

“I still feel like we have a very good team and have a good shot of going far,” Payne said. “He said he was going to be at every game, though.”

School officials said a search committee will be formed soon to find Morgan’s replacement.

Three of WC’s assistant coaches Curtis Brewer, Rick Graham and Larry Tyrone have been with the program for more than 80 years combined. But they all hope the program will continue to flourish.

“The kids miss him, the coaches miss him and the parents miss him,” Brewer said. “But the world goes on. Robert has made the statement more than once that the program is bigger than any one of us. We love Robert to death, but the program is bigger than him, bigger than me and bigger than any one of us.”