Morris returns to sidelines

By Jeffrey R. Larnard

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When the Massachusetts football team took the field against Kansas State on Saturday night, new head coach Kevin Morris saw the Minutemen playing from a new perspective.

“The biggest difference is I’ve been in the box for the last I-don’t-know-how-many years as an offensive coordinator, seeing the game from up top,” Morris said. “I’ll be back on the field and I haven’t been back on the field in a while.”

Morris last stood on the sidelines in 1998, his final year as the head coach at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and has since been up in the box as the offensive coordinator at Northeastern and most recently at UMass. After taking over for Don Brown as the head of the Minutemen football program, Morris has undergone many changes as he transitions from offensive coordinator to head coach.

To Morris, the transition has gone pretty smoothly. He was able to keep much of the same staff, allowing the players to still be familiar with their coaches, and also returns 20 seniors that he can rely on.

These are both things that have helped him take on his new responsibilities. The coaching staff is one that Morris has been with for a number of years, as they have all worked together under Brown, giving Morris a team of coaches he can trust.

“With Brian Picucci on offense, we’ve been together for nine years so it has been real easy for me to let him do his job and that allows me to do my job as being the head coach,” Morris said. “I’m fortunate enough to have a guy that I can entrust the offense like I do with Keith Dudzinski on defense and Steve Tirrell with special teams so I can just be a quality control guy in all of those areas and I don’t have to run anyone in particular so I can run the overall program at this point.”

Some of those new responsibilities for Morris as he runs the overall program vary from being the director of player personnel to coaching every aspect of the team to dealing with financial issues and scholarships. While his duties have increased significantly from when he was the offensive coordinator, his ability to trust his coaches and having senior leadership in the locker room have been vital.

With such a large senior class coming back who have been around Morris their entire tenure at UMass, Morris knows his players and knows he can trust them just as he does with his coaches. He can rely on them to do the things they are expected to do and to set an example for the incoming freshman.

“I’m definitely leaning on that senior class to make things right in the locker room, off the field and on the field, in how we practice and how we go about our business everyday,” Morris said of his seniors. “They have been a great part of our transition, making it so smooth and successful.”

Morris’ players have also reacted positively about the transition.

“The [players] have been great and they have really responded well,” Morris said. “They are working hard and that is all I can ask for if they give us their best everyday in everything that they do and represent UMass on a daily basis.”

But for Morris, the transition hasn’t been without bumps. Morris had to deal with the loss of Liam Coen, arguably the greatest quarterback in UMass history and the holder of nearly every passing record in the UMass record book, and had to choose between two battling quarterbacks. Coen’s backup for the past three years, Scott Woodward, eventually was passed over for junior college transfer Kyle Havens, but it was no easy decision for Morris. It took him up until a week before the Kansas State game to pick the starter.

Morris also has his previous experiences to help guide him through the transition.

“All that experience and all those jobs that were great for me were learning experiences as well as on-the-job training,” said Morris. “I’ve taken bits and pieces from all of those things that were successful in terms of running a program and in terms of dealing with kids in situations, which in all my days in coaching, you have to get through a lot so I’m taking from all of those coaching experiences and trying to make the best of UMass with those.”

Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at [email protected]