But, nobody REALLY believed Morgan had a shot at the job. Nobody except Morgan himself, probably. And then, one by one, the other candidates were either scratched off the list or turned the job down. Until one day, the new coach was named… Wayne Morgan.
I remember that somebody asked Morgan at his introductory press conference how he felt to not be the FIRST choice of the university for the job. And his response was a good one… something to the effect of, "That doesn't matter now because I'm here and the job is mine." From that initial press conference, I think Coach Morgan has seemed like a very likeable, genuine guy.
But, the fact of the matter remained that he had one helluva mess to clean up. ISU had been embarrassed on a national scale due to the indiscretions of its coach…and how it was poorly handled by the university. Jackson Vroman and Tim Barnes—a pair of starters—were looking to leave the school…and apparently had not fared well in the classroom in the second semester. Adam Haluska—another starter—transferred to (gasp!) Iowa. Then, Vroman got into trouble in the summer…and later was in trouble again. Barnes indeed was academically ineligible and had played his last minutes as a Cyclone. And on and on it went.
Add to all of that the fact that Coach Morgan was looking to rely on a pair of freshmen in a HUGE way in 2003-04 and you can see that this program appeared to be hanging by a thread when the first semester started.
Fast forward to today. How has Coach Morgan done so far as the leader of the Iowa State basketball program? Let's take a little inventory of what's happened so far…
The team is 9-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big 12.
ISU scored a big victory over Missouri at home to open conference play.
The team has improved its rebounding quite a bit from its early games.
The team has also improved its assist-to-turnover ratio since the beginning of the season.
Curtis Stinson has been remarkable, averaging 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.8 steals…as a FRESHMAN.
Will Blalock has also been terrific, averaging 8.7 points, 3.3 boards, 4.5 assists and 1.8 steals…as a freshman.
Jared Homan has improved a great deal since his sophomore season and is currently averaging 13.0 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Jake Sullivan—showing fantastic leadership—was able to defer some of his own shots in order to allow guys like Stinson and Blalock to settle into their roles in the ISU offense.
Jackson Vroman has been an active post player—and remained out of trouble off the court—since a one-game suspension to start the year.
Marcus Jefferson has accepted a sixth-man role and provided a spark off the bench.
Damion Staple has shown improvement as a backup post player.
The team has been a lot of FUN to watch all season long, playing an exciting brand of offensive basketball…and clearly, these guys enjoy playing the game together.
So, who deserves the credit for all of this? In my mind, you've got to tip your hat to Coach Morgan. He's done an incredible job of keeping this team together through quite a bit of off-season turmoil and an academic casualty…and he's managed to put together an exciting basketball team that Cyclone fans can be proud of for its results, as well as the players' efforts.
Funny how things work out sometimes, isn't it? All those candidates back in early May. All those options. And the one guy who was seemingly a "fall back" option has handled everything with a positive approach…and his team has responded.
Now, I'm not ready to anoint Coach Morgan as one of the "legends of the game" just yet. There is still a lot of work to do with this team, including winning a Big 12 road game or two along the way. All that I'm saying is that seven months ago, this program looked like it was inches away from falling apart.
Today, it looks like Iowa State may be "dancing" in March. And the one guy who deserves the most credit for that right now is Coach Morgan.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)