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Fort Valley State University Fires Head Football Coach John Morgan And Entire Staff
FORT VALLEY, Ga.– Fort Valley State University football coach John Morgan sat outside the physical education building on campus Monday afternoon, and he was busy on his cell phone, calling players, family, friends, alumni and boosters.
Morgan would retell the story to each person, almost having to convince himself that it actually happened: Morgan and the entire FVSU football staff had just been dismissed.
When it came down to answer the question, “Why?” he gave the only answer he knew:
“I don’t know.”
According to Morgan, athletics director Gwendolyn Reeves told him around 3:30 p.m. Monday that the university would not renew his contract.
“She didn’t give me a reason. Maybe you can find out for me,” Morgan told a reporter. “She told me that it was a university decision. She said they wanted to go in a different direction.”
Morgan’s teams posted a 21-11 record in his three years at FVSU, finishing 7-4 in 2003 and 2004 and 7-3 last year.
The school sent out an e-mail release at 4:35 p.m. that quoted Reeves simply as saying: “After careful review and consideration, I believe it is in the best interests of our football program to move in a different direction under new leadership. I extend to Coach Morgan my thanks, and that of our university community, for his contribution and service.”
It also contained a statement from new president Larry E. Rivers: “Our university family appreciates Coach Morgan’s hard work, and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Several attempts Monday afternoon and evening to reach Reeves, Rivers, and Leslie Harriell-Turner of the marketing/communications department were unsuccessful.
ENTIRE STAFF LET GO
Right after the meeting, Morgan called his assistant coaches, who met with Reeves at the school. After that meeting, Morgan found out his entire staff had been let go as well.
“Who is going to continue to right the ship?” Morgan said. “We just got done with spring football. Football season is just a few months away, and the football players will head back soon to start working on trying to win a championship. I don’t know what will happen now.”
Jallal Pickens, a former graduate assistant and football player, showed up on the campus to support his former boss.
“I feel that it’s going to be another dark age for Fort Valley football for the simple fact that they let go of another good football coach,” Pickens said. “There was no reason for the firing. I feel that it was not good because there are only four months before the season starts and a week before all the football players come back for summer school. None of the staff has been retained to give the kids answers when they come back next week. So who’s going to be here to answer their questions?”
Robert Young, another player, said he believes some alumni who were not pleased with the program’s level of success were behind the move.
In January, alumnus Rudolph Dawson held a news conference demanding that Morgan be fired and Reeves be reassigned. During his 15-minute speech, he stated his reasons for the changes as not higher than third in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and Morgan’s leadership and decision-making abilities, including the firing of special teams coach Raymond Bellamy in December.
“Most of the alumni that were pushing to release the coach, they weren’t contributing to the football program,” Young said. “You can look at the data and it will show that the people that support the coach gave support towards the football team. The others were just talk.
“So you’re going to release a coach because of people who just talk and don’t know what’s going on in the program, not knowing the money involved, how much time the coaches have put into this? I don’t understand.”
Alumni Andrew Bryant, who agreed with Dawson at that January rally, said he was happy with Monday’s decision.
“We felt it was time to make a change at the institution because the school was not progressing,” Bryant said. “The (football team) was not reaching the standards it has traditionally been known for. In other words, we’re not a 6-5 or 7-4 football team. We’re used to better numbers.”
But the football program has struggled with other numbers, in regard to funding.
Fort Valley State operated on the smallest budget in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, according to the U.S. Department of Education. From August 2004 to August 2005, the Wildcat football program operated on a $72,455 budget. The average football budget in the SIAC was $183,940.10 (Morehouse figures were unavailable).
“Considering what funding the program has, I think the coaches have done a fine job here,” said alumnus and athletic booster Raymond Dickey. “I’ve been a supporter for many years and will continue to be one.
“When coach (Kent) Schoolfield left, a lot of the financial support left with it. We’ve been doing the best we can to do positive things for the players and for the program as a whole. But it’s hard when you don’t have the money.”
In the three years Morgan has been at the helm of the program, the Wildcats have gone 21-11. Schoolfield, 49-22 in six years at FVSU, was fired abruptly at the end of the 2002 season for alleged insubordination and discourteous behavior.
He was a part-time assistant at Division III Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, was a finalist for the head coaching job at Florida A&M, and began the 2005 season as offensive coordinator at North Carolina A&T but was fired after five games.
Morgan received two evaluations in April, one as a professional and administrative staff and the other a sport evaluation.
On the first one, he scored a 3.97 out of 4.9, which according to the evaluation was considered, “exceeding requirement.”
On the sport evaluation form, he was given a mark of satisfactory or adequate on nine of 12 statements. He received a mark of needs improvement on “provided leadership that promoted positive attitudes and good sportsmanship,” and “showed respect for officials, press, opposing coaches, visiting teams, parents, fans, students, athletes, fellow coaches and faculty.” He received a mark of inadequate regarding the oversight of the budget.
“It’s been very hard,” Morgan said. “We never have the money to recruit. We have to beg alumni to give us money. It’s tough to ask my coaches to go and recruit and spend their own money. A lot of things we did here, we did because we love the game and love the kids and the community.”
Morgan’s plans are now going to his daughter’s middle school graduation in Washington D.C., watching his wife get her masters at Troy State and moving his family back north.
But first he has to clean off his desk , which has a flyer regarding a NFL junior player development camp, put on by FVSU, that is supposed to start June 12.
“Last week, I asked for a van to take to the SIAC meeting and it was approved,” Morgan said. “I went around to all the middle schools in Peach County talking to football coaches about getting their middle-schoolers to come to this camp. If I had known this was going to happen, I would not have wasted everyone’s time.”