Reese Morgan was the Iowa football version of the reporter who goes off the beaten path to find interesting stories among the lesser-known.
Fighting for blue-chippers was the domain of others. Morgan was the guy who drove into Chariton or Trumbull, Neb., or Mount Vernon, S.D., quietly made friends, listened closely, observed intently, then reported back to his boss, Kirk Ferentz.
Ferentz would then invariably offer a scholarship to the player Morgan had endorsed, sometimes on faith alone. Also invariably, years later Ferentz would tell the world it was a good thing he listened to Morgan.
The ability to recruit wasn’t Morgan’s only gift to the Hawkeyes, of course. The man knew the game. To coach both offensive linemen and defensive linemen as deftly in major-college football as he did is enough of a biography when you start praising the 19-year career he had at Iowa, the one he retired from Wednesday.
Morgan coached two Outland Trophy winners at Iowa in Robert Gallery and Brandon Scherff, offensive lineman. He coached a future Outland winner at Benton Community High years before in defensive lineman Chad Hennings.
But where would Ferentz’s program have been without Morgan wheeling down all those two-lane highways, staying so many nights in unremarkable motels, spending all that time in coaches’ high school offices, getting to know families, friends, teachers, and the recruits themselves?
Where would the Hawkeyes have been without Morgan telling Ferentz he needs to take a close look at this Chad Greenway fellow, at this Josey Jewell fellow, at this Riley Reiff fellow, et al?
But Morgan also quickly earned the respect and trust of players he coached but didn’t primarily recruit, players who came from across the U.S.
As for those he pulled from small towns who didn’t have oodles of stars on their recruiting dossiers, it involved a talent you can’t teach. That comes from seeing the right things, hearing little things that matter greatly. That’s feel. That’s smarts.
Morgan had a vast network of high school coaches in his recruiting territory because of his body of work at Iowa, but also because he was one of them.
He coached at a smaller (but not small) high school for almost two decades at Benton Community, then was coach at Iowa City West for eight years where he won three state titles. He wasn’t a big shot college coach when he stopped into coaches’ offices in Emmetsburg or Decorah or West Branch. He was one of them.
Then you add the fact Morgan was the opposite of slick or hard-sell. He always was who he is, be it in a recruit’s home, in a film room, at a practice, in public. Nothing was about him, but rather, the program he represented.
Players get that. Parents get that. Shoot, everybody does.
Recruiting and coaching is hard, hard work with long, long hours. Morgan is 68, and gave far more of himself than anyone connected with Hawkeye football could reasonably have asked, and each year he stayed on the job was savored in the Iowa football complex.
You will hear tribute after tribute about him this week from his past and present players and co-workers, and others who know him. Like Morgan, that praise will be genuine.