Nine years later, Morrell was clearly a great choice

Nine years later, Morrell was clearly a great choice

In December of 2010, Ty Gregorak came to town with a lot of fanfare.

He was then a former University of Montana assistant coach who was hoping to rebuild his tarnished reputation as the head football coach at Montana Tech.

Gregorak was one of two finalists to replace Bob Green, who had just retired after 24 years.

When Gregorak met the media and the public at a forum on campus on Dec. 15 of that year, he did not do it alone. He had a whole entourage with him.

He had Griz Nation on his side.

Some of the giddy Montana Grizzly fans acted like school girls as they cheered every word their former assistant coach said. Former players of Gregorak spoke up for the coach, who was clearly beloved by so many.

Parents of former players also spoke on Gregorak’s behalf. Bobby Hauck, who was then the head football coach at UNLV, even called to offer his endorsement.

So much support was needed for a coach who came to town with some great qualifications but some serious blemishes on his résumé.

Gregorak was involved in a strange episode in Boulder, Colorado. The incident was compared to the movie “The Hangover,” as Gregorak woke up and found a gun and a wallet that did not belong to him in his hotel room after a night of partying.

Gregorak thought he was drugged at a bar, and said he had no memory of the night before.

While the charges were eventually dropped, the story received national attention. It also cost him his job as an assistant with UNLV under Hauck, Gregorak’s boss at the University of Montana.

Gregorak clearly had the personality for the job of replacing the loudest man in college football.

Nearly a decade after he retired, Green’s famous one liners, known as “Greenisms,” still light up the internet.

“I can’t fill those shoes. Coach Green did a great job here,” Gregorak said. “I want to put my touch on it. Maybe someday there’ll be ‘Tysims.’”

Gregorak put on a really good show. As far as the crowd was concerned, he aced the interview.

“I really, really want the job,” Gregorak said. “I really, really want to be in Montana. I really, really want to beat Carroll College.”

That last line was key for Oredigger fans, who were severely outnumbered by Grizzly fans. Carroll College was about to play in yet another NAIA national championship game, and that never sat too well with the Oredigger faithful.

Gregorak would have been the fun choice to lead the Orediggers. He would have been the sentimental choice.

Hiring Gregorak would have given the Orediggers some national attention for giving the coach a chance at redemption.

Chuck Morrell was the other finalist, and he came to town by himself.

His public forum was one day after Gregorak’s, and it almost went unnoticed. Only a handful of diehard fans joined the media at that gathering.

The Grizzly fans were nowhere to be seen.

The only thing flashy about Morrell was on the ring finger of his right hand. It was a national championship ring. Morrell has four of them, three as an assistant coach at the University of Sioux Falls and one as a player.

Morrell said he wore the one that was the “least gaudy” to the public forum.

The ring said everything to the Oredigger faithful, who followed the bling like a cat chasing a shiny object every time he moved his hand.

He talked a little bit about the defense that he ran at Sioux Falls before leading the defense at the University of South Dakota in 2010. Morrell actually released several DVDs on his 3-4 defense that other coaches around the country found very useful.

Morrell did not say that he wanted to beat Carroll College. He already did, in the national championship game two years earlier.

His reserved personality was in stark contrast to Green and Gregorak, and Morrell did not try to be something he was not. Four days after his interview, Morrell was named head coach.

Over the next nine seasons, Morrell did not have one quote go viral. Not even close.

There is no such thing as “Chuckisms.”

While Green was, and still is, loud and funny, Morrell is quiet. His comments about football are almost only about football. He is never the life of the party. He is just a football coach, and a damn good one at that.

In 2012, Morrell delivered a 37-20 win over Carroll College in Butte, and his players doused him with the water cooler. It was Tech’s first win over the Saints since 2004, snapping a 15-game losing streak to Tech’s arch rival.

Morrell’s best seasons with the Orediggers were in 2015 and 2016.

Tech won back-to-back Frontier Conference titles. More importantly, the Orediggers won three out of four games against the Saints. That included a sweep in 2015, when Tech won 42-7 at Nelson Stadium in Helena.

The only thing that could stop the Orediggers those years was bad luck.

Injuries to quarterback Quinn McQueary and then to star running back Nolan Saraceni probably cost the Orediggers at least an appearance in the NAIA national championship game over those two dominating seasons.

Some of us will forever believe that Tech would have won one, if not two, national titles had the Orediggers gone into the playoffs with their two best players both seasons.

Not getting the Tech job turned out to be very good for Gregorak. While he is currently out of coaching, Gregorak clearly restored his reputation as a coach and as a person with stints as defensive coordinator at the University of Montana and then Montana State.

He proved that all those people who showed up on the Tech campus to support their coach and friend were right about him. He showed that Tech probably could not have made a wrong decision.

On Monday, Tech announced that Morrell is leaving the school to “pursue other interests,” presumably to work as an assistant coach under his old buddy Kalen DeBoer at Fresno State.

He will leave some giant shoes to be filled. They are shoes that may be impossible to fill, just like Green’s were in 2010.

Someday, Oredigger fans might get to point to Morrell like they do Kelvin Sampson, who parlayed his short basketball coaching career in the Mining City into stops at Washington State, Oklahoma, Indian, the NBA and now the University of Houston.

Maybe someday we will see Morrell coaching in a bowl game. Maybe he will turn this job into an even bigger one in college football or maybe even the National Football League.

No matter what the future holds, though, the past nine years prove that the Orediggers made a great choice when they hired that quiet coach to replace their noisy legend.

— Bill Foley, who is still trying to restore his reputation, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 3 comments



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3 Comments

  • Chris Casne
    January 7, 2020, 7:54 pm

    Thanks for 9 great years Coach Morrrell! You are a class act and you will be missed. Go Digs!

    REPLY
  • John Amtmann
    January 7, 2020, 10:14 pm

    Excellent Foles…Morrell is a class act and we will miss him.

    REPLY
    • Mike and Sheilah Vincent@John Amtmann
      January 10, 2020, 6:55 pm

      Chuck and Jen Morrell and their sweet daughters will be sorely missed. It’s difficult to say goodbye to such a wonderful family—-Butte’s loss.

      REPLY

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