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As part of a series of interviews that BluegrassPreps.com is conducting in 2018 with coaches around the Commonwealth, BGP had a chance to catch up with Joe Morris, head football coach of the 2A Mayfield Cardinals.


BGP: Tell us a little about your coaching background - which schools you've been at as a head coach or as an assistant before you started at Mayfield? Which positions have you had personal experience coaching?

Coach Morris: I started coaching with my dad back in 1988. I was the line coach for our freshman team back then, and assisted with the varsity staff helping with the offensive line - that's what I played in high school [at Mayfield]. Then I moved up to the varsity staff in 1990 as the offensive/defensive line coach. From then, I think it was 1994, I became the offensive coordinator, but still was coaching offensive line. I got the head coaching job in 1999.

BGP: What was it that made you realize you wanted to be a coach? It's obviously not as easy a job to do in this day and age as it may have been in the past. Was your dad [Mayfield Coach Jack Morris] pretty integral in getting you into coaching?

Coach Morris: [Dad] didn't push me in any way to be a coach. To be honest with you, when I went to college it wasn't like I was like 'I want to be a coach like him, right now', but I went to college and played at UT-Martin for two years and finished up at Murray State, and started coaching with him in 1988, and I think I realized it was in my blood. I'd started out in college and didn't really know what I wanted to do, but then after about a year or so I did switch to education and became a teacher and figured out then, 'I kinda like this coaching stuff', and I've been doing it ever since - about 30 years. There aren't many of us, the old guys who stay in this business that long any more.

I've still got great relationships with a lot of old players. It's fun talking to those guys. It's always great when they come back in the office, 'Coach, how's everything going? I appreciate what you did for me.' That's one of the best parts of it.

Some of the best times in my life were playing high school football, and that's what makes [coaching] pretty good for me.

BGP: Are there any games in your coaching career, or even as a player or spectator of a high school game, that you look back at and think, 'Man…now THAT was a memorable game' ?

Coach Morris: I guess there are actually two games in 2002 that really stand out to me. We had a really good football team that year that finished undefeated, went 15-0 and won the state championship. It was my fourth year as a head coach, I hadn't won a championship as a head coach. I'd been associated with a couple others as an assistant, but not as the head coach. As always, there are folks questioning whether or not you're going to win one, but in 2002 we went up to Danville - Danville has been a nemesis of ours. I think we were 0-6 or 0-7 against those guys at that time, I'm not exactly for sure, but we went up there and we beat those guys on their field. Then the next week we went to Louisville Old Cardinal Stadium and we beat Beechwood in the finals.

It was a big task and we had a great football team, and it was the first championship that I won. My dad had won four, and Coach Leahy had won two, but we hadn't won one in about four years or with me as a head coach. Those two games really stand just because it was my first championship and beating Danville, and it kind of put a stamp on things that, 'Hey, this guy can coach a little bit, here.'

BGP: A lot of teams adopt some sort of motto or a mission statement for the program, or even for the individual program year? Does your team have one right now? Do you have a different motto for yourself as a coach?

Coach Morris: Each team can kind of come up with their own motto. One that stands out was 'One team. One dream.' They'll kind of make up their own motto, but we as a team don't have one. But after every time that we break it down after practice, or after I talk to them or we get together, we break it on 'State Champs', because that's our main goal each and every year.

BGP: If I were to ask your players - past or present - if there's one thing they hear you say the most, what do you think it would be?

Coach Morris: I guess the biggest thing they always hear me harp on is "put the ball away" with my running backs and receivers. I always say that when you're making $7 million to play football, you can hold the ball out there like that and let that coach take care of you, but if you're going to play here, you're going to put the ball away. Kids will hear me scream across the field, "Put the ball away!" I don't like fumbles.

BGP: It seems like it's about impossible to have a conversation about "small school football" in Kentucky without Mayfield and Beechwood coming up in the discussion. You guys manage to play bigger schools and contend with them and often times beat them. What is it that you feel that you can get out of your players to allow your team to really show up for big games against big schools like those?

Coach Morris: I think teams like Beechwood, Mayfield and Danville, we want to play good competition before you get to the playoffs. We like playing schools with good programs because they'll make you better. And another thing about schools our size, a lot of school about our size won't play us.

Our schedule right now, the first few games there are against great teams. If you can stay healthy - that's a small school challenge - a lot of times you don't have the depth of some of the schools that we're playing early and you have to worry about injuries, so you've got to stay healthy. And if you can stay healthy it's going to make you better once you get to the playoffs. You see well coached teams that way, and they help do a lot of good things to you and your team, and we enjoy playing teams like that.

We opened up last year and we're going to open up again this year with Union City, TN. We beat them pretty good last year, and they went on to win the 2A state championship in Tennessee. That game made us better, and talking to their coach, he said, 'That made us a better football team'. You might lose to some of those big schools, but most of the time it makes you better. We've played McCracken I think 5 years now, and I believe we're 3-2 against them. They're a school with like 2000 students, and we're here with around 400.

The great thing about coaching here at Mayfield is that our kids believe when they go out on the field that they're going to win. They believe they can beat anybody. When they walk out there they believe that they can, and that's a lot of the battle.

BGP: Mayfield's move up to 2A in the last re-alignement was a big change for the program, but you still kept right on going and ended the season last year with a 13-2 record last year and had an appearance in the 2A finals. What are your plans for this season: just geep grinding and putting in the same hard work and get the most you can out of your players, or are you thinking there will be any noticeable changes from last season's overall gameplan?

Coach Morris: Back in the late 80s/early 90s we were 2A, then we went down to Class A, and now we've been bumped back up. We've won twelve state championships, I think six of them were in 2A, and then six of them were in Class A. I think the biggest thing about 2A being different is just the depth. But in Class A, when you get down to those final four, it's tough. We've battled some fantastic football teams - Beechwood and Williamsburg, those were really good teams. A state championship is a state championship, but the biggest difference there is depth. We're coaching our players how to play in order to beat the depth.

BGP: With spring practice wrapped up, what strengths do you see the team having prior to really getting into the nuts and bolts of summer practice?

Coach Morris: We're going to be really good skill-wise. We've got most of our receivers back, and we feel like we'll have some pretty good depth at running back. We'll put a lot of good skill guys out there, and we got several good guys back on defense. But our question mark, and I think everyone knows it, is going to be who's going to come through on our offensive line for us. We lost four of our five offensive linemen, and that's where games are won. We're pretty un-proven up there now, and we're not very deep there at all.

The good thing is we've got a lot of guys who are working hard to get better. We feel like we can make a real run at it if we can get some line-play, and that's going to be the key to our team this year I believe.

BGP: If you could pare down all of the qualities that you look for in a player, and get down to just one or two top qualities that you like to see the most, what would they be?

Coach Morris: A kid that's going to provide leadership, and a kid that's coachable. The best teams that I've ever had, our best players were the hardest working kids we had, and the most coachable kids we had.

I'll mention Jonathan Jackson. He was a great player here, one of our all-time leading rushers, all-time leading tacklers, and a great high school football player. But he was also the hardest worker out there when you coached him, and he almost became a coach out there on the field for us.

Trajon Bright, who is our all-time leading rushing now. He wasn't necessarily a very vocal leader, but he was a guy that would almost get mad when you took him out, 'What did I do wrong?' And we'd have to tell him that, 'You know you could get hurt and we need to have someone else who's ready'. And not just in games, but in practice.

They were guys that always credited other people, and that's being a great leader. And when your best players are your hardest workers, that rubs off on the whole team. Your freshman and sophomores, they see that. Those are the type of guys that I like: leaders on the field and off the field, and kids that are coachable.

BGP: Who are some of the players on your team this year that we should expect to see a lot out of?

Coach Morris:
Brady Smith, he's being recruited by a lot of Division 1-AA schools. He's going to be a 3-year starter at defensive end. He's a hard worker in games and a hard worker on the practice field. He's a straight-A student, and that's what we want all of our guys to be.

Connor Guthrie who's one of the best athletes in our school. He's a great basketball player - Region 1 basketball player of the year. He's probably going to be an all-region baseball player. He was all-conference in football last year.

Quorterrius Cherry who's a big defensive end. We feel like he's going to have a huge year for us. Big guy who rushes the passer well.

BGP: Are there any teams that you would like to look at getting onto the Mayfield schedule within the next handful of years?

Coach Morris: We've got Fort Campbell and Caldwell County coming back into our district in 2019, and we're going to lose Corbin. We lost one team in our district but added two, so we had to drop Corbin to get our other game in. We play Paducah-Tilghman every year, that rivalry had been going on for over 100 years, and it's a great rivalry. Our cross-town rival is Graves County who is always a solid football team. We've still got McCracken County on our schedule, and we've got Union City, TN signed up again to play in our first game of the year. We're only about 35 miles apart, so we brought a huge crowd down there last year, and it's a natural cross-state rivalry and we're excited about having those guys back on the schedule.

Our schedule pretty much going to be the same except for Caldwell County and Fort Campbell coming back in. The only other new one is that we've got Madisonville coming into the Caldwell County spot at the end of the year. Madisonville North Hopkins, the great thing about that is that one of my former players, a great linebacker who was a great leader for us as well, Jay Burgett, is their head coach. He played middle linebacker here for us at Mayfield and started 3 years, and his dad was the superintendent for 18 or 19 years. Jay's excited about getting on our schedule, and he's excited about his young kids coming up, so we feel like that could really be a good game for us.

BGP: What are some of your favorite things to do when you have a little time in the off-season and you're not in football coaching mode?

Coach Morris: Watching my kids play. My daughter, she plays basketball and she's getting ready to be an 8th grader. My son plays and I help my son's team in football - he's getting ready to be a 4th grader, and he also plays a little basketball. I enjoy going to watch those guys play. Right now my son's in the middle of baseball season. It's kind of fun to get to go out there and attend a game - just sit there and enjoy watching him play instead of having to go coach.

I play a little bit of golf, I enjoy doing that when I can. And I enjoy playing with [my son]. We live pretty close to a golf course, so we'll go hop in a cart and play a few holes here or there, but I'm gonna have to stop that, because he's going to be beating me before too long.

BGP: Which college / NFL teams do you root for the most?

Coach Morris: I don't get to watch them much, but I'm a big Chicago Bears fan. I've always been one. Walter Peyton, he's my favorite player of all time. We had that one good year, but it's kind of been a struggle ever since. I think I was back in high school when they won the Super Bowl. But we're on our way back up now.

I enjoy getting to watch college ball. I'm a UK football fan. We take Saturdays and let our kids and coaches off, and I enjoy sitting down at home and watching college football. That's a good Saturday.


BluegrassPreps.com would like to give a big thank you to Coach Morris for offering us some of his valuable time to talk and answer our questions!