Brian Hoffman Column – 3/16/17
Salem native Charlie Morgan, who starred as a basketball player at Andrew Lewis High School and coached Salem High to two state championships, has announced his retirement from coaching. Morgan made the announcement last week in Kingsport, Tennessee, where he coached the Dobyns-Bennett High School team.
A 1973 Andrew Lewis High School graduate, Charlie is the all-time leading scorer at the former high school. His younger brother Richard is the all-time leading scorer at Salem High, which opened in 1977 to replace Andrew Lewis High.
Charlie actually began his coaching career in high school, when coach Chili Campbell asked him to coach the Lewis eighth grade team. After high school he played at East Tennesse State in Johnson City, Tennessee. He was coaching at the middle school in Johnson City when Dennis Greenwell, head coach at nationally known Science Hill High, asked Charlie to join his staff. Morgan coached at Science Hill under Greenwell, then George Pitts, for 14 years as a jayvee coach and varsity assistant. The Hilltoppers won the 1990 TSSAA Class AAA state championship and were runnersup in 1991.
Morgan returned to Salem to coach the Spartans in 1992 and made an immediate impact. His 1993 team made the regional tournament and, in 1994, Salem won the state Group AA basketball championship. That team had a starting lineup of current Georgia Southern coach Mark Byington, current Salem High coach Kevin Garst, and three others who are raising families in Salem, Nathan Routt, Matt Woolwine and Bryan Monroe.
“That’s still one of my all-time favorite teams,” said Morgan. “Those kids really bought into what we were trying to do. I still keep in touch with them.”
Morgan won another state championship in 1999 with a bunch of kids that weren’t great shooters, but played well as a team and hustled on the court. He had a 148-53 record over eight years at Salem before returning to Tennessee to take a job with the nationally recognized Dobyns-Bennett program in 2000. He’s been there ever since.
During his 17-year tenure with Dobyns-Bennett, Morgan amassed 359 wins, five conference titles, three district tournament championships, five regional tournament titles and took four Indian teams to the TSSAA State Tournament. Morgan was selected as Big 7/8/9 Coach of the Year four times and Northeast Tennessee Coach of the Year three times. He won his 500th game as coach in January, but the Tribe finished the season just 12-17. It was just the second losing season in Charlie’s 39 year career as a jayvee or varsity coach.
“I don’t want people to think I’m getting forced out because we didn’t have a good season,” said Morgan. “I was thinking of doing this for the past couple years. There are some other things I’d like to do.”
Morgan loves to fish, and he plans to do a lot of that with more time on his hands. He’s going to remain in Tennessee. Both his parents, Sam and Lola Morgan, are deceased and his wife, Robin, has family in the Kingsport area. He still gets back to Salem on occasion to visit the many friends he has in this area, both from growing up here and coaching at Salem High.
To me, he’s one of the best basketball coaches I’ve ever been associated with. He was passionate about the game and that rubbed off on his players. He wouldn’t accept anything less than 100 percent and he expected the same from the kids in his program.
We all know Salem is a football town, and it was to Morgan’s credit when the Spartans won a state basketball championship before the football team had a state trophy. He ruffled some feathers with his demands, but years ago I reassured him by saying, “you have to do what it takes to win because that’s why they brought you here. You’ll be gone a lot quicker if you lose.” I’m sure he doesn’t even remember that but it was the truth.
Charlie knew how to win. He was one of those coaches who people say, “he can beat you with his, and if you switch teams he’ll beat you with yours.”
He had a colorful sideline demeanor. He had a move I liked to call “the wave.” He wasn’t overly vocal, but he made it known when he didn’t agree with a call. He’d give the official “the wave,” and then turn his back and walk back to his seat in disgust.
It was a great move. The officials couldn’t really give him a technical for just waving at them, but it definitely got the point across. I laughed every time he did it.
Long time Spartan fans are sure to remember his battles with Northside. In ’94 Salem beat the Vikings seven times, and if I remember correctly those were the only losses Northside had that season. Salem beat them twice in the regular season, in a Christmas Tournament, in the district final, in the regional final and in the state semifinal. There was one more in there somewhere, but I can’t remember why. I do remember after Salem won the championship Byington’s dad, Dale, announced that they wouldn’t give us the trophy until we played Northside one more time at Longwood Park. That drew a big laugh.
Basketball is going to miss Charlie. He indicated he might help his brother, Richard, who is head coach at Bluefield College, but more as an adviser than as an assistant coach. He’ll continue to teach drivers’ education in Kingsport.
“Maybe we’ll just follow Duke around,” he said with a laugh. Morgan’s wife is a big Duke fan and they go to several games a year.
Could he be talked back into coaching? Well, for now it seems unlikely but he wasn’t ready to close the door. Charlie is just 62 years old and he still has a lot of energy.
“I don’t know,” he said when I put that question to him. “Right now I’m not thinking about that. If something came up I’d have to look it over really good.”