Jack and Joe Morris, football’s top father-son coaching duo
BY MIKE FIELDS
MAYFIELD – The first family of Mayfield High School football includes the most successful father-son coaching duo in the history of Kentucky high school football.
Between them, Jack and Joe Morris have been part of the Cardinals’ program for almost six decades – including a combined 42 years as head coach, during which time they’ve accumulated 454 victories, 18 trips to the state finals, 10 state championships, and zero losing seasons.
Jack first arrived at Mayfield in 1959 as a student teacher, then joined the football staff as an assistant the next year. He left for an assistant’s job at Paducah Tilghman in 1968 but returned to Mayfield in 1969 to take over as head coach.
In 24 years as boss of the Cards, Jack had a record of 254-50-2, highlighted by four state titles (1977 ’78, ’85, ’86).
His son’s coaching career is following the same arc of triumph.
Joe is starting his 18th year as Mayfield’s head man. The Cards opened the season Friday night with a 56-0 rout of Fort Campbell, giving Joe his 200th victory. He has an overall record of 200-45, highlighted by six state titles (2002, ‘10, ‘12, ‘13, ’14, ‘15).
Joe and his older brother David grew up immersed in Mayfield football, tagging along with their dad to practice and riding the team bus.
“I’ve been at every level possible here,” Joe said, “from water boy to ball boy to player to assistant coach to head coach. I’ve done it all. It’s always been part of my life.”
Joe was an assistant under his dad for three years before Jack retired after the 1992 season. Paul Leahy, who had been an assistant since 1971, took over as head coach and Joe was among his assistants. Mayfield won two state titles under Leahy (1993 ’95).
Joe became the Cards’ head man in 1999, fulfilling a long-held dream, but also aware of the pressures that came with the job.
“It was a big weight off my shoulders when we won the championship in 2002,” he said. “That was my first as head coach. We had gone 8-6 the year before and I was sure there was some grumbling.”
There’s been no reason for grumbling among Mayfield fans in recent years. The Cards have played in seven consecutive state finals and won five titles, including the last four in a row. They’ve won 86 of their last 91 games. A jump from Class A to 2A last season didn’t keep them from bringing home the big trophy.
There’s little doubt Mayfield will be rated No. 1 in 2A again this preseason. “If we don’t win a state championship again this year, (the fans) are going to think, ‘What are you doing?’” Joe said.
“Our fans are very spoiled. I’ve been on the field after we’ve beaten a pretty good team by something like 35-7, and some guy, who doesn’t mean anything by it, will say we didn’t play very well. They don’t just expect you to win here, they expect you to score every time.”
That’s the price you pay for being a powerhouse.
Jack Morris said Mayfield had strong football before he got here, but there’s no question he pushed the program to new heights. His best teams were probably the ones that won state titles in the late 1970s and put together a 31-game winning streak during one stretch. The Courier-Journal ranked the ’78 championship Cards the top team, regardless of class, in the state.
Mayfield’s sustained excellence has come even though it has always played (and usually beaten) bigger schools, even if it had to schedule teams from Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee. (They’ve always had a difficult time finding area schools their size that will play them.)
This season, Mayfield’s schedule includes 5A Marshall County, 5A Graves County, 6A McCracken County and 3A Paducah Tilghman.
The annual showdown with Tilghman is one of the state’s oldest and most intense rivalries. They’ve played 102 times since 1911. Tilghman holds a 47-45-10 edge in the series, but Mayfield has won the last 10 meetings, the longest such streak in the rivalry’s history.
“It’s amazing that we’ve beaten them 10 years in a row,” Jack said. “They’ve had so much speed and talent over the years, there’s no possible way that should happen.”
But that’s a staple of the Mayfield tradition: the players believe in their coaches and themselves.
“Our kids feel like they’re going to win when they walk on the field, no matter who we’re playing,” Joe said.
“It’s always been that way,” Jack added.
That’s not to say Mayfield has lacked talent itself. The Cards’ stick-out stars over the years have included quarterback David Fowler, running back Marcus Moss and lineman Joe Prince. But the Cards have thrived because they’ve gotten the most out of good, solid high school players who’ve grown up in the system and embraced the work ethic and team-first philosophy demanded of them.
“One thing that sets this program apart is that we don’t cast anybody aside, even if when they’re freshman and you wonder how they could ever help you,” Joe said. “That’s why we’ve had several players who were one-year starters, when they were seniors. They’ve stuck with it, even though they might have only played JV games or been on the scout team or on a special team. But then their senior year they stepped in and started. We have more of that than most schools because these kids want to be part of Mayfield football.”
The same can be said of the Morris family.
Joe and David both played for their dad, and both were assistant coaches under him. Their sister Janie was a cheerleader. When Joe became head coach, Jack served as his assistant for five years. (When David was head coach at Mercer County in the late 1990s, Jack was also on his staff. David now teaches at Marshall County but doesn’t coach.)
Jack retired as Mayfield’s head coach at the relatively young age of 55, but he’s never retired from being a Cardinal. At 79, he still refers to the team as “our kids” and still beams with pride when talking about them.
“Our kids believe they’re better than anybody. So if you’re going to beat us, you have to be better than us, I guarantee you that,” Jack said with authority.
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