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Stellar playing career laid foundation for Morrison’s coaching success

Tanner Cook • May 16, 2020 at 10:45 AM

Blountville native Ian Morrison’s list of athletic accomplishments is long and storied.

His basketball coaching impact first at John Sevier Middle School and later Volunteer arguably couldn’t be greater, though.

“I had a good coaching background and was fortunate to get the jobs that I did,” Morrison said. “It was my honor and privilege to coach so many wonderful young student-athletes at John Sevier Middle School and Volunteer.”

PLAYING DAYS

Morrison excelled about as much as any high school player can thanks to an unrelenting work ethic.

“I woke up at 5 o’clock every morning and practiced my craft,” he said. “I had a burning desire to be the best.”

Playing for St. Petersburg High School in Florida, Morrison was among the game’s best players his junior and senior years. He was one of the nation’s scoring leaders, averaging 35 points as a junior and 36 as a senior. Fans dubbed him “The Rifleman” for his sharpshooting from the outside.

He was one of five high school players on the 1963 Parade magazine All-America team and appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” along with 15-year-old Lew Alcindor, now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Morrison recently reunited with Abdul-Jabbar while taking part in East Tennessee State’s “Civility Week” in March 2019. 

Morrison was recruited by legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith and went on to play for the Tar Heels. After two years, Morrison transferred to Florida State for family reasons.

PATROLLING THE SIDELINES

Morrison got his coaching career started as a player- coach, going 50-3 for the All-Navy basketball team in 1974. The team traveled up and down the East Coast playing Division II and smaller colleges.

“I’m probably one of, if not the only, coach in America at any level to have played under three Hall of Fame coaches,” Morrison said. “Dean Smith was at UNC, Larry Brown was an assistant coach at Florida State and Hugh Durham (at FSU).”

In 1977, there was an opening at John Sevier Middle School in Kingsport and Morrison jumped on the opportunity.

Under “Coach Mo,” the Warriors won 93% of their games over 15 seasons, including three undefeated. The 1990 group that went 27-0 included standouts Shane Pierson, JaMichael Mills, Latwan Wolfe, Shane Carnes, Roxy Lyons and Trippy Deal.

“That group could’ve beaten a lot of high school teams,” Morrison said. “In my humble opinion, that was the best team in any sport I have seen in Kingsport since 1977. We lost twice to Johnson City teams (Independence and Constitution middle schools) in 15 years.

“It goes without saying that establishing good feeder programs is critical. Kids at that age need to be taught the correct fundamentals, how to function as a team and how to condition themselves to be a good athlete.”

Later, he signed on at Volunteer. From 1995-2000, his Falcons teams went 15-1 against Charlie Bayless at Happy Valley and 15-2 against Dickie Warren at Sullivan Central, and they had a winning record against Bobby Snyder at Daniel Boone. Volunteer won 20-plus games four times after only having one winning team before Morrison arrived.

“We went to substate twice and I had wonderful experiences with those kids,” Morrison said.

“The secret ... was Ronnie Housewright. Ronnie has the purest heart of anyone I’ve ever known and I promoted him to my No. 1 assistant coach. He loved Volunteer and the kids. He had a huge part in Volunteer winning.”

One Michigan judge discussed Morrison’s coaching philosophy, saying he was “consistently positive with his players, encouraging them, positively correcting errors, suggesting new strategies and always stressing the fundamentals of good basketball.”

“I was steeped in academics and trying to be the best you could be at anything,” Morrison said. “When I was at Volunteer, I bought red clip-on ties for the players. I told them they didn’t have a choice and that if I saw them around school without the tie on that they wouldn’t be playing the game that night.”

A PLAYER’S PERSPECTIVE

“That was an interesting time in my career at Volunteer. I played for him my junior and senior year and everything was so intense,” said Brandon Reed, now an assistant coach at Dobyns-Bennett.

“We were big on being in good shape. We ran a lot during the summer, the fall and during practice, and that allowed us to play hard all the time and wear out our opponents.

“He was very confident,” Reed added, “and he instilled that confidence in us to where we felt like we could beat anybody we went up against.”

IN RETIREMENT

Ian and Tina Morrison have been married for more than 50 years.

“I’m not an expert on anything until I’m 2,000 miles away from my wife,” he said, adding: “She does a lot of volunteer work, especially at the Literacy Council in Kingsport.”

One of his other passions in life is ruffed grouse hunting. His dog Buster, a French Brittany, recently found and killed his 1,000th grouse.

“I shoot skeet about six days a week and there could not be a better club than the Cherokee Rod & Gun Club,” Morrison said. “The president there is Bob Camponovo and he’s a wonderful guy.

“The shooting instructor is Paul Key and he’s a great shot. If anyone is interested in shooting sports, that’s where you need to go.”

 

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