published Sunday, January 27th, 2013

Mocs honor Jim Morgan era in wrestling

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    Jim Morgan is the UTC wrestling program's all-time wins leader.
    Photo by Staff File Photo.
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Jim Morgan, the program's all-time wins leader, will be among those in attendance when the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling team culminates its legends weekend this afternoon.

The Mocs will open their 2012-13 Southern Conference schedule at 2 at Maclellan Gym against The Citadel.

"He was more than a coach. He was a good guy," said Turner Jackson, an NCAA Division II national champion in 1976. "For a guy like me, a guy going into coaching, the years I was with him were awesome. He showed me how to be a better coach. He was a good guy, the kind you liked being around."

Morgan, whose entire program budget was less than recruiting budgets for other Southeastern wrestling programs such as LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and Auburn, was highly successful at Baylor School after he left the Mocs.

"The budget was tight, but we knew what it was ahead of time," he said. "When you're the head of a household, you know what you can buy and what you can't. We were glad to have what we had. Obviously it wasn't all about money or there would still be SEC teams wrestling."

Many programs died in the wake of Title IX but UTC maintained, thanks in part to Morgan, who doubled at times as a professor, the tennis coach and assistant athletic director.

"We had success but it didn't come easily," he said. "The kids worked for it and earned it. We didn't have the extensive recruiting budgets, but the kids we had were committed and made the difference. I think Heath [Eslinger, current Mocs coach] is doing the same thing. He expects commitment to his program -- not just wrestling but to be a part of UTC in all aspects."

Morgan coached the Mocs for 16 seasons (1969-83) and had a career record of 209-70-3. The win total and the win percentage (.746) still stand as career marks 30 years after his departure.

But mat victories were secondary to life's lessons for the personable coach.

"The thing I most remember was that we were like family," said Bill Burnside, a Division II championship finalist and the Mocs' first All-American. "He made each of us feel like part of that family. He was a father figure. He took you under his wing, and he was a great motivator. He couldn't have gotten where he did without that."

Morgan is looking forward to this afternoon's events.

"It's almost humbling," he said. "It think it's not about me but the ones they're honoring, and I mean all of them. It isn't just the national champions and All-Americans but those in the trenches, the guys that helped us win by not getting pinned.

"I can't call it the glory years. I feel like we did the best we could every time out, and what I remember is a lot of friends. That's what wrestlers became once they graduated -- part of the family. It was like having a big family, and they were all important."

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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