Morrison had terrific run as Mercer’s coach

sports@macon.comMarch 18, 2013 

While not its tournament of choice, nonetheless, the Mercer men’s basketball team will be playing in the postseason for the second straight year starting Wednesday when it meets Tennessee in a first-round NIT game in Knoxville.

The Bears, winners of last year’s CollegeInsider.com tournament, had their sights on an NCAA berth but had to settle for the NIT when they were upended by Florida Gulf Coast in the A-Sun championship game Saturday.

This is Mercer’s fourth postseason trip since becoming an NCAA Division I member back in the early 1970s. In addition to this year’s NIT appearance and last year’s CIT, the Bears advanced to the 1981 and 1985 NCAA tournaments after winning A-Sun tournament titles.

Prior to those appearances, the Bears were selected to play in the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regionals following the 1971-72 season, their only year as a Division II member. In that tournament, they lost in the first round to eventual national champion Roanoke College 78-72 on the Maroons’ home court. The next season, Mercer moved up to “university status,” which today is Division I.

Dwane Morrison was Mercer’s head coach during the transition from Division II to Division I, and he fielded some outstanding teams in his three years in Macon. His style of basketball brought crowds of more than 4,000 to games at the Macon Coliseum. Morrison, who served as the interim head coach at his alma mater, South Carolina, for the final 12 games of the 1964 season, sandwiched his time at Mercer between two stints at Georgia Tech. He was the top assistant to longtime Yellow Jackets head coach Whack Hyder from 1964 to 1970 before taking the Mercer job and left to take over as the head coach at Georgia Tech in 1973, and he stayed there for eight seasons before being replaced by Bobby Cremins in 1981.

During Morrison’s time at Mercer, he compiled a 48-22 record. Two of his most memorable games came in the 1972-73 season. The Bears lost a shootout at eighth-ranked Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette) 111-104 and beat Furman in Greenville 118-115 on the night of the great snow in Macon on Feb. 8, 1973. That Southwestern Louisiana team received a two-year NCAA death penalty following that season for more than 125 rules violations.

Morrison, who was extremely popular in the Macon community, was not your conventional coach. The first two weeks of fall workouts, his team would run plays without the use of a basketball, and it was common to witness both Morrison and his top assistant, Jay Niddifer, smoking on the sidelines during games. Try that today. On road trips, he took his teams to restaurants but he wouldn’t order for himself but rather would leave his meal choice up to the waitress.

His philosophy in basketball and life was simple. Do what you can do. When you do the simple things correctly, the difficult things become simple. I can still hear one of his favorite expressions to his players, “Just shoot your best stick.”

His success at Mercer did not follow him to Georgia Tech. In his time with the Yellow Jackets, his teams compiled an overall record of 98-112 while playing as an independent, a member of the Metro Conference and his final two seasons in the ACC. In his time in the ACC, Georgia Tech won just one game in 28 tries. His overall record as a head coach at was 143-152.

Morrison, an avid golfer, played that sport at every opportunity while in Macon. He turned that passion into a short-lived career after his coaching days, serving as a caddie for PGA Tour professional J.C. Snead for one summer. After undergoing quadruple bypass surgery following his days as a caddie, he worked with a vending machine company serving Georgia and Alabama and then as an individual securities broker. Today he volunteers weekly with a food pantry involved with his church in his Atlanta area.

Morrison, who turns 83 in May, grew up in Owensboro, Ky., and is the son of former major league baseball player Johnny “Jughandle” Morrison, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Brooklyn Robins in the 1920s. The Brooklyn Robins were the forerunners of the Dodgers, which didn’t officially become the team’s nickname until 1933.

Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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