Michael Holmes hit Morgan State University on the dead run four months ago, armed with an ambitious agenda to resuscitate the school's foundering basketball program.
Among his priorities, Morgan's new head coach wanted to establish rapport with his new community, erase a negative image of the program, and make up for lost time on the recruiting trail.
The pace was frenetic. The toll was exacting.
After too many 18-hour work days, Holmes woke up one morning to discover a numbness on the left side of his body, from head to foot. Lack of sleep was determined to be the cause. The solution, Holmes decided, was self-evident. "I figure I'll be able to get eight hours' sleep once we get to Providence," he said the other day.
Morgan's season opens Friday in Providence, R.I., against the Friars. But Holmes, the man entrusted with turning the program around, should not count on getting too many restful nights this season.
This is a program that has had 11 straight losing seasons. The Bears' last winning campaign was 1978-79, when they went 18-12. Since then they've gone 86-210. The program hit the skids year ago when coach Nat Frazier was fired in midseason. In the aftermath, two of the team's best players transferred.
Holmes, an assistant coach at Florida A&M the last three years, wasn't hired until June, killing any chance to recruit for this year. What makes the task even tougher is a depleted roster (his best player, 6-foot-8 Marcus Sheffield, won't be eligible until mid-December because of grades) and a schedule that puts the Bears on the road for their first 12 games.
Two questions, then. Will it take a miracle to turn Morgan around? And is Holmes a miracle-worker?
"I think I've been blessed to do that [at Morgan]," said Holmes, 38. "I think I'm a special kind of person. I really believe that.
"[But] I don't think miracle is the right word. I think just hard work and commitment are what it'll take to make the change. It's not just Michael Holmes we're talking about. I've been asked to manage the program. Give it direction. Where some are caught up in money, prestige and power, I like to deal with changes.
"I think I'm about trying to help programs."
A native of Chattanooga, Tenn., Holmes scored more than 2,000 points in his career at Paine College in Augusta, Ga. He got his master's degree in physical education at Hampton University. And at the age of 23, he became head coach at Benedict College, an NAIA school in Columbia, S.C. The situation at Benedict was similar to the situation at Morgan, and taught him a valuable lesson.
Said Holmes, "I didn't understand the politics. I thought winning would take care of everything. That wasn't what made the difference, though. You have to learn the politics. You also have to be a businessman who gets people interested in the product."
Holmes took Benedict to the playoffs for the first time in its history and was a two-time Coach of the Year during his 10-year stint there.
One of the first things he did at Morgan was implement a season-ticket plan -- even though he has only seven home games this season. He also hired the first full-time assistant in Morgan's basketball history, Lynn Ramage, from Chesapeake Community College. Once he was relocated, Holmes spent his first month on the job recruiting from Virginia to Connecticut.
"It all takes time," he said of the revitalization process. "I'll only have three or four kids back next year, so everything I teach now, I'll have to teach again next year.
"I understood exactly what I was getting into. I felt if I could do well here, I could do well anywhere. In any situation, you have to have vision for what has to take place. It takes a deep commitment within to do well. I have that commitment."
MORGAN STATE SCHEDULE
Nov. 23 -- at Fleet Tourney vs. Provi-
Nov. 24 -- at Fleet Tourney, TBA
Nov. 27 -- at Georgia Tech, 7:30
Dec. 3 -- at Florida State, 7
Dec. 8 -- at St. Bonaventure, 7:35
Dec. 19 -- at SW Missouri, 7:05
Dec. 21 -- at St. Louis Tourney vs. North-
Dec. 22 -- at St. Louis Tourney vs. West-
ern Illinois, 1
Dec. 29 -- at New Mexico State, 7:30
Jan. 2 -- at Arkansas State, 7:05
Jan. 5 -- at S.C. State, 8
Jan. 7 -- at N.C. A&T, 8
Jan. 11 -- Brooklyn, 8
Jan. 12 -- UMES, 8
Jan. 14 -- Delaware State, 8
Jan. 17 -- Florida A&M, 7:30
Jan. 19 -- Bethune-Cookman, 8
Jan. 24 -- at Coppin State, 8
Jan. 26 -- at UMES, 4
Jan. 28 -- at Howard, 8
Jan. 30 -- at St. Francis (N.Y.), 7:30
Feb. 4 -- Coppin State, 8
Feb. 7 -- at Florida A&M, 7:30
Feb. 9 -- at Bethune-Cookman, 8
Feb. 11 -- at Delaware State, 8
Feb. 16 -- S.C. State, 8
Feb. 18 -- N.C. A&T, 8
Feb. 23 -- Howard, 8
Feb. 28-March 2 -- MEAC Tourney, TBA
MORGAN STATE AT A GLANCE
Nickname: Golden Bears.
* Coach: Michael Holmes (first year).
* 1989-90 record: 8-20 (4-12 in the MEAC).
* Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
* Home court: Hill Field House (6,500).