Morgan's Diggs is kindler, gentler Football team says turmoil now behind

April 07, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

Five months ago, Morgan State football players tried to get head coach Ricky Diggs fired. Now, record numbers want to play for him.

Ninety players, the most in Diggs' three years at the school, participated in a workout yesterday as the Bears began spring practice.

Spirits were high and the tempo upbeat. The players talked about a new beginning, while Diggs reflected on the past turmoil that caused him to adjust his coaching style.

Everybody's got a new attitude.

"It's all behind us now," said senior superback Tony Phillips. "We all realize that the future can be bright for us, and we realize we have the potential to be champions. Winning starts with the right attitude."

"Since last season, I've given a lot of thought to my style," said Diggs. "I've always been firm, a disciplinarian, and everybody knows that I am. But my tactics and approach may change some.

"I won't be hollering and screaming a lot. I'll be more concerned about the humanitarian side," said Diggs. "I consider this growing as a coach. There will be times that I lose it, because I'm a very competitive and high-strung coach. But I'm more cognizant of my approach to young men."

A petition addressed to administrators and signed by 69 players last Nov. 18 requested that Diggs, 2-9 in his second year, be dismissed at the end of the season. In the petition, the players stated they would stage a sit-in at halftime of the final game against Bethune-Cookman if their demands were ignored.

They also threatened not to play during the 1993 season.

Morgan officials decided to forfeit the Bethune-Cookman game.

Senior defensive tackle Matthew Steeple said yesterday that the petition was originally intended to force the school to keep L.C. Cole as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. But one of the team's spokesmen, who had problems with Diggs, changed the petition.

A lot of the players signed without reading it.

The whole ordeal almost tore apart the foundation of Diggs' program.

"It got out of hand," said Steeple. "Before we knew what happened, we were forfeiting our last game. That hurt. You know, if Coach Diggs does change a lot, a lot of guys will lose respect for him and try to take advantage of him."

Cole and five other assistants eventually were fired. Diggs, a week after the petition, was given a written reprimand from the university and told to change the way he treats his players. He XTC met with his players the same day.

They haven't talked about the incident since.

Only two players, according to Diggs, Dondeal Mixon and Antonio Moore, transfers in 1991 from Toledo who combined for 88 receptions, have left Morgan State.

Diggs said: "It's a dead issue. You can tell by the amount of effort put in by the players during the off-season. They were in the weight room not worry about what happened, but what is needed to turn things around."

Actually, the Bears have big expectations for the 1993 season. Forty lettermen return, the most of any Morgan team in recent years. The Bears also have eight starters back on offense, five on defense.

"When I was a freshman, we were in six homecoming games and people took advantage of our inexperience," said Steeple. "Now, we've got the experience. It's time we get off the homecoming list. This is a year for revenge."

Diggs doesn't expect many adjustments in his run-and-shoot offense. The Bears averaged 99.5 rushingand 372.2 passing yards per game. Senior quarterback Orlando Persell is back to run the offense, but the Bears will have to find two inside receivers to replace Mixon and Moore.

Top candidates are junior Dante Carter and freshmen Chris Ursini and Elijah Cameron.

Diggs said he will spend most of the spring concentrating on defense. The Bears have a new coordinator in Rondel Woods, and will implement a 4-3 compared to the 5-2 defense of a year ago when the Bears allowed 203.1 rushing and 381.9 passing yards per game. They expect to be much better because linebackers Gerald Thomas and Chris Small both return after missing last season with knee injuries. Thomas is the team's best linebacker.

"I think we need to polish up our running game, emphasize special teams and work on our defense," said Diggs. "We had problems defensively last season. This year we're going to attack and read more instead of blitzing a lot.

"The guys know they can win. We just have to work on beating adversity during the game," said Diggs. "When things start turning south for us, we just say, 'Oh, here it goes again,' and we lose that intensity. We need to learn that we must play 60 minutes [of] football, and if we do, the wins will come."

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