Mitchell rouses Morgan Coach: Ex-Cardinals running back thinks he has remedy to return Bears to winning ways.

August 12, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

To locate Stump Mitchell's office, a visitor must drive past the Morgan State campus and head for the building about a mile away that used to be Montebello Hospital. It's the perfect setting for a man trying to heal an ailing football program.

Eight months have passed since Mitchell was introduced as the Bears' new football coach, and during that time he has given the patient a thorough examination.

He's found a team struggling to endure the pain and frustration of having just one victory last season, 16 consecutive years without a winning record and a litany of mistakes both on and off the field.

Mitchell insists, however, that the prognosis for recovery is good. So good, in fact, that he boldly proclaimed that Morgan State would "shock the world" this season.

Though his coaching experience at the collegiate level is limited -- one season as offensive coordinator at Morgan before replacing Ricky Diggs as head coach -- he brings an endless supply of confidence and enthusiasm. What better way to tackle a tough job?

"If I wasn't here last year, I would be concerned coming in," said Mitchell, who retired from the NFL in 1989 after 10 seasons as a running back/kick returner. "I would be coming in here blind, not knowing anything about the talent or the mental attitude of these gentlemen."

Among the memorabilia in Mitchell's office, which is home for the next two years while Hill Field House is being renovated, are two framed photographs taken when he was with the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals. In one, he's flying over a would-be tackler. In the other, he's being dragged down by the face mask.

The Cardinals' career leader in all-purpose yardage (11,988) is convinced of which direction his team will go this year. He believes good things will happen to Morgan because they keep happening to him.

"God is still working miracles in my life, blessing me with the players and opportunity to be here at the helm," he said.

Mitchell, 37, came to Morgan last year after two seasons as head coach at Casa Grande Union High in Arizona, where his team improved from 4-6 to 9-3 and made the playoffs. Offered a job as head coach at a junior college in Phoenix, he was talked into relocating to Baltimore by Diggs, who was Mitchell's running backs coach at The Citadel.

Jim Hanifan, a coach with the Cardinals from 1974-85, said he figured Mitchell's football career wouldn't end after his retirement as a player because "he always had a great love for the game."

"He always displayed that love as a player, which is one factor," said Hanifan, now the Washington Redskins' offensive line coach. "The second factor is, he's very smart. He listened and he learned. He always knew what was taking place on the field, and not just at his position. He knew when other guys were screwing up, and it really ticked him off.

"If one guy can turn around that program, it's Stump. They may not have the most talent there, but guys will respond to him. The kids will play their hearts out for him, just like he always did for us."

"Stump will be successful in anything he does because of his work ethic," said Hank Kuhlmann, the Cardinals' running backs coach from 1986-90 who is now an assistant in Indianapolis. "He was a competitor and a self-starter, which is what you have to be as a coach."

To be 5 feet 9 and last so long in the NFL, Mitchell had no choice but to outwork everyone else. And he's at full-throttle again, watching film, lifting weights with the players, monitoring the new recruits and transfers, checking on the veterans and piecing together a team that has more than 20 new additions.

"You're talking about a guy who would give his soul to winning and to an organization," said defensive coordinator Melvin Spears, who has known Mitchell for 15 years and coached with him at Casa Grande. "He exemplifies hard work."

Mitchell's staff includes two other former NFL players, offensive line coach Bubba Green and defensive backfield coach Andre Waters. Also, Spears was a free agent with the New York Giants, and quarterback coach Orlando Persell holds or shares four Morgan records.

Together, they engage in head games with their players, convincing them one by one that the losing will stop.

"We've been trying to mold these guys mentally," Mitchell said. "We have their bodies. All I ask them to do now is give us their minds. If they do, I know my influence can rub off on them. And Orlando, Melvin, Andre -- these guys bring a tenacity to the ballgames that we need in order to turn things around here."

The experience Mitchell gained at Casa Grande, which also needed an attitude adjustment when he first got there, is coming in handy at Morgan. So is the time spent playing for Bobby Ross at The Citadel and Gene Stallings with the Cardinals, and the year playing for Marty Schottenheimer in Kansas City before retiring.

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