Mitchell's departure leaves Morgan in bind

After 1-10 season, coach takes job with Seahawks

January 29, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Until late last week, when the Seattle Seahawks came calling with a six-figure salary and a job as running backs coach, Stump Mitchell was in a bind.

Mitchell took the job Wednesday, and now Morgan State athletic director Garnett Purnell is the one in a bind. He must find a coach while appeasing alumni who have the ear of the president and had wanted Mitchell out.

Though indications were that Purnell will hire from elsewhere, he was revealing nothing of his strategy yesterday. But the heat is on, with national signing day for recruits coming next week.

Mitchell was the coach of a team that went 1-10 last season. He heard the alumni howling and knew that he would have to fire at least some of his staff.

He also knew that one day he wanted to become a head coach in the NFL. So when new Seahawks coach and general manager Mike Holmgren showed interest after leaving the Green Bay Packers, Mitchell knew it was time to move on.

"The person is the reason -- Mike Holmgren," Mitchell said yesterday. "When you look at the people who have obtained their dreams from his system, it's a win-win situation."

Former Holmgren assistants Ray Rhodes, Steve Mariucci, Jon Gruden and Andy Reid are head coaches in the NFL.

Mitchell, who played nine seasons (1981-1989) with the St. Louis and Phoenix Cardinals, will earn about $125,000 a year. He had turned down an offer last summer to become the Kansas City Chiefs' running backs coach.

He broke the news to players after returning Wednesday from Seattle, citing the chance he could help Morgan State players in the NFL. "I told them that it's a great opportunity for me and it was a great opportunity for them," Mitchell said.

"I wish that I could have ridden on their shoulders after six or seven games when a winning season was assured."

Though he succeeded in securing more scholarships and a larger coaching staff, the first winning season in two decades was the one goal he couldn't reach. Mitchell's record was 8-24 over three seasons, and alumni often complained to university president Earl S. Richardson.

"In some of the letters, they told the president that they weren't going to continue their financial obligation because they thought that some changes should be made," Mitchell said. "When I hear that alumni aren't supporting the program, I feel like I'm holding the program hostage."

Purnell, who became misty-eyed talking about Mitchell, disagreed.

"I don't know why he continues to say that," he said. "That was his theory and I told him that I don't agree."

Still, the coaching assistants were advised to look for jobs at a recent convention, and Mitchell's successor appears likely to come from beyond the current staff.

"Mr. Purnell has already stated that he wanted someone with head coaching experience, so I'm not putting my name in," offensive coordinator and former Morgan player Orlando Persell said. "When the new coach comes in, he'll decide what to do, and we'll make a decision from there."

Purnell plans to call colleges for permission to talk with candidates. But until he finds a head coach, the hexed Bears program becomes less attractive to recruits. High school athletes visit this weekend for the last time before the Feb. 4 signing day, and Purnell and the coaching staff will test their powers of persuasion.

"We're an institution without a coach," Purnell said. "We hope that they're interested in Morgan State for reasons besides football."

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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