Another coach seeks to revive Bears

Former Dunbar boss takes up big challenge of stopping losing skid

Morgan State

September 03, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Morgan State begins its football season tomorrow, traveling to Lewisburg, Pa., to face Bucknell of the Patriot League.

The game, which begins at 12: 30 p.m., will be the collegiate debut for interim Bears coach Stanley Mitchell, who hopes to avoid Morgan's 20th straight losing season despite a campaign that will feature eight road games.

The Bears' linebackers coach last season, Mitchell took control of the team in late March, replacing Stump Mitchell after he left to become running backs coach for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

In guiding a team that finished 1-10 last season, the 51-year-old Mitchell is trying to repeat the story line that developed while he was at Dunbar High School. In 1993, he began with a struggling Poets football program, then won two state titles -- the only city team to do so -- in five seasons before resigning after the 1997 season.

Morgan State hasn't won an opening day game since 1993 and Mitchell said that a victory over the Bison -- 6-5 last season -- could be important.

"Any opening game can set your season up," Mitchell said. "With me, every game is important, but if this team can get its first game right away, and if you can play the same type of ball as Bucknell, you have a good chance of winning plenty of games down the road."

Mitchell has had a tough time putting his team together for this season. His late hiring not only made him tardy for the recruiting season but it also put him behind schedule in hiring coaches. His tight ends coach, Roger Cascini, arrived shortly before practices began on Aug. 15.

Last season, Mitchell was an assistant who didn't deal with the mounds of paperwork he now confronts. From making housing arrangements for players to getting video equipment for coaches, the administrative matters of his new job have taken more time.

"There's so much administrative work at this level," he said. "I haven't had the opportunity to concentrate on Xs and Os because I've been trying to make sure the coaches and players have the things they need to win."

At this point, Mitchell wishes for things to make his offense go, because the team scored more than 20 points in only two games last season.

He wishes for protection for senior quarterback Willie McGirt (404-yard game against Florida A&M, but only a .489 completion percentage) and open holes for junior Ali Culpepper (4.7 yards a carry, but injured in second game of 1998.) He wishes for success at fullback and tight end, positions entrusted to sophomores Henry Vinson and Vishante Johnson.

Mitchell is fine with his receiving corps led by Marc Lester and Armand Walters. That group also includes Anthony Collins, who left in the off-season, only to return within the last two weeks from Morris Brown College in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Mitchell has entrusted freshman Joseph Wright with an important blocking position -- left tackle. Wright will be joined by two returning starters, center Kary Brown and right tackle Sidney Brown.

"The key is how our offensive line holds up," Mitchell said. "If it does well, we'll be able to do quite a few things."

The Bears' defense has four starters returning to its front line, but the unit gave up 124 points in the final two games last season. The team has switched from 4-4 set to a less-complicated 4-3 defense. Also, Mitchell has moved bigger athletes like 6-3, 200-pound senior Warner Herndon to cornerback in order to give the secondary some size. Freshman Kirk Williams (a former Maryland signee) is also expected to make an impact at linebacker.

"The defense has the package to do a lot of things for us," Mitchell said. "We're hoping that the defense can carry us until the offense starts quickly."

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