St. Johns coach Mike Morgan received a phone call last Friday afternoon before his team took the field against Holbrook.
The call was from the son of former Blue Ridge coach Paul Moro, with whom Morgan was tied atop the state’s career victories list with 336 wins, wishing Morgan good luck as he went for the tiebreaking win that evening.
“That meant a lot,” Morgan said several days later, after his Redskins routed Holbrook 62-8 to make him Arizona’s all-time winningest coach. “I didn’t realize it was such a big thing to so many people until now.”
Morgan also took a moment to honor Moro, who died in January 2019 after a two-year battle with Stage 4 cancer.
“I have the utmost respect for the guy who had the record before me,” Morgan said of his former rival, recounting the times his teams faced Moro’s over his career (Moro was 4-1 against Morgan).
“Paul was one of those perfectionists, and it was sad that he had to resign before he wanted to. It’s an honor just to be in the same sentence with him.”
Friday’s victory truly was a family affair. One of Morgan’s nephews is an assistant coach at Holbrook, and his wife and family — along with many former players and coaches — were in the stands to celebrate the feat.
“To see the clock tick down and realize I’d done it, it really meant a lot,” said Morgan, whose career mark stands at 337-93-4. “It was just a total family effort, a total 40-year effort. I have kids on this team who are second-generation players. It really was a family situation to have them all there for this win.”
Morgan has never had a losing season entering his 39th season as a head coach — the first seven at Ganado before coming to St. Johns. He briefly stepped down in 2015, giving way to Tony Neubauer, before returning a year later to continue his coaching career.
He tied Moro in the first round of last year’s 2A state playoffs with a 35-7 victory over Arizona Lutheran. Morgan was then thwarted twice in his team’s bids to deliver him the record — first by Phoenix Christian in the 2019 quarterfinals, then in a season-opening loss to Round Valley. St. Johns’ Week 2 game with Pima was canceled after a Roughriders player tested positive for COVID-19.
“Since that night, I’ve gotten 400 to 500 emails, congratulatory texts, from such great people,” Morgan said. “It’s a great honor, and I’m really humbled by it all.”
— René Ferrán