By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Tyler Luebke knew this day was coming, probably sooner than later.
And it finally came on Wednesday with the announcement that Reese Morgan had retired after spending 19 seasons as an Iowa assistant football coach under Kirk Ferentz.
The 68-year old Morgan was also a coaching legend at the high school level, where he led an incredible turnaround at Iowa City West in the 1990s before accepting Ferentz’s offer to join his staff shortly after the 1999 season.
The decision to hire Morgan is considered one of the best decisions that Ferentz has made in two decades as the Iowa head coach.
Morgan in addition to be very knowledgeable about coaching football, also had an uncanny ability to see talent and hope where others coaches didn’t see it.
Take Luebke for example.
He was one of Morgan’s best players on back-to-back state champion teams at West High in 1998 and 1999.
But Luebke was undersized for a defensive lineman, so he spent one semester in junior college before accepting Morgan’s offer to walk-on at Iowa.
Luebke knew that he would be given a fair chance at Iowa because Morgan assured him that would be the case, and Luebke trusted Morgan, almost like a father.
“He was the reason why I came to Iowa,” Luebke said of Morgan. “It was all him. I don’t remember exactly how it got rolling, but I sat down and had a conversation with him, and he believed in me. And that gave me the confidence to precede with my walking on at Iowa.”
Luebke would go on to be a starter at defensive tackle for Iowa’s 2004 Big Ten championship team that finished 10-2 overall.
He is now part of a long list of unheralded recruits whose lives were impacted by Morgan in a positive way.
Former Iowa and NFL star linebacker Chad Greenway also fits into the group.
Greenway grew up on a farm in South Dakota and played nine-man football in high school as a quarterback and safety.
Iowa was the only Power 5 program that believed in Greenway enough to offer him a scholarship. And it was Morgan who fueled that belief because he saw something special in Greenway.
Morgan liked Greenway's athleticism and aggressiveness, and felt strongly that Greenway had what it took to play at the Big Ten level, and Morgan was right.
Greenway was on a snowmobiling trip when he heard the news that Morgan had retired.
“I can’t believe it,” Greenway said in a text message. “The best ever to do it.”
It would be impossible to pick just one word to describe Morgan, but one word that always seems to come up while others talk about what makes him special is the word, genuine.
“Reese had an ability to relate to his players, and it was genuine,” said Luebke, who currently lives in the Iowa City area. “He was a genuine person, and his conversations with you, and the way he treated you, it was always with the utmost respect.”
Kirk Ferentz also included the word genuine in his comments about Morgan’s retirement.
“A genuine and authentic person, Reese handled every challenge we threw his way in magnificent fashion,” Ferentz said in a release “Every player and coach who had the opportunity to work with Reese Morgan is much better for it,” said Ferentz. “It’s like losing a great player – Reese’s shoes will be hard to fill.”
Morgan had a number of roles while at Iowa.
He served as the recruiting coordinator for his first three years on the staff and then switched to offensive line coach, a position he held from 2003 to 2011.
Morgan then spent his last seven seasons at Iowa coaching the defensive line from 2012 to 2018.
And wherever he coached, that position would soon become a strength.
“He was a smart man who could coach anything,” Luebke said. “He would do his homework and research, obviously, to improve his capabilities on given positions. But he was a coach that could coach any position.”
Morgan joined Ferentz's staff after eight years as head coach at Iowa City West High. West won state titles in 1995, 1998, and 1999, and Morgan left the program with a 26-game winning streak.
Morgan's presence on the Iowa staff was crucial in helping Ferentz build relationships with high school coaches throughout Iowa during his early rebuilding efforts.
Morgan coached five players that later became first-round NFL draft picks — and three of his drafted players went on to earn All-Pro. Morgan also coached two Outland Trophy winners at Iowa as offensvie linemen Robert Gallery and Brandon Scherff won the award in 2003 and 2014, respectively.
Morgan knew how to relate to people from all different backgrounds because they trusted him.
There was no smoke and mirrors with Reese Morgan. He looked recruits in the eye and told them what they needed to hear, and not necessarily what they wanted to hear.
Morgan believed in people and people believed in him. He convinced his players that they could accomplish anything through hard work and dedication.
Morgan's style worked in high school and in college because he is a class act.
"It's amazing how much passion he instilled in the team, going from the starters to scout-team guys" Luebke said of playing for Morgan at West High. 'We were successful because of that, because the scout-team guys knew that their participation was crucial in the success of the team.
"From the best guy on the team to the waterboy, he made you feel important and he let you know your value to the team."
Morgan saw something in Chad Greenway that other coaches didn’t see, and now Greenway ranks as one of the best linebackers in school history.
Morgan also believed that Luebke could be successful at Iowa, and maybe even more than Luebke did at first.
This is a bittersweet day for Iowa football because you’re happy that Morgan is retiring on his terms, but he also leaves behind a huge void.
Coaches like Reese Morgan don’t come around too often.
Iowa was very fortunate to have him on staff for nearly two decades, and Luebke was very fortunate that Morgan helped to change the course of his life.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Luebke said of the timing of Morgan's decision. “I felt that he had given a lot to football and it was his time to kick back and take it easy.”
Morgan and his wife, Jo, have been married for more than 40 years. The couple have two daughters, Jessica and Caitlin, along with granddaughters Morgan and Hayden, and grandsons Cade and Jace.
“My wife, Jo, and our family have been so supportive over all these years allowing me to enjoy the sport that I love,” Morgan said. “I can never thank them enough. Now it is time for me to give back to them.”
It also is time for Iowa fans to thank Reese Morgan for a job well done.