Getting Utah State basketball coach Stew Morrill to talk about himself — personally or professionally — is like trying to wring water from a dry rag. No matter how hard you try, the result is always the same.
Personally, he doesn't need to speak for himself. He has longtime friends Richard Brimhall and Craig Drury to do that.
They know him so well they could tell about the first time he cut class, the first time he cussed and nearly everything about his high school career as a football and basketball player at Provo High School.
They could continue by telling about pawning his new birthday watch to get money for green fees (they later bought it back), going to the movies, sleepovers, picking the lock at the local church to play basketball, going deer hunting and befriending a disabled neighborhood boy and including him in their circle of friends, which still continues to this day.
"Basically we did everything together," Brimhall said of his childhood days with Morrill. "I consider him like a brother."
Professionally, his impressive 360-182 record as a college basketball coach does the talking. Postscripts added by Stanford coach Mike Montgomery and former Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote make his career even that much more impressive. In 18 seasons, he's had just one losing record.
Earlier in the month, the Aggies (24-2, 16-1) were ranked as high as 19th in the nation. It was the Aggies' first ranking in The Associated Press poll in 33 years. The Aggies fell out of the Top 25 with a loss to Pacific five games ago but have since moved back in. They were ranked 24th last week, and with wins over Long Beach and UC Irvine over the weekend they could move higher.
"Stew is a classic example of a motivator. Unlike some motivators, when the kids are through playing for him they are sad. They don't want it to be over," said Drury, the current head basketball coach at their alma mater. "It's a rewarding experience and he drives everything he can get out of them."
Born and raised in Utah, Morrill understands the nuances of the state's unique LDS Church culture, and it is perfectly balanced out by his experiences as player at Ricks College, Gonzaga and in France; or as an assistant or head coach at Gonzaga, Montana and Colorado State.
He understands small-town USA, and he understands the inner city, and his teams are usually a reflection of both.
"I always have admired Stew's teams because I think he adjusts his coaching to the talent at hand," Heathcote said. "He has a tremendous ability to take a group of players and mold them into a team."
He's tough. He's demanding. He's fair, and he he expects just as much from himself as he demands from his players.
A week never passes in which he doesn't say how much he likes his 2003-04 team.
"He gets the kids to check their egos at the door," Heathcote said.
It is no wonder Morrill has developed into a solid coach with the type of training he received with Montgomery at Montana and Adrian Buoncristiani at Gonzaga — just to mention a few.
"Stew works very hard and is very loyal," Montgomery said. "He was good with kids, they liked him and he made the kids work and he understood what it took to win."
In 18 seasons, Morrill has been to postseason play seven times and has won 20 games nine times (five straight years and seven of the last eight).
His teams have tied or shared three regular-season league championships and finished second or third six more times. At 16-1 this year, the Aggies are currently tied with Pacific for first place in the Big West. Pacific has two games left and Utah State has one left — Friday at Idaho.
Morrill's one losing record, 14-17, came in his first year at Colorado State.
"He concentrates on the team but not at the expense of the individuals," Heathcote said. "(He) also gets the most out of what each guy can do."
His career as a college coach almost ended before it began. After finishing his collegiate and professional career, Morrill moved back to Provo and had accepted a high school teaching and coaching job at Castle Dale's Emery High School in 1975.
Right before leaving, he received a call from his former coach, Buoncristiani, who offered him an assistant coaching position.
"Stew was going to be a high school coach, and if (Gonzaga) hadn't worked out he'd probably still be a high school coach," Brimhall said.
He stayed at Gonzaga until 1979 before joining Montgomery at Montana.
"I was young and new in the business and being from the East I didn't know a lot of people," Montgomery recalled.
Acting on a recommendation from Buoncristiani, he hired Morrill.
"He knew the area," Montgomery said.
The rest is history.
Morrill eventually took over the program at Montana in 1987 and he racked up a 97-49 record and led the Grizzlies to the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 1991.
His .651 winning percentage at Montana is ninth on the all-time Big Sky coaching list behind Phil Johnson (Weber State), Kermit Davis (Idaho), Dick Motta (Weber State), Don Monson (Idaho), Blaine Taylor (Montana), Neil McCarthy (Weber State), Montgomery and Jim Killingsworth (Idaho State).
In 1987, he left for Colorado State, where he compiled a 121-86 record and guided the Rams to a pair of NIT appearances. It was there he had his one and only losing record at 14-17.
Since 1999 at Utah State, he's produced five consecutive 20-win seasons. Ladell Andersen had three consecutive 20-win seasons from 1961-1964.
"Stew's had a great run," said Brimhall.
At Utah State, Morrill has amassed a 142-44 record and is 78-23 in conference games. He recently surpassed Rod Tueller for the fourth-most wins in school history.
In games played at the Smith Spectrum, the Aggies are 84-7 under Morrill, and this year's 15-0 record at home was only the fourth time any Aggie team has gone undefeated at home.
Entering the year, he was third among Big West Conference coaches in winning percentage (.783). Lute Olson went 12-0 in his only year at Long Beach State, and Jerry Tarkanian went 205-17 (.923) in 14 seasons with Long Beach State and UNLV.
Since 2000, only Duke, Stanford and Gonzaga (all ranked in the Top 10) have better overall winning percentages than the Aggies.
Morrill, 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, graduated from Provo High in 1970. That year he earned all-state honors in football and basketball.
Basketball was his first love. He developed from a shy, pudgy sophomore to an intimidator in the paint.
He and Drury were three-year starters for the Bulldogs, and Morrill averaged 20 points his senior year.
Along with a solid basketball player, he was a dominant football player, Drury said.
"Nobody went up the middle," Drury recalled of the dominating nose guard. "Stew took care of the middle by himself . . . He had more scholarship offers to play football (than basketball)."
Morrill played junior college basketball at Ricks College, where he was a two-time all-conference player. He later went to Gonzaga, where he was a first-team Big Sky Conference honoree as a senior and honorable mention as a junior. He averaged 14.9 points per game and was second in the league in rebounding at 9.6 boards per game his final season.
The 'Zags finished fourth in the league at 7-7 and 13-13 overall.
Following his college career, he played professionally for one year in Europe.
As Morrill's coaching successes continue to mount, Utah State's administration will continue fielding calls for his services.
With the resignation of University of Utah coach Rick Majerus earlier this year, Morrill's name has been mentioned as his successor.
Over the years he's been mentioned for jobs at Houston, TCU, New Mexico, Iowa State and Fresno State. Each he's turned down to stay in the comforts of Logan.
He's not caught up in the big money or the television gigs. His focus is in building a winning tradition and inspiring young men to get more out of themselves than they ever thought they could.
Perhaps Morrill's roots in Cache Valley with his family, as well as the success of the Utah State program, will keep him around just a little bit longer.
Name: Stewart Morrill
Birthdate: July 25, 1953 (Provo)
High School: Provo (1970)
Colleges: Ricks College (1970-72); Gonzaga (1972-74)
Personal: He and his wife, Vicki, have four children: Jesse, Allan, Nicole and Tiffany.
Year School Record Conf. Rec. Place
1987 Montana 18-11 8-6 3rd
1988 Montana 18-11 7-9 6th
1989 Montana 20-11 11-5 3rd
1990 Montana 18-11 10-6 3rd
1991 Montana 23-8 13-3 1st
1992 Colo. State 14-17 8-8 6th
1993 Colo. State 17-12 9-9 5th
1994 Colo. State 15-13 8-10 5th
1995 Colo. State 17-14 7-11 7th
1996 Colo. State 18-12 11-7 4th
1997 Colo. State 20-9 10-6 4th
1998 Colo. State 20-9 8-6 4th
1999 Utah State 15-13 8-8 4th
2000 Utah State 28-6 16-0 1st
2001 Utah State 28-6 13-3 2nd
2002 Utah State 23-8 13-5 1st
2003 Utah State 24-9 12-6 3rd
2004 Utah State 24-2 16-1 --
Totals 18 seasons 360-182 184-109