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Put Morrill down for another 500

SALT LAKE CITY – In case there are still doubts, let's go over this one more time: Stew Morrill is not going anywhere.

He's as permanent as Old Main.

Short term or long, Utah State University is his final coaching stop. He made that clear five years ago, maybe even 10. He and the school are linked like Procter and Gamble. If anyone else calls, Morrill won't be answering. He has his dream job. So what if it's at the edge of the wild frontier? (Come to think of it, Big Stew does slightly resemble a bear.)

Morrill is a rarity in today's basketball coaching world. Most coaches take one job with the next in mind. Log a few good seasons and you're on to a bigger program and paycheck. It's generally considered wise to claim you haven't been pursuing other jobs but that you owe it to yourself and your family to check things out. When a lucrative offer arrives, you say you agonized. The hardest part, you insist, is leaving the kids, but it's a once-in-lifetime deal.

Then you get out of town before the booster club attacks.

But that's not Morrill's plan.

He's a lifer.

"Being at Utah State sticks out in my mind because it is almost unique, because everybody has bought into the system, bought into the program," says Morrill, who logged his 500th career coaching win recently at Idaho. "You don't always get that at different universities. So that's part of the reason I've stayed where I'm at, is because it fits for me, and it's where I'm going to finish and they know that, and they've known that for a while. So it's a positive thing to know that's where I'm going to finish my career."

But wait. Is he supposed to be saying that?

Rule No. 14 in the Coaches' Handbook of Misdirection: Never say never.

Morrill reached his milestone win on Jan. 23, then rolled to No. 501 with a home victory against San Jose State last Saturday.

"I worry more about the one coming up than the 500 we won," he says.

In his 12 seasons in Logan, he has not only built the highest winning percentage in school history (.744), and made the most postseason appearances (10), but has also coached there longer than anyone but E. Lowell Romney. Morrill is only eight wins behind Romney for the most career victories but has done it in 11 years, compared to 22 for Romney.

He can be gruff or at least terse. After games, he's wound like an old-time alarm clock. He never was a great one for interviews. He doesn't like it, even after 24 years as a head coach at Montana, Colorado State and USU.

"I'm not a guy that lives for this kind of stuff; it's just part of the job," says Morrill. "No offense to you (media) guys, but it's just not my deal. It never has been my deal, seeking the spotlight or really enjoying it that much. I'd be just as happy coaching the eighth-grade team in some junior high — other than the income; the income's a little better at the level I'm at."

Thus, when asked about milestones, he bumbles and stumbles a bit, passing credit to his players, assistants and the administration.

Which brings us to his actual humility.

Some people talk a good game when it comes to humility, but Morrill actually lives it. He wears sport coats and suits from the big and tall stores — none of that fancy Italian tailoring. He drives a nice but not flashy mid-size Lincoln crossover SUV, and wears the same style glasses he wore two decades ago. He and wife Vicki have raised four kids, as well as an estimated 70 foster children. The couple is looking into taking on Haitian earthquake refugee children, too.

Catch Morrill away from the court, and he's as regular as a 6-foot-7, middle-aged guy can be. Nice, even.

Catch him after a loss and you may want to wear a crash helmet.

He has been known to take new beat writers aside and explain the rules of engagement: They don't tell him how to coach, and he doesn't tell them how to write.

Twenty-fourth among active coaches in winning percentage (.679 going into this year), Morrill insists he's not all that good. When hired as the head coach at Montana in 1987, he had no head coaching experience.

"What a risk for that university to hire me," he says. "There were certainly a ton of coaches at every level better than I was. I still think there are a lot of coaches who are a whole lot better than me, a lot of high school coaches, a lot of college coaches — probably junior high coaches."

But if you ask those same coaches, they'll say the opposite — there really aren't a lot of coaches that good.

Either way, Morrill is still in love with the job.

"It's kind of a sickness; it gets in your blood and you kind of can't do without it," he says. "It's kind of an addiction and I've got the addiction — and have had it for a long time."

Pity the Aggies if he ever kicks the habit.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com