LOGAN — Midway through his fourth season at Utah State, former men’s basketball coach Stew Morrill and his Aggies were in danger of losing an extremely rare second straight home game when a paper airplane was launched onto the floor of the Spectrum from somewhere in the middle of a highly agitated crowd.
The officiating crew, which had already been booed for much of the first 30 minutes of USU’s hard-fought game against conference foe Long Beach State, promptly informed Morrill and his staff that the Aggies would be assessed with a technical foul if anything else ended up on the court.
Grabbing the bull by the horns, Morrill immediately headed over to the middle of the scorer’s table and borrowed the microphone from the public address announcer.
“Hey! Don’t throw …,” Morrill started out before briefly pausing in a futile effort to come up with the proper word, “(expletive) on floor! Have some class! You’re going to cost us a technical!”
While Morrill later admitted “crap” would have been a more family-friendly choice of words for the situation, the amused Aggies ended up rallying to beat the 49ers for one of 248 games that Morrill won at the Spectrum over 17 seasons.
As of this weekend, the court that Morrill so passionately defended that night in 2002 now has his name permanently affixed to it.
Using his handwritten signature in blue, “Stew Morrill COURT” straddles the midcourt line below the Utah State logo facing the student section at the Spectrum.
“Ronda (Christofferson) in the athletic department reached out to me,” Morrill said of the autograph that will be seen by millions in the future at the Spectrum and on television.
“I had to give it about three or four tries before I was happy with how it looked. I was never that good with signing my signature anyway.”
Morrill was first shown the addition to the Spectrum floor Friday night during a private event hosted by Utah State athletic director Diana Sabau.
The 71-year-old Morrill, who now lives in Windsor, Colorado, traveled back to Logan with his wife, Vicki, and the couple’s four children and their spouses and children.
After walking down the Aggies’ tunnel and through a display of the numerous championship trophies and cut-down nets he helped USU accumulate while winning 402 games between 1998 and 2015, Morrill was treated to a brief video featuring his accomplishments at Utah State before two of his grandchildren were given the honor of pulling back the cloth covering his signature.
“Stew Morrill is a true Aggie legend and having his name enshrined on our basketball court is the ultimate tribute to his remarkable career,” Sabau said.
“In his 17 years at Utah State, he led the program to unprecedented success. There are few individuals who have made a bigger impact on Aggie athletics than coach Morrill.”
Morrill was also joined by many former players and assistant coaches for a luncheon Saturday at the West Stadium Center, leading up to the winningest head basketball coach in USU history also being honored at halftime of the Aggies’ home game against Boise State Saturday night.
“Utah State has treated me and my family with unbelievable grace,” Morrill said during a press conference Saturday afternoon.
“I mean, it’s just been so awesome, and I’m so thankful to the athletic director (Diana Sabau) and certainly (deputy athletic director) Jerry (Bovee) and the president (Elizabeth Cantwell).
“And I’m sure the game will be the real topper. I’m looking forward to seeing a live game here in the Spectrum. It’s been a while.”
A native of Provo who played at Ricks College and Gonzaga before getting into coaching, Morrill was the head coach at Montana (1986-91) and Colorado State (1991-98) before being lured away by the idea of returning to Utah.
Morrill, who was hired on Aug. 7, 1998, ended up guiding the Aggies to seven conference championships and six postseason conference tournament titles while earning coach of the year honors five times.
“It was really an honor for me to meet Stew last night,” Sabau said, “and, of course, he wasted no time telling me about their NCAA first-round victory that most recently got them to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“And that, of course, was the overtime victory against Ohio State (in 2001) that happened while I was there, so that was fun for Stew. He got a twinkle in his eye when he started talking about that game and lot of his former student athletes. Once an Aggie, always an Aggie, and you can tell that really brings a lot of joy to his heart.”
Morrill retired at the end of the 2014-15 season with 620 total victories as a head coach, and then served as Utah State’s Commencement speaker that May.
He was inducted into the USU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017.
It was Bovee, who served as interim AD at Utah State for nine months after John Hartwell suddenly resigned in the fall of 2022, who spearheaded the effort to get the court at the Spectrum named in Morrill’s honor.
Longtime Aggie boosters Jim and Carol Laub, who were at Friday night’s court unveiling, provided much of the funding, along with a group of other donors.
“This weekend truly started off last April thanks to Jerry and a lifelong member of our community and investor in our athletics, Jim Laub,” Sabau noted, “and that dream was to take the massive accomplishments of coach Stew Morrill and memorialize him on the Spectrum court.”
The timing of the court naming was fortuitous for current USU head coach Danny Sprinkle, a Montana native who played at Montana State and was growing up when Morrill was coaching at Montana.
Sprinkle, who later faced Morrill and the Aggies while an assistant coach at Cal State Northridge, has made it clear since he was hired that he has a great deal of respect for his predecessor.
“He’s so deserving,” Sprinkle said of Morrill being honored this weekend. “It’s not like he’s the best coach here like at Utah State, it’s like he’s one of the best coaches ever in Division I history. His name should be up there with the coach (Krzyzewskis) because he was that good.
“He was good everywhere he was at, and the way he won, that’s probably the most impressive. You know, he did it places like this where he coached the hell out of guys. It’s a tremendous honor to be coaching here knowing he coached here before me.”
Morrill attended the Aggies’ practice on Friday afternoon and then spoke to the team afterward.
He said he watches almost every USU game on television and has been impressed with Sprinkle’s overachieving, as the Aggies were predicted to finish ninth in the Mountain West Conference in the preseason polls but have been ranked in the Top 25 since early January.
“I’m so impressed with them,” Morrill said of the current Aggie squad. “We tease each other because he’s a Montana State guy, and I’m a Montana guy after being there for 13 seasons.
“... But they’re unbelievable. He’s doing a wonderful job of coaching.”