IOWA CITY — Reese Morgan always understood that there was more to being a football player than how tall you stood or how much you weighed.
The Iowa assistant coach, who made a career out uncovering uniquely talented players in out-of-the-way places, is calling it a career, announcing his retirement on Wednesday.
Morgan had a knack for unearthing prospects in places where many programs wouldn’t bother to look for players, and on more than one occasion, he saw things in the competitive make-up of under-recruited players that led him to convince Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz to take a chance on a prospect.
"Whenever Reese went to bat for a recruit, you listen," Ferentz said. "His track record speaks for itself."
Morgan recruited Chad Greenway in Mount Vernon, South Dakota; found Drew Ott in Giltner, Nebraska; Karl Klug in Caledonia, Minnesota; Riley Reiff in Parkston, South Dakota; and convinced Ferentz that in-state recruits Josey Jewell from Decorah and Parker Hesse from Waukon could thrive as Big Ten football players.
That’s just a small sampling of the finds Morgan made while sipping on convenience store coffee and visiting small-town high schools all over the region.
As he put it, "there are football players everywhere," and his lengthy career as an educator and coach at the prep level created connections within Iowa high schools that helped build Iowa’s program.
A successful Iowa high school coach at Benton Community and Iowa City West before Ferentz hired him as an assistant coach 19 years ago, Morgan worked as a recruiting coordinator and coached tight ends as well as the offensive and defensive lines during his tenure at Iowa.
"Coach Ferentz took a chance on me, and I have nothing but appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity to be part of this wonderful Hawkeye program. It’s been an amazing experience," Morgan said. "I’ve always felt that we learn as much from our players as they learn from us. They teach us lessons that go beyond football."
That feeling is mutual.
"Coach Morgan has the ability to get the most out of us, knows exactly what buttons to push and when," Iowa defensive tackle Matt Nelson said in December. "There’s a reason everything he touches around here seems to turn to gold."
Defensive end Parker Hesse described Morgan as a player’s coach.
"He has expectations, like any good coach does, but coach Morgan is terrific at teaching the game and getting you to understand how everything fits together," Hesse said. "He gives you everything he has and truly cares about his players. In exchange, we go to battle for him every single day."
Ferentz has said on more than one occasion that one of the biggest mistakes he made during his first 20 seasons at Iowa was not hiring Morgan as part of his original Hawkeye staff.
It took him only one year to rectify that, convincing him to become Iowa’s recruiting coordinator and tight ends assistant in 2000 after Morgan had spent eight seasons as the head coach at Iowa City West, compiling a 67-20 record and leading the Trojans to Iowa Class 4A state championships in 1995, 1998 and 1999.
"Best decision I ever made, convincing Reese to come down the street from West High to work here," Ferentz said.
Morgan won 146 games as a high school coach, including 79 over 14 seasons at Benton Community, where he began his career as an assistant in 1973 before being named as the head coach in 1978.
After coaching tight ends at Iowa, Morgan coached the offensive line from 2003-11 and has spent the past seven seasons coaching the defensive line. He will step away from that role before Iowa begins spring practices later this month.
"A genuine and authentic person, Reese handled every challenge we threw his way in magnificent fashion," Ferentz said. "Every player and coach who had the opportunity to work with Reese is much better for it. It’s like losing a great player — Reese’s shoes will be hard to fill."
Kelvin Bell, a member of the Hawkeye staff for the past seven seasons and an assistant defensive line coach under Morgan the past three years, will serve as the interim defensive line coach during spring practices.
Morgan coached three Outland Trophy winners during his career: Chad Hennings at Benton Community and Robert Gallery and Brandon Scherff at Iowa.
He coached John Mackey Award winner Dallas Clark during his tenure as a tight ends coach at Iowa and worked with Iowa all-American kicker Nate Kaeding while coaching at Iowa City West.
Seven players coached by Morgan during his Iowa career have earned first- or second-team all-American honors, nine were named as first-team all-Big Ten selections and 13 have been selected in the NFL draft, including five first-round choices and three who have gone on to earn all-pro honors.
“When a player arrives lacking a little maturity and confidence but leaves as a young man prepared to tackle life, that’s the real reward for me,’’ Morgan said.
The 68-year old said he has no concrete plans for how he will spend his retirement, saying he has no real hobbies.
The Lorain, Ohio, native, who was a four-year letterwinner as a linebacker at Wartburg, does plan to spend more time with his wife of more than 40 years, Jo, the couple’s two daughters, Jessica and Caitlin as well as granddaughters Morgan and Hayden and grandsons Cade and Jace.
"They have been so supportive over the 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."