The one and only coach in the history of Kent State’s national power women’s golf program has decided to call it a career.
Mike Morrow, a Stow native and former All-American golfer for the Golden Flashes, announced his retirement on Thursday after leading Kent State to a Mid-American Conference championship in every season of its 14-year existence. He will also be retiring after 22 years as general manager of the Kent State University Golf Course.
Morrow may be the only coach in sports history to retire with a perfect record, as far as league championships are concerned.
“We always attempted to recruit to be in the top 20 in the country, and winning the conference titles and all the other things we accomplished just came along with that philosophy,” said Morrow. “We always thought if things fell right we would have a chance to win an NCAA championship. We tried to recruit that way and not just think about winning the conference, and that played a big part in our success.”
Morrow became the program’s first head coach in 1997. Since then, he has been a 10-time MAC Coach of the Year, a two-time Central Region Coach of the Year and a Golfweek National Coach of the Year in 2001, when the Flashes finished a program-best 15th at the NCAA Championships in just their third year of existence. He has also coached 13 MAC players of the year and 59 All-MAC honorees, including 39 All-MAC First Team selections, and led KSU to the NCAA Championships four times.
The timing of his decision, just weeks before the Flashes are set to begin the spring portion of the 2012-13 campaign, admittedly caught people by surprise — especially his players.
“I think shock would probably be the word,” said Morrow, when asked to describe how his golfers reacted to the news. “(The meeting) was relatively short.”
Why did Morrow choose to step down in mid-season?
“There’s never a great time for something like this. Before the spring started would be better than any,” said Morrow. “But basically I think it’s in the best interests of the university and the team, and myself.”
Kent State Director of Golf Herb Page knew Morrow’s retirement was a possibility.
“It came up fairly suddenly, but I think it’s been discussed off and on,” said Page. “I know Mike Morrow and (KSU Director of Athletics) Joel Nielsen talked about this, and Mike is retiring. That’s what happened. It’s the beginning of a new era, but certainly the end of a phenomenal one with what he’s done, his record here. He’s an icon. You can’t replace Mike Morrow. He never lost.”
Page, along with Associate Head Coach for men’s and women’s golf Rob Wakeling and women’s assistant coach Maddi Swaney, will assume leadership of the program until a new head coach is named. Page said a national search for a new coach would begin immediately, but he did not know if a replacement would be named before the end of the current season.
“We haven’t had time to really sit down and talk about what we’re going to do yet moving forward,” said Page.
“But I can guarantee you that our women will be taken care of and treated like they were with Mike Morrow, first-class.”
Morrow became the first All-American golfer in Golden Flashes history in 1973. He earned All-MAC honors for three consecutive seasons from 1973-75, and was a 1987 inductee into the Varsity ‘K’ Hall of Fame.
“We thank Mike for his many years of service to Kent State University,” said Nielsen. “His 14 consecutive conference championships will be difficult to match by any coach in any sport. I also want to thank Mike’s family, his wife Denise and his three daughters, Kelly, Jamie and Mandi, for everything the Morrow family has meant to Kent State.”
Morrow was known as a great teacher of the game of golf well before the Kent State women’s golf program ever existed, and he cemented that reputation over the past 15 years.
“The majority of our players are developed,” he said. “We probably only had four or five what you would call blue-chip players, who you knew were the real deal when they came out of high school and junior golf. The rest were just really quality people who did the work themselves. They turned themselves into good players.”
Morrow is more proud of the accomplishments his players have accrued off the golf course.
“We’re now 29 straight semesters where the team GPA is 3.0 or higher,” said Morrow. “Just about everyone who has stuck with the program for four years has graduated. Not only was this a pretty darn good program, but you’re talking about some class girls, just unbelievable ambassadors for Kent State University. I’m more proud of the quality people that we graduated and what they’re going to do with their lives than anything else.”
Morrow said he has not made any concrete plans of how he’s going to spend his newfound free time.
“Doing both jobs was time-consuming,” he said. “Of course my family was awesome; they pretty much lived at the golf course with me. So obviously I’ll enjoy some family time, and probably take some time to refect a little bit. I don’t have anything set that I want to do. I’m open for opportunities and challenges, but I don’t have anything set.”
Morrow would not rule out an eventual return to coaching.
“I love coaching, I love teaching, and I think I’ve been decent at it,” he said. “I just don’t know how much I’m gonna miss it. Right now I’m not actively looking to get back into coaching, but you never say never.”