Cache Valley Provided Unique Environment For Stew Morrill’s Utah State Success

Dec 15, 2023, 8:00 AM | Updated: 9:15 am

utah state stew morrill...

Former Utah State head coach Stew Morrill will have the court at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum named after him on February 10.

LOGAN, Utah – For 17 seasons, Stew Morrill-led Aggie basketball teams that made the Spectrum the place to be during the dog days of winter in Cache Valley. With a blisteringly cold wind whistling out of Logan Canyon, Morrill’s always competitive teams served as an escape from the often harsh conditions on the Quad outside of Old Main.

Aggie basketball in Logan was what major college football is like in many towns and cities across the country. What USU lacked on the gridiron, Morrill’s teams always seemed to make up for it, every November through early March.

Utah State University announced the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum court will be renamed in honor of the program’s all-time winningest coach. The school will honor Morrill on Saturday, February 10 when USU hosts Boise State.

RELATED: USU To Name Basketball Court After Coach Stew Morrill

The 17th head coach in program history, Morrill took over after five Larry Eustachy seasons and turned Utah State into a model of mid-major college basketball success. Under his tutelage, the Aggies won 21+ games for 14 straight seasons (2000-2013) and won seven conference championships. His teams made the postseason 13 straight years, including eight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2000-2012. Before Morrill, USU hadn’t enjoyed more than three straight 20-win seasons or participated in postseason play for more than three consecutive years.

Stew Morrill is a true Aggie legend and having his name enshrined on our basketball court is the ultimate tribute to his remarkable career,” said USU Vice President and Director of Athletics Diana Sabau. “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.”

A five-time conference coach of the year, Morrill was recognized in 2011 as the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year by CollegeInsider.com. In the 2000s under Morrill, Utah State’s .764 win percentage was fourth-best in the country behind Duke (.831), Kansas (.809), and Gonzaga (.799).

“He took what was a pretty good basketball program and turned it into something special,” two-time All-American guard Jaycee Carroll (2005-08) said.

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Morrill finished his Aggie career with the most wins (402) and games coached (558). He retired as the second longest-tenured head coach in program history.

In nine seasons since his retirement, Utah State is on its fourth head coach in Danny Sprinkle.

Morrill Forges Unique Bond With Aggie Fanbase

At 6’8, the Provo High class of 1970 graduate cut an imposing figure on and off the court. Few things got the USU faithful more riled up than when the monstrous Morrill would stomp up and down the Spectrum sidelines, hulking over referees and players alike. Morrill fought with officials while his glasses bounced on the bridge of his nose and spittle flew. When Stew got going, the HURD wasn’t far behind.

Despite his larger-than-life physical appearance, somehow Morrill just seemed to fit in the laid-back lifestyle of Cache Valley. Take away the suit and basketball court, and you could just as easily picture Morrill tending to his crop in worn overalls.

“I think he gave Cache Valley exactly what they wanted from a coach,” Cache Valley native, Sky View HS graduate, and former Aggie Nate Harris (2003-06) said. “Somebody who stays there long-term and was the face of the program for 17 years. He had opportunities to leave and chose not to. For me and a lot of people, he continues to be the face of the program.”

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The pessimist might point out that despite unprecedented regular season success, Morrill’s teams consistently came up short when the lights were brightest.

In 2001, Morrill and ‘Downtown’ Tony Brown led USU to the program’s first NCAA tournament win. 12-seed USU beat 5-seed Ohio State  77-68 in a first-round overtime thriller.

That win was the apex of NCAA postseason success. Morrill’s 1-9 NCAA tournament record is the second-worst mark for coaches with five or more NCAA tournament games.

Utah State was 5-6 against Power-Five opponents in non-conference play under Morrill. Wins against USC twice, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, and Mississippi State weren’t against the blue bloods of college basketball

Could Utah State have found more NCAA Tournament success if Morrill had been willing to schedule P5 opponents without expecting a home game in return? Maybe. Is there a chance USU could have become another Gonzaga with more challenging scheduling? Unlikely.

Harris summarized the bond between the coach and the community well. “It was a perfect marriage… He loved Logan and Logan loved him back.”

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Cache Valley Provided Unique Environment For Stew Morrill’s Utah State Success