'What we did was really special' Troy Morrell says as he's ready to be inducted into school hall of fame
In 15 seasons as the head coach of the Butler Grizzles, Troy Morrell won 154 games.
His name rings synonymous with junior college football and for many around El Dorado, he'll always be known as coach.
For Troy Morrell, his induction into the Butler Community College Athletic Hall of Fame is a long time coming. The recognition comes at halftime of the home game against McDougle Technical Institute on Saturday at BG Products Veterans Stadium.
The legacy Morrell has built at Butler rivals that of Alabama currently or in some, that of Oklahoma in the 70s and 80s. Year in and year out, Morrell put the Grizzlies on the field as one of the most talented teams in the country.
During his tenure at Butler, one that spanned from 1996 through his retirement in 2014, he helped Butler win five national championships, two as the offensive coordinator and three as the head coach.
"We also lost in four others," Morrell quickly quips when listing his accomplishments.
To coach in nine national title games in 19 years is no slouch.
Getting into coaching
Morrell played for Butler in 1989 and 1990 before finishing his degree at Fort Hays State. Six years later, former Butler head coach James Shibest made him an offer to move to his alma mater and help him get his dream of coaching collegiate ball.
"I was a rule-10 head coach at Thomas More Prep," Morrell said. "I made $4,000 my first year as an assistant at Butler. My wife was a registered nurse at the time, so needless to say she made ends meet why I pursued a dream of being a college football coach. She was instrumental in making that happen because without her hard work there's no way that I could ever have done this."
For Morrell, the success was instant. He helped Butler win seven games in his first year. While year two in 1997 was a bit of a set back, it paved the way for what happened in the future, as Butler pulled off back-to-back national titles in 1998 and 1999.
"That 97 year was a bit rough," Morrell said. "We had only 25 guys in the spring for that year. I was promoted to offensive coordinator in 1998 and it was pretty simple, get the ball to Rudi Johnson."
Johnson went on to have a stellar carer in college and in the NFL as he played for the Bengals.
"We had a lot of good players on that team, but Rudi though was obviously the backbone and a real difference-maker on that team," Morrell said.
From Coordinator to Head Coach
After Shibest accepted a job at the University of Arkansas, Morrell was the no-brainer choice to succeed him. At 28 years old, he was the head coach and the youngest guy on his staff.
The age didn't really matter for Morrell and the Grizzlies. They kept churning out winning season after winning season. During his 15 years as a head coach, Butler appeared in seven national championship games.
"It really was about having a coaching staff that stayed intact for a long time," Morrell said. "At the junior college level that's pretty unique because coaches, like players, are looking to move on to other opportunities.
"Those coaches wanted to stay here and in turn that helped build the culture and established as a way of doing things. Through that culture, we were able to produce a lot of wins and championships and national championships."
Morrell led the Grizzlies to glory in 2003, 2007 and 2008.
When asked about what games stood out, he mentions games in that 2003 season, specifically against Coffeyville. Butler overcame deficits in their first meeting, a 28-3 halftime hole to win 29-28 and then weeks later in the conference playoff, they did it again, coming back from being down 31-7 to win 45-38.
A month later in the national championship game against Dixie State, now a Division II program, Butler trailed 10-0 at the half.
"I went into the locker room and told them 'We have them right where we want them,'" Morrell said.
Butler eventually won 14-10.
Was there ever a game where Morrell was nervous? One comes to mind, the opening of BG Products Veterans Sports Complex, an $13 million joint venture between the community college, El Dorado public schools and the City of El Dorado. Butler hosted Blinn College out of Brenham, Texas on Sept. 1, 2012.
"My only thought was 'I do not want to lose this game,'" Morrell said. "This brand new stadium and a huge crowd for the first game. It was something special."
Butler won that game, 28-10, in what was a top-5 matchup in the NJCAA.
During his time at Butler, Morrell helped turn around a program that saw a 1-win season in 1995 to a team that won back-to-back national titles and had multiple 20-game winning streaks, including a 23-game winning streak that spanned from Aug. 2003 through Nov. 2004. Another 22-game winning streak from Sept. 2011 through Dec. 2012.
“What we did we really special,” Morrell said. “We developed a tradition and a legacy.”
He won 154 games in 15 seasons as the head coach. He saw 19 football players get to play the NFL with 16 of them being drafted. He saw 215 players go to Division I programs after leaving Butler, including multiple current Grizzly assistant coaches.
He had three NJCAA Defensive Players of the year with Austin Painter (2006), Markus White (2007) and Cornellius Carradine (2010). He also was the offensive coordinator when Johnson won National Player of the Year in 1999.
Morrell was named NJCAA Coach of the Year in 2003 and 2007. He also won conference coach of the year honors in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008.
When he retired in 2014, his .875 winning percentage (154-22) is the best winning percentage in NJCAA history. He was 15th all-time in wins with Morrell ending his coaching career with a record of 154-22. His .875 winning percentage is the highest all-time in NJCAA football. His 154 wins are currently 18th all-time among NJCAA coaches.
Butler and El Dorado hold a special place in Morrell's life. While most of Morrell's time at Butler was before BG Products Veterans Sports Complex, he remembers the hard work from the staff and the support from the fans.
"We ran our whole football department out of three offices and played at probably the worst facility [Galen Blackmore Stadium] in the conference," Morrell said. "Our fans made it the best play to play at though."
Morrell made the decision to retire at the end of the 2014 season, which saw Butler go 8-3 that season, ending with a 40-28 win over Ellsworth (Iowa).
"In about 2008 when we had a big economy shift and there were more and more kids that couldn't find jobs at home during the summertime, we were having our whole team on campus during the summertime," Morrell said. 'It was becoming a full-time deal because we don't have the support staff that a Division I program does.
"It was consuming a tremendous amount of your time and seeing our kid's childhood evaporate, I wanted to make sure I could be there for at least the high school time."
Morrell since retiring has not missed one of their games.
He now works for a company called Lowen Color Graphics as an account executive and for a former head coach, it's not much different than coaching.
"There's a lot of similarities in dealing with these companies as I did with recruiting," Morrell said.
For Morrell there is always an itch to return to coach, admitting he misses it.
"I dream about it 3-4 days a week," he said. "I loved the preparation for game day. I miss that. I miss the recruiting."
Like when he was at Butler and never left for another job, it would have to be the perfect fit for the Hall of Fame coach get to get back in the saddle.
"I had offers when I was at Butler, some were DII or some position coach at a DI or FCS but I wanted my family to have the unconventional coaching family life," Morrell said. "Many coaches hop from job-to-job, year-to-year and I didn't want that to happen."
For now, Morrell is going to enjoy his family and his induction into the Butler Hall of Fame.
"My first year out [of coaching], I was inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame and then the Kansas Sports Hall of fame, which that one was really cool," Morrell said.
"Now this one sort of closes the circle."