If Morgan State is to enjoy a renaissance in athletics, it will largely be through academics.
That's the message being sent by athletic director Edward Scott, who has been directing the sports department at the northeast Baltimore university since 2016. When he started, one of his first jobs was mitigating the penalties the NCAA imposed on several Bears sports programs as a result of academic-related infractions earlier in the decade.
With that accomplished, Scott turned his attention to the two sports programs that typically have the highest profiles, football and men's basketball. With the start of the 2019-20 academic year, Morgan State has new head coaches in both programs: former NFL running back Tyrone Wheatley for football and Kevin Broadus, most recently an assistant at the University of Maryland, for basketball.
"We're calling it the Morgan Way. We're building the Morgan Way," Scott said. "We want to be excellent in everything we do. ... People use the adage that athletics is the front porch of the institution. I like to describe it a little bit differently. I say we're the window through which most people can see into it and become acquainted with the institution."
In his search for new coaches, Scott said he looked for candidates who shared his values. In Wheatley and Broadus, Scott said he found the right fit for the type of program he envisions.
"First and foremost is academics," Scott said. "They know how important that is to me as a first-generation college student who just earned his Ph.D. That's No. 1."
Broadus has been recognized as an excellent recruiter at Maryland and elsewhere. His resume includes stints as a head coach at Binghamton University and as an assistant at several Washington, D.C., schools, including Georgetown, George Washington and American.
He endorses Scott's priorities.
"We're recruiting student-athletes," Broadus said, placing emphasis on the first part of that oft-used phrase. "Students first, then athletes because in this day and time, you have to be a good student in order play college athletics. We get that. I get that. You can't have a guy who comes just to play sports and just be an athlete."
Wheatley is also of a mind that academics and character are keys when considering recruits.
"Right now we're trying to recruit a foundation in terms of character of what we're trying to build within our program," Wheatley said in an interview during a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference press gathering. "I think you look at the character more so than football right now. Football will take care of itself. But if I can't get a young man to go to class and all those things, it doesn't matter what kind of football player he is."
Also part of the forward-looking approach at Morgan State are physical improvements in the athletic facilities.
This year, $2.5 million of improvements have gone into Morgan State's football field and track at Hughes Memorial Stadium.
"The turf was old," Scott said. "On the track, we hold some of the biggest track events in Maryland."
While the football field and track received work in 2019, a new softball field was also built recently. In total, $4.5 million has been spent on sports facilities in the last two and a half years.
"When you start changing the physical layout and you start improving it, psychologically, it has such a positive effect on the student-athlete, on the coaches and the staff because they can see it," Scott said. "I can say we're going to move forward, that we're going to do these things. But when I show and prove it, that's much more dramatic."
Scott credited university president David Wilson for the support the athletic department has received.
"It shows the commitment of the university to the importance of athletics. ... What I'm really proud of is how the campus community has rallied around what we're trying to do in athletics -- and the physical improvements are proof of that support," Scott said.
However, it will be the people in the athletics department, both those who were there when Scott arrived and the ones he has brought in, who will have to make a difference at Morgan State.
"We didn't come in and slash and burn and clean house, but I did chart a course and set a standard that I wanted people to live up to," he said.
Wheatley is the football team's fourth head coach in five seasons. Last year, interim coach Ernest Jones led the team to a 4-7 finish overall (3-4 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) with the highlight being an upset win against conference champion North Carolina A&T. In general, recent years have been a far cry from the now distant days of the 1920s through the early '70s when Morgan State was a small-college powerhouse.
This year, the home opener against conference opponent North Carolina Central Sept. 28 will be the first game on the new field. The Bears open the season on the road against Bowling Green Aug. 29.
While hometown rival Towson University isn't on the schedule this year, Scott said he signed an agreement to play Towson for six years starting in 2020.
Last season, Wheatley was the running backs coach with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. He was also previously an assistant with the Buffalo Bills and at the college level at Michigan, Syracuse, Eastern Michigan and Ohio Northern. He was a head coach at a Michigan high school.
Broadus, meanwhile, will be trying to right a basketball program that started well under previous coach Todd Bozeman, who took the Bears to the NCAA Tournament in 2008-09 and again in 2009-10. But Morgan State suffered overall losing records the last six seasons, and Bozeman's contract was not renewed.
When Broadus got his first head coaching job more than a decade ago at Binghamton, he had stunningly quick success on the court, with his team winning 23 games and making an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008-09. But he was forced to resign amid a controversy that included allegations of lax academic standards for basketball players.
"Things unraveled there for reasons that were really somewhat beyond his control," Scott said of Broadus. "So now he has a chance to prove to folks that what he did the first time, he did it the right way and it wasn't a fluke. He has great abilities."
Broadus is a well-known recruiter and coach throughout Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., so he brings recruiting cache to Morgan State.
"They have to match my intensity and my personality in how they want to play," Broadus said of the type of player he expects to bring to Morgan State. "Sometimes, people put a team together of individuals. We're trying to put together a team of people who can mesh with other people. So we need guys who can fill roles offensively, defensively. We don't want guys who just want to be superstars. We have to find guys who want to make us a better team."
Scott says he expects his new coaches to build competitive programs.
"We put up about a million dollars worth of scoreboards in our arenas and stadiums -- and we keep score," he said.
However, he's not couching his goals for the two programs in terms of specific numbers of wins.
"Grit embodies our culture," Scott said. "The G in grit stands for growth. We have to be better today than we were yesterday, and we have to be better tomorrow than we are today. That's what I'm looking for in both programs."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Morgan State Athletics
Issue 256: August 2019