The benches at Bird Arena will be without a familiar face when the troops return to the ice in September.
Dan Morris will not return for his 13th season as the Head Coach of the Ohio Bobcats. The decision comes following the ‘Cats 26th consecutive winning season, and their trip to the ACHA National Semi-Finals this past March.
For “Coach Moe”, working as the Director of Bird Arena and coaching a hockey team, while caring for two young children became overly time consuming. Because of this, Morris is making the difficult decision to relinquish his role for someone that can dedicate all energy to hockey.
“The operation of a hockey team needs a single person in charge of it. It is too big of an organization to not dedicate all your time to it,” explained Morris. “ Being the director of Bird Arena and handling a family made me feel like – and the players may disagree – there were some gaps in what we were doing for each job. And I felt that at any point where I wasn’t putting 100 percent of my time into the team, it would be a good time to investigate other options for how to structure the coaching situation.”
Morris has spent the last 20 years in Athens as both a player and coach for the Bobcats, leaving a legacy that is arguably unlike any other athlete in the history of the university.
“My first job at the rink was 20 years ago and I had to put netting on a game net,” said Morris with a chuckle. “I had no idea what I was doing.”
From confused rookie to grizzled veteran, he quickly emerged as one of the top forwards on a roster that snagged 122 wins, compared to just 15 regulation losses and three ACHA National Championships between 1993 and 1997. It was undeniably the most dominant run of hockey for the ‘Cats in their time in the ACHA.
Morris was twice named a 1st-Team All-American, won an ACHA Tournament Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, was twice voted the Ohio University MVP, sported the ‘C’ on his sweater in his senior season as the team captain and finished with the second-most points in school history (a record that was broken this past season).
Once his playing days came to a close, Morris turned to coaching, beginning as an assistant to one of Ohio’s finest, Craig McCarthy.
“If I look back, if you polled the guys on the team I played for, I don’t think they would have picked me to be a coach in the future. And I wouldn’t have picked it either,” said Morris. “But [12 years later], it has helped define the direction of my life.“
More importantly, his service to Ohio University impacted the lives of many on the campus through unparalleled success on the ice. Morris won at least 20 games in each of his 12 seasons, posting a club record 344 victories, with just 120 losses.
“He carried a tremendous amount of responsibility and carried a lot of pride in us considering this program a top-notch college program. He made sure we had top-of-the-line facilities, equipment, food, hotels, all of the above,” said former captain Tyler Pilmore. “On the ice, he taught me a bunch on both the offensive and defensive end, whether it be passing or scoring. It showed he truly cared about his players, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken the time to make his team as good as it was.”
He coached the ‘Cats to an ACHA National Championship in 2004, multiple regular season and tournament championships in the CSCHL (including one in 2013), picked up National Coach of the Year recognition once and League Coach of the Year honors four times.
“I knew ‘Coach Moe’ for two years and learned a lot from him. He always took time to make sure you understood systems and answered any questions you might have,” said forward Tom Whetsel. “He is a great guy and I was surprised to hear about him leaving. I wish him the best and look forward to seeing him around the rink.”
Furthermore, Morris worked diligently to build an Ohio hockey community that boasts educated athletes that now connect as alumni regardless of graduation class. It also includes tremendous fans and employees that work behind the scenes to create an unrivaled hockey experience in the ACHA.
“Dan was great to me, and very positive in my own development,” said Assistant Coach Michael Callan. “Sometimes leaders are afraid to delegate power, that wasn’t the case with Dan. He let go, and with that, this past year has been a tremendous leap forward in my own career. Dan is also very good with communicating the big picture as it pertains to a University – no doubt, areas that will lead him to great success in his next position.”
Fortunately, his presence at Bird Arena will remain despite the decision to step away from coaching. Morris will continue his duties as the director of the building, and not surprisingly, his love and dedication for the team will carry into his office.
“I think I’ll have to be around the arena still,” said Morris without a thought. “I don’t want to get in the way of the new coach, so it will be an interesting dynamic. I have to run the building, so maybe I’ll hide away in my office with a radio to listen in, or I’ll sneak upstairs to watch.”
But as we all surely know, his presence in the arena will forever be appreciated as a player and a coach that dramatically impacted the growth of a hockey team.
Below is a full statement from Dan Morris about his time as the coach of Ohio University:
“Running a hockey team is not a one person job. It’s several people behind the scenes, and a lot of volunteers throughout the years that have ensured that the program continues to be successful.
In particular, we would have to get into the Marazon family — Margo Marazon, the late Doctor Dan Marazon and Marcus Marazon. Margo was the President of the Booster Club, Dan was our team physician and Marcus was the Director of Bird Arena. It’s great to spend so much time with them over the years. Their contribution can’t be overstated.
Now, they have kind of been replaced by another family… well, you can’t really replace them, but the Oberlin family is now in their spot. Anne Oberlin is the President of the Booster Club, her son Phil played for us and now is the division 2 coach, Emily was our student manager, Patrick worked here and I coached their son John.
To the alumni, not only those that I played with, but those that played before me, they have always been very supportive. I think of guys like Mike Woll, Mike L’Heureux, Lex Tisdale, and there’s so many names [that I could mention] from my time with the program.
And how about my predecessors, like Doctor Craig McCarthy. Actually, Craig and I had a chance to go out for dinner this past week and celebrate our legacy. I mean, together we have now totaled 20 years of coaching at Ohio — Craig for eight, myself for 12. We have always had the same philosophy. Maybe we do it in different ways, but the manner in which we run the program is all the same in the end. We grew up in the same part of Ontario, just a few years apart, and when I took over I carried over his way of running the team. Over that time he has been extremely supportive, which has meant a lot to me. When you take over someone’s hard work, you have the responsibility to continue that work. Those kinds of things are important to me.
When I think back over the years, there are just so many people that I have met that have made a difference. You think about those behind the scenes and you also have to consider the players. The conversations I’ve had with players through text messages, you know they just ask me different things even when they are no longer playing at the university. I think that it is great that they feel that they can communicate with me about anything at really any time.
Then there’s so many players that come back and get involved in the events we’ve added, like the Ice Ghosts. It’s amazing to see players from all different eras. Obviously, it’s not always easy to keep track of everyone after they go, but the relationships that I’ve built have always been extremely important to me.
Also, I think about the fans. Tom Johnson is one of the first that comes to mind. He always wears different game jerseys up in the bleachers. He, along with all the season ticket holders and faithful students that come back every season, the dedication is appreciated. Without the fan base buying tickets and cheering us on, we can’t afford to be as competitive as we are.
Finally, there’s the coaches I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the last 13 years — one as an assistant. I even keep in contact with many of the coaches I had back in my playing days. I’ve enjoyed the time spent and relationships built with all of them. And I think now that I move into a more administrative role, I’ll have the opportunity to meet so many other great people in other parts of this campus, like in the Division For Student Affairs or Admissions.
I’ve been involved on campus for the last 20 years as a player and a coach and it has been great. Hockey has given me all of the opportunities that I’ve had. Ohio is a top of the mountain program and coaching ACHA hockey here is something that you would want to be a part of.
But as much as I love it, I feel that coaching could hold me back from opportunities with my family, my kids are three and four now, and opportunities in my administrative role. So I feel that it is important that I step down to make myself available for any chances that are out there, whether it be here at the university or anywhere else — preferably here.”