A week ago the Aggie men's basketball team held its annual banquet and handed out some team awards, as well as accolades players received during the 2010-11 season.
One thing missing, however, was the recognition of head coach Stew Morrill winning a national coaching award. The emcee for the event was Al Lewis, and he did mention it during the evening, but there was not a lot of fanfare. I'm sure Morrill had a big part in making sure it was that way. He likes to keep the focus on the athletes.
Earlier this month I did have the opportunity to ask the coach about winning the 2011 Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year award.
"I was stunned, humbled by it," said Morrill, when asked about the honor. "When I saw the 16 nominations, I said to my wife, ‘We don't have to worry about not being at the Final Four, because I ain't getting this award.'"
But then the call came informing him that indeed he was the winner. But he already had plans for that weekend, and attending the Final Four in Houston was not on the agenda.
You see, Morrill had a grandson in Colorado who had been promised that grandpa would be there for his birthday. Sure, it crossed his mind about changing his plans. But that thought exited about as fast as it entered his head.
"They called to see if I was going to be there; I felt really bad that I wasn't going to be there, but there was a 6-year-old with a birthday party on that day and grandpa was coming, and he was counting on it," Morrill explained. "I couldn't just drop that and grab a flight."
So what did the winningest coach in Aggie basketball history do? He called and told them he was fine with the award being given to someone else who was going to be there.
"They laughed at that, and said, ‘No, we are not doing that,'" Morrill said. "Once in a while something happens that you got to feel good about. It was very nice. Somebody on that committee must have liked me."
Now the veteran coach turns his attention to replacing the departure of eight players - six seniors and two players transferring - from a 30-win team. The Aggies have already signed two big men and will be adding some more athletes in the near future.
Morrill acknowledged that next season will be a bit of an "unknown." He also quickly pointed out all-WAC point guard Brockeith Pane and Brady Jardine will be back.
"It's not like we're bankrupt, but we're certainly inexperienced," Morrill said. "We might be athletic, but athleticism only does you some good if that athlete will get out and guard, if that athlete is skilled enough to go around somebody, if that athlete will play within the system and practice hard every day. There are some things you look at, and this could be pretty good. But, we lost the whole dang farm. We lost six seniors, we lost a ton of experience."
The coach is not hanging his head over all of the experience that just left. Sure, he shed a tear or two as this group of seniors was mighty special. It will be hard to imagine a team without Tai Wesley, Tyler Newbold, Pooh Williams or Matt Formisano on it. Those four have been Aggies for a long time. Even Nate Bendall and Brian Green seem like they were Aggies for a long time.
But life goes on and the coaching staff must look to the future.
"You know what, I'm looking forward to it," Morrill said of next year. "I really am. I kind of enjoy these challenges. We've been slugging rats in a way, picked to win the league every dang year. It weighs on kids and coaches. My assistants are, ‘Coach, we're still going to be picked high.' Are you crazy? I can't imagine that, but we may be. I don't think we will be picked to win the league. ... I think it will be fun. A challenge, but lots of fun."
Maybe not, but I would not bet against the Aggies contending for a fifth straight Western Athletic Conference regular season title. Morrill has a way of getting the best out of his teams when league play rolls around.