No matter how stoic University of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris appears at 7 p.m. Friday, when the Hurricanes open their 2018 season against Rutgers, he’ll be trying hard to keep it together.
That College World Series runner-up trophy propping open the UM bathroom door the day Morris interviewed for the 1994 job “shocked’’ him into a reality jolt of the expectations for Hurricanes baseball. Friday’s jolt will come with the beginning of the end of a long, glorious chapter.
Starting his 25th and final year of coaching at one of the most storied programs in the nation — 41 total years counting the 12 previous at Georgia Tech and four before that at DeKalb (Georgia) Community College — Morris will savor every moment before retirement from the sport that has been his life since he first put on a uniform at age 8.
“It’s a very emotional time for me and I try not to show it too much,” Morris, who will be 68 on Tuesday, told the Miami Herald. “It’s going to be very tough for me, but it’s the right time to retire. I just hope we end up in Omaha, to be remembered for that, having gone so many times to the College World Series. It would be nice to go out in Omaha, win or lose, for your last game.”
Morris, whose 1,566 Division I victories (1,062-446-3 at UM) are the second-most of any active college baseball coach and fifth-most in history, already led the Hurricanes to national titles in 1999 and 2001. But his last game of 2017 did not end happily. The Hurricanes (31-27) lost to North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament to subsequently snap their national-record streak of 44 consecutive NCAA baseball tournaments.
It had already been decided in June 2014 that 2018 would be his final season and that former Canes outfielder, longtime assistant and associate head coach Gino DiMare would take over in 2019.
“Both of us have all kinds of emotions running through us,” said DiMare, 48, who played at UM 1989-92 and began coaching there in 97. “Obviously, for me it’s exciting because I’ve worked very hard for this opportunity. I’m always going to be indebted to Coach.”
UM athletic director Blake James called Morris “a legend.”
“I don’t know how many they’re putting on the Mount Rushmore of college baseball,” James said, “but I would argue we’d have two of them in [Morris predecessor] Ron Fraser and Jim Morris.”
Morris, who said he proposed to his wife Nhan eight years ago at shortstop — where he played at Elon College and then for two seasons in minor-league ball for the Boston Red Sox organization — has found immense joy in having his son Will, now 6, late in life.
“It’s made me look at everything differently, no question,” he said. “I told Will’s youth baseball coach, ‘Anything I can do to help I will, as long as I’m on this side of the fence and you’re on that side.’
“Now and forever, I don’t expect to be on the field. I do not expect to coach again.”
Morris said he’s had three or four people discuss different opportunities, including with pro teams, after he retires. But he’d stay in Miami and not work full-time so he could be with his family more. Having some type of role at UM has been discussed, “but I don’t know what that means exactly.’’
He said he’d like his legacy to be how he brought his team to Omaha 13 – hopefully 14 – times, won two national titles and had a program that excelled academically. And let’s face it, he does expect a young, talented 2018 squad to start a new NCAA streak.
UM left-handed ace Jeb Bargfeldt is depending on it.
“He’s one of the greatest ever,’’ Bargfeldt said of Morris. “To be a part of his last year and hopefully send him out the way he deserves, you couldn’t draw it up better than that.’’
▪ After announcing that UM baseball wouldn’t be on non-student radio for the first time in decades, UM has struck a deal with 790 The Ticket to air at least 15 games, plus postseason.
Joe Zagacki will continue doing play-by-play. Football and basketball will stay on WQAM.