Anthony Morgan still remembers that wide-eyed feeling while getting acclimated as Plano West’s head boys basketball coach back in 2006.
It was a chance at pursuing a quality education for his children, plus a thirst for competing at the highest level of preparatory athletics in Texas, that drove Morgan east after spending the previous decade coaching his high school alma mater, El Paso Parkland, to its brightest pastures on the basketball court.
Morgan saw a special opportunity at West, a program that was still mostly in its infancy. Fifteen years, 12 winning seasons, 10 playoff appearances, four district titles and one state championship later, the Wolves’ longtime head coach has decided to retire.
“It’s been a phenomenal ride. I couldn’t ask for anything better for a career,” Morgan said. “I’m very blessed for all the kids I’ve worked with, plus all the faculty members, staff and the best coaching staff in all my stops along the way.”
Morgan exits the high school hardwood after 33 years on the sidelines, including 25 at the varsity level. Over that span, Morgan accrued 536 wins to 246 losses and posted a record of .500 or better all but two years. The bulk of that success came at West, following through on an expectation that guided him to what was just the second head-coaching stop of his career.
“It was just a matter of timing, the right place, the right fit, and I just felt we could really build something great in terms of winning and success with the kids we had coming in,” Morgan said.
Looking back, Morgan began to see that potential shine through as early as his first season at the helm during the 2006-07 season. Although the Wolves fell short of a playoff berth, at the time a first in Morgan’s career, the head coach points to his team winning the prestigious Whataburger tournament that year — a run that included a victory over then-top-ranked North Crowley — as a milestone moment in the program’s rise.
The following season, the Wolves took off. West split the district title and went 27-7 overall, advancing two rounds deep in the playoffs. That was the first of eight consecutive playoff appearances for the Wolves, who found themselves ranked in the state’s top 10 at some point during seven of those seasons.
That included the team’s run to the regional finals in 2010, at the time the deepest playoff run in program history. Led by the frontcourt of Jackson Jeffcoat and Geoffrey Groselle, West fell one win short of its first state tournament appearance in a fifth-round loss to Marcus, anchored by current Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart.
The Wolves remained a fixture in the playoff mix in the years that followed, leading up the program’s momentous 2014-15 campaign that resulted in West’s first-ever state championship in boys basketball.
“We had been knocking on the door for a while, so to finally get a chance to break through and get on that stage, we felt like we had a great chance to win it that year,” Morgan said.
Expectations were through the roof that season. The Wolves entered the year ranked No. 1 in Class 6A with a core chalked in top-tier college talent, led by DJ Hogg, Tyler Davis, Mickey Mitchell and Soso Jamabo.
The Wolves went 33-2 that season, including an unbeaten record against in-state opposition. The last of those wins came in a thrilling 56-54 victory over Houston Clear Lake in the 6A title game — the signature moment of Morgan’s career at West.
“There was a lot on the line in that game and I know a lot of people were rooting against us,” he said. “To win that one with such an outstanding team, it was a blessing and an honor to be able to serve in that capacity.”
Morgan can still recount details from that game like it was played yesterday. He remembers the 10-point deficit his Wolves had to overcome in the second half, the two pivotal drawn charges in the fourth quarter by Chris Giles and Hogg — the latter taken with 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter, which set the stage for Hogg’s momentous game-winner on a pull-up jumper from the top of the key just before time expired.
“That moment felt like everything was in slow motion. When that shot went in, oh my God,” Morgan said. “The place erupted, the kids ran onto the floor and I’m just paused there still looking up. My coaches then grabbed me to celebrate. It was such a surreal moment.”
It was one Morgan admitted nearly didn’t materialize as he resisted the urge to call a timeout as the Wolves worked the ball up the court for that last-second shot.
“The crazy thing about that shot — I almost ruined that moment,” Morgan said. “… DJ took the ball to the right side and threw it Tyler on the other side of the 10-second line. The ref is right in front of me and I’m looking at him, and right as I’m getting ready to call a timeout, Tyler throws the ball to DJ and I pulled back.
“The rest was magical, but I still laugh about that all the time — almost ruining that moment trying to over-coach. Sometimes you just have to let them play.”
The Wolves’ championship win not only made headlines locally but also back in El Paso where Morgan first got his start as a coach. Morgan starred in football and basketball in high school at Parkland, playing the former at The University of Texas at El Paso. Morgan coached Parkland for 10 seasons, leading the Matadors to 10 playoff appearances, seven district titles and two trips to the regional quarterfinals.
That success, coupled with Morgan’s run at West, earned the coach an induction into the El Paso Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016.
“There are some pretty prominent people in that Hall of Fame, so I was very honored by that,” Morgan said.
Morgan thanked plenty who have contributed to his time in Plano — former West head football coach Mike Hughes, former school principal Phil Saviano and former PISD athletic director Cliff Odenwald, who were all instrumental in Morgan’s hiring.
Morgan credited the work of a coaching staff that stayed intact for more than a decade. His first hire was Nathan Leraas, who was Morgan’s assistant all 15 seasons with the Wolves. Derrick Richardson joined Morgan’s staff early on and coached at West for 11 years, and Mark Reynolds came on board prior to the team winning state.
“That staff that won state was so solid,” Morgan said. “Our chemistry and philosophy gelled together and we all had a lot of success each year. I was so fortunate to get to that point and work with those guys.”
It’s that time spent with his staff, as well as his players, that Morgan will miss most as he closes the book on his career at West.
“Just being able to work with them and spending time in the gym, plus having the opportunities to watch young men grow and mature and go on to be successful,” Morgan said. “Seeing them from when they were at our elementary and middle school camps and coming up through the program all the way to graduating college is just phenomenal.
“We talk about changing students’ lives and these guys have changed mine tremendously. I’ve been invited to players’ weddings and seeing their next chapter is a reward like you wouldn’t believe. I’m blessed to have been a public servant, if you will, and just to be connected with such an outstanding community here in Plano.”
Morgan is optimistic about the Wolves’ prospects on the basketball court going forward. Although he won’t be there to coach the program, he intends to find ways to stay busy. He mentioned the prospect of a family business and hasn’t ruled out a return to coaching at some point — Morgan has long held a desire to one day coach at his college alma mater, UTEP.
It’s the start of a third career, according to the longtime coach. His first came as a commissioned military officer in the mid-1980s. More than 30 years as a Hall of Fame high school basketball coach followed.
“I’ll always be grateful to have had this opportunity,” Morgan said. “I won’t say it’s the end. I won’t say I won’t ever coach again. There are some other opportunities down the road and I’m looking forward to trying something different.”