By Brian Paglia
Plenty of people questioned Larry Mortonson's choice to become Morrow's new head football coach.
He heard all the reasons, how the Mustangs haven't won more than four games in a season since 1998, how the pressure of coaching at Morrow had burned through three coaches in the past five years, even one who was hired but resigned before ever coaching a game.
It was a simple decision for Mortonson. He was tired of working at Pelham High in Pelham, Ga., hours away from his family that still lived in Clayton County. Mortonson's wife had been looking for an opportunity to get a job in the Pelham area since he resigned as head coach at Jonesboro in 2005, but there was nothing.
"The main thing that brought me back was the opportunity to live closer to home," Mortonson said. "We were thinking we would go back down to South Georgia because that's where our families both are. [My wife] did not have a job opportunity in time, so she kept her job."
Mortonson got his new job with the departure of former head coach Daryl Steward, who was fired by Morrow with a 1-9 record in just one season with the Mustangs.
Mortonson returns to Clayton County after taking assistant coaching positions with Pike in 2006 and Pelham last season, but he's well known in the Southern Crescent. Mortonson has spent 15 of his 22 years coaching in Clayton County, first with Mundy's Mill Middle School, then with Lovejoy for seven years as an offensive assistant.
The last time he strolled the sidelines in Clayton County wasn't an auspicious venture. That was 2005. His Jonesboro team went winless in 10 games, a dire ending to a three-year tenure in which Mortonson's Cardinals teams went 7-22-1. Before Mortonson took the Jonesboro job he coached one year at Rockdale County and led the Bulldogs to a 5-5 season.
His fresh start with Morrow doesn't come without its challenges. A once proud program has languished in mediocrity for the past decade. Indeed, from 1980 to 1998, the Morrow football program went 130-70-1, made the playoffs 13 times, won three region titles and a state championship in 1987. Since then, the Mustangs have gone 20-70.
"Morrow football unfortunately has had some down years," Mortonson said. "For whatever reason they've just struggled. They were a powerhouse in the early 1980s up through about the year 2000, and just kind of had some rough times here and there."
So Mortonson is stressing patience as he tries to rebuild Morrow football. He's brought in his Pro-I style of offense and switched to a 4-3 defensve formation.
"We're feeling fresh and ready for the season," senior linebacker Taylor Smith said. "We're supporting the coach and we're listening to him, so I think we'll do a lot better this year."
Mortonson has demanded more discipline from his players, a hallmark of his coaching style that was a big reason why Morrow principal Patricia Hill hired Mortonson.
"I've been pleasantly surprised by their attitude and approach to things," Mortonson said. "I was a little concerned coming in because I am known as a disciplinarian as far as my coaching style. I have very high expectations and requirements for our young men in what we want them to exhibit as a Morrow Mustang football player. And they have bought into it so far and we're expecting it to stay that way."