Bob Morgan, former Janesville Parker boys basketball coach, dies at 81
JANESVILLE--If you took a poll of the most memorable moment in the history of Janesville athletics, “Morgy” and his “Rat Patrol” would top the list.
On March 20, 1971, in the cozy confines of the UW Field House, Janesville Parker's boys basketball team capped off a magical postseason run with an improbable 79-68 win over Milwaukee King in the state title game.
Bob “Morgy” Morgan orchestrated that feat.
As coach of the aptly named “Cinderella Vikings,” Morgan got the players on a team that finished 11-7 in the regular season to believe they were good enough to win state. Those Vikings responded with seven straight postseason wins and, with their beloved Morgy barking out orders, put on a shooting clinic in beating heavily-favored King in the last open-class state title game.
Morgan died Saturday at age 81. His legacy lives on.
“Morgy was always in control, and that reflected on us,” said Dick Meier, a starter and the second-leading scorer on the '71 championship team. “He was a calm guy that always told us there would be peaks and valleys in every game.
“He was a friend to his players on and off the court and someone that was enjoyable to be around.”
Morgan played basketball at UW-Eau Claire and is the 10th all-time leading scorer in school history. He came to Parker when the school opened in 1968 and taught social studies and physical education. As the first boys basketball coach, Morgan guided the Vikings to the state title in 1971 in the school's third year of existence and led the Vikings back to the state semifinals in Class A in 1972.
Although the memorable run to the '71 title is Morgan's greatest claim to fame, he was instrumental in helping develop the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association, an organization that thrives today. Morgan and his late wife, Nancy, are members of the WBCA Hall of Fame.
“Morgy, along with the tireless efforts of Nancy and Dan Madden, took that organization in its infancy and developed it into one of the most respected and well-known clinics in the United States,” said Dave Wedeward, the longtime and now-retired sports editor of The Gazette. “They were able to bring in some big names to their clinics and had a strong following.
“And as far as a coach, Morgy will always be a part of the greatest story ever told—that being the '71 state championship team,” Wedeward said.
That championship team struggled early in the season. Injuries and the dreaded football hangover for several players resulted in a rugged start.
Morgan was able to right the ship about midway through the season, and the Vikings rolled from there. Morgan's vaunted half-court trapping defense—the Rat Patrol—started to pay dividends, and led by sharpshooter Bob Luchsinger, the team filled it up offensively.
Wedeward said a late-season drubbing of Beloit Memorial set the tone for what was to come in the postseason.
“I remember coming back to The Gazette after that game and telling (former Gazette Sports Editor) Dave Kalvelage that if Parker keeps playing like that, they'll win state,” Wedeward said.
“And there was such a great chemistry between Morgy and those kids. He believed in them, and they played hard for him. Parker beat some very good teams even before they got to state.”
Despite plowing through a massive snowstorm on the opening night of the '71 state tournament, Parker scored an impressive 71-51 win over Reedsburg in a quarterfinal game.
The Vikings followed that with an incredible 54-52 win over top-ranked Neenah in the semifinal game. Parker trailed 40-24 against Neenah in the third quarter, and Luchsinger was on the bench in foul trouble. Morgan turned to reserve Greg Rud, who helped fuel a furious fourth-quarter comeback that shocked a statewide television audience and left the Vikings a win away from immortality.
Parker point guard Jeff Paulson said Morgan's speech before the title game was short and to the point.
“Morgy said we didn't come all this way to take home the silver. We want the gold,” said Paulson, who scored 14 points in the title game.
Parker set a state record by making all 23 of its free-throw attempts against King, and the Rat Patrol slowed down a high-scoring King offense.
Morgan retired from coaching after the 1977-78 season. He taught several more years at Parker before retiring and moving to his home on Axehandle Lake in New Auburn. Nancy and Bob spent their winters on Padre Island in Southern Texas.
Morgan called his “Boys of 71” a first-class bunch that was going places.
They, in turn, simply called him “Morgy.”