St. Joseph’s Prep’s Speedy Morris, a coaching legend in Philadelphia basketball circles, has announced that he will retire at the end of this season.
“It’s time,” Morris said in a telephone interview on Monday. “I don’t want to do it. I have to do it.”
Morris, 77, said he has been battling health issues for the last few years and felt it would be unfair to future players to continue to coach.
"They need somebody out there who can throw the ball around, move around, show them what to do,” Morris said. “It’s disappointing. I want to keep coaching. But I know now’s the time.”
Morris told his team before practice Monday that he would step down after his 52nd season, including highly successful stops at Roman Catholic, Penn Charter and St. Joseph’s Prep as well as La Salle University, where he has had stints as coach of both the men’s and women’s teams.
“Speedy has been an incredibly gifted coach for half a century, but he is an even better man,” St. Joseph’s Prep athletic director Dennis Hart said in a statement.
Morris, who started his coaching career with the CYO team at St. John the Baptist school in the mid-1960s, reflected on a lifetime of memories in gymnasiums across the city, and across the country.
“I’ve had so much support,” Morris said. “I have so many great memories, great players, great games. The relationships have been so special to me, all the players and coaches I’ve worked with."
Morris’ current team has a 2-0 record. He said he had hoped to coach for 55 seasons but felt compelled to announce that he would step down after this campaign.
“I’m OK but my legs aren’t great, I can’t move around that well,” Morris said.
Former Penn and Temple coach Fran Dunphy called Morris “a coach’s coach” whose impact on the Philadelphia basketball scene was monumental.
“He put his whole heart and soul into it,” Dunphy said. “It’s really remarkable, all the lives he’s touched."
Hart said a search committee would be formed to find a new coach. The athletic director hopes to have the new coach in place by the spring.
Morris’ high school coaching career began at Roman, his alma mater, in 1967. His lengthy and highly successful career has resulted in his admission to 11 Halls of Fame, including the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame and the Big Five Hall of Fame.
In 18 seasons at St. Joseph’s Prep, Morris has compiled a record of 355-128, the most wins in school history. He took over the Hawks’ program in 2001 and his teams won Catholic League titles in 2002 and 2003 -- the team’s first since 1971.
Born in Manayunk, Morris is renowned in Philadelphia basketball circles for his ability to coach fundamentals and to bring out the best in athletes. His teams have long been known for their diligent defensive play and unselfish offense.
Morris also has been a popular speaker at camps, clinics, banquets, communion breakfasts and civic-organization gatherings for years. Known for his dry wit, Morris would tell audiences that he was nicknamed “Speedy” because he was one of the slowest kids in his neighborhood.
In a 2017 article in The Inquirer, former St. Joseph’s University coach John Griffin, who played for Morris, called his old coach, “one of the most impactful people in the history of Philadelphia. Forget about sports. Sports, for sure. But I think people who have changed lives in the region. I’d put him in a very distinct group of Philadelphians.”
When Morris told his team that this would be his final season, some of his friends were in attendance, including Dunphy and former La Salle star Lionel Simmons.
Dunphy as well as St. Joseph’s University coach Billy Lange and Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich are among the dozens of coaches who have served as assistants during Morris’ various stops in Philadelphia.
Players? Morris coached old-time greats Mike Bantom and Reggie Jackson at Roman. He coached Simmons, Tim Legler, Randy Woods, and Doug Overton at La Salle. He coached enough Philadelphia high school stars to fill five or six first-team, all-city squads.
Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale played for Morris at Penn Charter in the early 1980s.
“It was just the rapport he had with us,” Arrigale said. “It was the way he made you feel. He made you feel like you were part of his family.”
In 15 seasons with the La Salle men, Morris went 238-202, the most wins in school history. His teams won four titles and played in four NCAA Tournaments.
In two seasons with the La Salle women, Morris went 43-17 and led the Explorers to an NCAA Tournament berth. One of his players was Cheryl Reeve, who has won four WNBA titles as a coach and was an assistant on Team USA’s gold medal-winning 2016 women’s Olympic team.
In two seasons at Penn Charter, Morris went 41-14 and led the team to the Inter-Ac League title.
And in 14 seasons at Roman, Morris went 347-82 as his teams won six Catholic League titles. His winning percentage of 80.8 is the best in Roman Catholic history.
Morris said he hoped to play golf in his retirement but wouldn’t wander too far away from the gymnasium.
“I’ll find a game somewhere,” Morris said.