PSW Q&A: New Maryland women’s soccer coach Jonathan Morgan
By Charles Boehm
University of Maryland women’s soccer suffered a major loss when charismatic head coach Brian Pensky left to take a lucrative position as the leader of an ambitious, well-funded program at the University of Tennessee last month. But the Terrapins athletic department moved to steady the ship this week, promoting assistant coach Jonathan Morgan to the top job and keeping fellow assistant Laurie George on board as well.
UMd Athletic Director Kevin Anderson considered several well-known bosses from other programs, but eventually settled on a familiar face, to the delight of both current Terps players and new recruits. The Soccer Wire caught up with Morgan after his hiring was made official on Friday morning.
PSW: First of all, congratulations on being hired as Brian Pensky’s successor after five years as an assistant. How are you feeling right now?
JM: Thank you. It’s awesome, awesome. This is the place [where] I’ve spent the last five years, and I’ve grown hugely attached to this place, and hugely attached to our program, our girls. It’s a pretty cool day for me right now, to be the head coach at Maryland.
I’ll tell you what, I never, ever expected it. My thoughts were that Brian and I and Laurie would be like a [University of] North Carolina coaching staff and just kind of all finish this thing out together when we all retire. I never thought that the three of us would break up and not be coaching together. But obviously it’s a great opportunity for me and I’m very excited.
PSW: It must have been an emotional time for all of you when Pensky decided to leave Maryland to take over at Tennessee. Was there a possibility that you would move with him?
JM: Initially there was that opportunity for the three of us to go down to Tennessee. Obviously we’re all so connected with each other, and whenever you’re in this business and spend so much time together you’re definitely a family. If one of those has an opportunity to go somewhere else and you have the opportunity to go with them, you want to go ahead and do that. But Laurie has set her roots here, her husband has a great job in the area, she has a little girl – it makes sense for them to stay. And my family being from Delaware – I’ve kind of done my moving a bit already, having been to [New] Jersey, to Ohio.
I didn’t really have big-time aspirations to be a head coach unless it was at a level comparable to Maryland. So when the opportunity became available, I said, ‘Wow, this is the one I’ve been waiting for, to coach at a level like this. I’ve got to go for it.’
I love our team, I love what’s coming in recruiting-wise, I think we can do some great things here and it’s time for me to take that next step.
PSW: Maryland was rumored to be interviewing several head coaches from other programs for this job. How did you get yourself into the frame?
JM: I haven’t had an interview since 2006 – and I found out on Saturday that I’d have an opportunity to interview on Monday, so obviously I was scrambling to get together my resume, and prepare myself.
The interview went well. They obviously understood that I hadn’t done that for quite some time, but they had seen my contributions to this program over the past five years – and I’m really, really thankful to Brian Pensky because not a lot of assistant coaches get the opportunity that I got, as far as my participation in so many different facets of the program. For the [athletic] department, that is what gave them the confidence to believe in me. Brian is just such a selfless, egoless individual in just allowing me to have such a big part in this program – I think it helped prepare me.
PSW: His departure came at something of an awkward time in the recruiting schedule – did any recruits have second thoughts?
JM: Yeah, we did have some kids that were reluctant to sign, they wanted to wait and see how things panned out. They all kind of panned out in our favor, but you can imagine the anxiety when kids have their minds set, goals set for so long on going to the University of Maryland, and all of a sudden their head coach is gone.
Some kids were committed to Maryland regardless, but there were certainly some kids that were reluctant. We lost an international kid, she would’ve been a 2013 recruit and she has decided to go to Tennessee to follow Brian. But all of the U.S. kids, they’re all staying.
PSW: Pensky’s departure to a program with a much bigger budget than Maryland’s caused some concern among Terrapins fans. Given that, does your hiring offer a bit of continuity?
JM: I definitely think there’s some welcome stability here – of course we’re also keeping Laurie. I think there might be some perception that Maryland women’s soccer is not in a great place, but what Tennessee offered Brian and his family was truly, truly special, a different level, to be honest with you. There aren’t a lot of universities in this country that could’ve come even close to matching what Tennessee did for Brian.
He also was at a point in his life where he wanted to explore something new – he’s been in Maryland his whole life, except for college. So there were a lot of things involved in that decision. So people can say that Maryland doesn’t have the backing that some other schools do, but I would strongly disagree with that. They’re cutting sports, but [they support] the sports that they’re keeping.
PSW: Could you give a word about how 2012 is shaping up for you and your squad?
JM: Obviously I’m super-excited about the direction we’ve been going as a program. I don’t really see our culture and the way we do things changing very much. We’ve got a terrific senior class coming in next year – five to six to potentially seven of those kids starting for us, so we’ve got some experience coming back. And then we have a terrific freshman class coming in – it’s going to take some time to get them adjusted to the speed of play and not taking plays off, but I think ultimately, come late October and November we’re going to be in a really good place.