Former UK coach Guy Morriss dies at 71

Published 5:22 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2022


Off the football field, Guy Morriss did little to draw attention to himself. Quiet and unassuming, he appeared comfortable out of the limelight. On the field, however, his career spoke volumes.

Morriss, who spent four years as an assistant and two years as head coach at the University of Kentucky, died Monday in his adopted hometown of Danville after a six-year battle with Alzheimer’s. He was 71.

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“Guy Morriss provided steady leadership for our football program at a time of significant uncertainty,” said Kentucky Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart, who arrived at UK in 2002 and worked with Morriss that season. “He was both liked and respected by the players, who responded to his fair, no-nonsense approach with their best efforts. His six years at UK feature some of the best players and most exciting moments in our history. He will be deeply missed and our condolences are with (wife) Jackie, their children, family and friends.”

Morriss left Kentucky after that 2002 season for Baylor, where he coached the Bears for five years. He also coached at Kentucky State, Texas A&M Commerce and was offensive line coach at Warren Central High School and Lexington Christian Academy. His battles with Alzheimer’s, which he made public five years ago, eventually required he step away from football.

“It’s hard to accept,” Morriss said of the Alzheimer’s diagnosis in an interview with Dick Gabriel in 2018.

“I wouldn’t accept it. This can’t be happening to me.”

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops had just spent time with Morriss at UK’s fan day.

“I’m grateful for everything he did for this program,” Stoops said. “We loved seeing him around here and just a few short weeks ago he attended Fan Day. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jackie and his family.”

Morriss played 217 career games in the NFL, starting 173 of them.

He started in the Eagles’ Super Bowl XV loss to the Raiders in 1981 and played with the Patriots during their Super Bowl XX loss to the Chicago Bears in 1986.

Former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski was saddened by the news of Morriss’ passing.

“So sad to hear my great center Guy Morriss has passed away,” Jaworski wrote on Twitter. “Guy was a true leader on our Super Bowl team. RIP my friend!”

Morriss was a Texan through and through. A native of Colorado City, he played his college football at TCU. And when he left UK after two years as head coach, it was to return to Texas for the head coaching job at Baylor.

Morriss took up coaching when his NFL playing career was finished in 1988.

His new career began with the Patriots, and in 1992, he joined Hal Mumme’s Valdosta State staff for two years before spending the next three seasons as the offensive line coach for the Arizona Cardinals, San Antonio Texas of the Canadian Football League and finally at Mississippi State. When Mumme was hired at Kentucky in 1997 and needed an offensive line coach he turned to Morriss.

The highlight of that era was the 1999 Kentucky team, led by quarterback Tim Couch, that played in the Outback Bowl. It was Kentucky’s first New Year’s Day bowl since a 20-7 win over TCU in the 1952 Cotton Bowl under Bear Bryant.

When Mumme left UK after the 2000 season amid a whirlwind of recruiting scandals that ended with the program on probation, Morriss was named interim head coach and got the job permanently after guiding the Wildcats to a 2-9 finish. His 2002 team, that featured junior quarterback Jared Lorenzen, went 7-5 and came within a play or two of finishing 10-2. For better or worse, the defining moment of his career at UK will forever be the game dubbed the Bluegrass Miracle. With Kentucky clinging to a  30-27 lead with 2 seconds left on the clock and No. 16 LSU at its own 25 yard line, UK players doused Morriss in Gatorade just seconds before Tigers quarterback Marcus Randall connected with Devery Henderson, who somehow managed to work his way through eight UK defenders for the winning touchdown as time expired.

In what still today is one of the most surreal moments in Kentucky football history, UK’s pyrotechnics engineer shot off fireworks thinking the Wildcats had won the game. UK fans believing the same stormed the field to take down the goalposts. LSU fans, who actually were celebrating a win, also stormed the field. LSU players piled on Henderson in the end zone, while UK players were scattered on the field in stunned disbelief.