ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Desmond Morgan’s dream of playing professional football may have ended before it ever began during the spring and the summer. But the former Michigan linebacker wasn’t about to entirely walk away from the sport.
After he failed to make an NFL roster following tryouts with teams including the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots, the 24-year-old got an opportunity that could keep him close to home — but not where one would expect.
Over the summer, the phone rang at Morgan’s home in Holland, Mich. A football team on the eastern side of the state, in Detroit, had an opening. It wasn’t a chance to play on the field, nor was it with Lions or Jim Harbaugh’s coaching staff at Michigan. Instead, Morgan joined Division II Wayne State — as a graduate assistant.
It’s a coaching apprenticeship of sorts. In addition to being in a graduate program for a master’s degree in sports administration, Morgan has brushed off his video-editing skills to assemble film reels for players to review. He’s found out about the financial disparity between big-time Division I programs and Division II programs. He’s taken his perspective as a defensive player and has applied it to . . . the offensive line. Morgan now assists Wayne State’s offensive line coaches.
Morgan, who played at Michigan from 2011 to 2015, spoke with Landof10.com about making the transition from playing to coaching, and what being a graduate assistant entails.
Q: You’re now a graduate assistant at Wayne State University in Detroit. How did this opportunity come about?
Morgan: I got done playing, and I did the whole training for the NFL thing. I tried out for a few teams in the late spring and early summer. I got cut and after that, I was kind of left with the question of, “Where to next? What do I do with my life?”
I was looking around to see if there were any coaching opportunities. Graduate assistant jobs are usually filled in the late winter or early spring, but I got a call out of the blue from a former coach I had named Jeff Kastl, who’s now the wide receivers coach at UTSA (University of Texas-San Antonio). He had been a defensive analyst at Michigan and he was really good friends with the defensive coordinator at Wayne State, and heard they were looking for some help. I said, ‘heck yeah.’ I didn’t want to leave the game of football. I wanted to stay involved.
Q: What are some of your responsibilities at Wayne State as a graduate assistant?
Morgan: One thing that’s been really interesting is that playing at Michigan, I was really used to the Division I level, where there’s resources and funding. There’s almost a paid position for everything.
At the Division II level, the resources are very limited. The money isn’t there. Something that I learned quick is that you’re not just a GA who helps an assistant. You do a bunch of other things on top of it.
Here, I spend 8 to 10 hours a week making sure highlight films are done on Friday nights, and we do all of the importing, editing and transcribing of the film. We help coaches with their daily responsibilities, like making copies, making sure meetings are set up to be run.
On the field, I noticed real quick that we don’t have the luxury of having student managers. We do everything, even the ball spotting and making sure the chains are set.
Q: So, it’s almost like an apprenticeship in college football?
Morgan: Yes, and you still get to coach on top of it. I’ve been learning a ton. Believe it or not, I’m working with the offensive line, and I get an interesting perspective now because I was a linebacker. I’ve learned a lot just from coaching that, and that was where Wayne State needed help. I came in and just took the position, because I wanted to coach football.
Q: What have you learned coaching on the offensive line?
Morgan: I’ve learned about blocking schemes, offensive technique and the fundamentals. Those are things I never learned as a defensive player. It’s all tackling and hitting. I learn how offenses try to attack defenses, whether they try to find holes and coverage. How they draw up schemes. And how it all fits together.
Q: Given that you were a linebacker, how are you applying your knowledge of the defense too the offensive line?
Morgan: I try to give them a perspective of someone who played linebacker and what they’re going against. They’re going to be thinking that, as a defensive guy, they’re going to accomplish things a certain way. They’re thinking a little differently, as am I.
Q: What’s a typical day like for you, such as a Friday for a home game at Wayne State?
Morgan: Seven days a week, I’m in the football offices by 7 a.m., and get out between 8:30 and 10 p.m.
On a Friday, I’ll come in and make sure everything is finished for highlight tapes, and that they’re in the team hotel. I make sure practices are set up and that the film is ready.
The coaching staff comes in a little later, but the graduate assistants are already breaking down games for the following week, too.
We have practice in the afternoon, around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., and then for a home-game week, we go to a hotel in Detroit, and the GAs go earlier to make sure film is set up, to make sure the food is set up for meals, and at night we make sure the players check in for a curfew.
Q: Do you want to make a career out of coaching?
Morgan: No question. Going through college, I didn’t know if I wanted to even go into coaching. Once I got towards the end of my career at Michigan, the last year of playing football, and once I got done trying out for NFL, I knew I couldn’t walk away from the game. I had too much passion for it. There’s too much of a love of being around it.
The more and more time I’ve spent here, the more I’ve realized, “this is something I feel like I’m good at.”