Myrtle Beach Carolina Forest High School needed a proven program-builder to take over its football program. After a couple of weeks of speculation, the Panthers have their man: Cleveland head coach Marc Morris, a coach who once brought a longtime struggling program to a state championship and put a first-year varsity program in a regional championship game.
Morris is expected to be approved by the school board for the position on March 17, which is viewed as a formality of a search process that has included much speculation over the past three weeks.
“It’s a good opportunity to coach at one of the big 16 schools in South Carolina and a good area to be in,” Morris said. “Carolina Forest just presented a unique opportunity and the principal down there (Gaye Driggers) did a great job of selling us on the school. … What they had to offer myself and my family and the challenge of getting a program going again is really appealing.”
The family aspect is one that Morris had to give more consideration to since his wife, Megan, is a successful high school volleyball coach (first at Harnett Central, then at Cleveland) and he has two daughters active in athletics. Their oldest, Courtney, is graduating from Cleveland this spring after having a successful three-sport career for the Rams; Jordan, the younger daughter, is a seventh grader.
Marc Morris said Megan would step away from the coaching ranks and take a position teaching at the middle school Jordan will attend in the fall.
He will continue at Cleveland through the end of the school year but expects to make frequent trips to the Palmetto state especially when spring practices begin.
Carolina Forest is 3-19 the past two seasons and hasn’t made the playoffs since moving up to the Big 16 in the S.C. High School League in 2008. (The Big 16 is made up of the 16 largest high schools in the state.)
After a six-year stint coaching under the legendary Mark Barnes at Scotland County, Morris joined the coaching staff at Harnett Central in 1999. He was named the Trojans’ head coach in 2004 and helped Central reach the 2009 state 4A championship game.
Weeks after that feat, he was named the head coach at the new Cleveland High School in western Johnston County. The Rams went 10-0 as a junior varsity program under Morris in 2010, and then made it all the way to the 3A eastern regional championship game in 2011.
Morris, 42, has compiled a 96-25 record in nine seasons as a varsity head coach.
“Cleveland has been a great place for me and my family,” Morris said. “We’ve accomplished a lot at Cleveland in a short period of time thanks to the dedication of our players, our assistant coaches, the school staff and especially our principal, Anne Meredith.”
Morris, who was able to bring much of his coaching staff from Harnett Central to Cleveland when that school opened, could do a similar thing at Carolina Forest. That will be determined over the next few weeks he said. The only confirmed addition to the Panthers’ staff from Cleveland so far is Cleveland defensive coordinator Travis Gaster.
The Rams are 5-2 all-time in the playoffs in their short history and will return several key players for the 2014 season, led by defensive tackle Sterling Johnson, who has scholarship offers from a who’s who of college football powers already, and quarterback Aaron Farmer.
“Cleveland is going to continue to have a successful football program,” Morris said. “I was just a small part of it. What the kids at Cleveland have done in such a short amount of time has built up Cleveland’s reputation across the state for football. They’re going to have no trouble finding a great head coach.”
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