Marc Morris has a reputation in North Carolina as someone who could build a football program in a hurry.
It appears Carolina Forest may be prepared to see if he can do it here, too.
While Morris said Sunday he has not been offered or accepted the Panthers’ head football coaching job, he is the lone finalist still in the running. Carvers Bay head coach Nate Thompson and Daniel assistant Troy Bowe – the other two names revealed by Horry County Schools last Thursday – have been informed they would not be selected.
Additionally, Morris, currently the head coach at Cleveland High School in Clayton, N.C., had a third in-person interview on Saturday.
“The main thing about the place is it’s a great school,” Morris said of Carolina Forest. “Especially after talking to [Principal Gaye Driggers], I think she’d be a great person to work with. Football-wise, they’ve had some good athletes before. They have some good current players now. To coach in the Big 16 was very interesting.”
If he is ultimately hired, Morris will bring a winning resume from a pair of N.C. programs to the Grand Strand. He is 96-25 in nine years between Cleveland and Harnett Central. He has won at least 10 games in a season six times.
What’s more, what he did at Cleveland was a surprise to many across that state.
After coaching Harnett Central to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A state championship game in 2009, Morris walked away from what was expected to be another title contender to take over at upstart Cleveland. The school re-opened in 2010 and played a year of junior varsity ball. A year later, the Rams made it to the fourth round of the NCHSAA 3A playoffs, and then qualified for the third round of the Class 3AA playoffs in 2012.
Despite playing two seasons without a senior class, Cleveland was 32-10 under Morris.
Bowe, an offensive assistant at Daniel after spending seven seasons as a defensive coordinator at Greenville and Union County, said Sunday he was informed nearly two weeks ago that he would not get the Carolina Forest job. Thompson was told the same thing early last week.
That leaves Morris, although as of Sunday afternoon nothing was finalized.
Whomever Carolina Forest hires is going to be charge of revamping a football team that has won just three games combined in the past two seasons and never qualified for the Class AAAA playoffs since it moved in 2008. It will go one step further this fall, as the Panthers will be considered a “Big 16” program – the moniker tied to the largest schools in the state.
The Panthers’ only true bright spot of the 2013 season came in a September non-region victory over Myrtle Beach, which went on to win the Class AAA state title. Outside of that, Carolina Forest’s 1-10 record and a defense that allowed more than 50 points per game were among the worst in the state.
“They didn’t bring it. I brought it up,” Bowe said of his two interviews. “I certainly talked about winning. Most of us who are aspiring head coaches are competitive. And we’re not doing it to lose.
“There are 2,100 kids in that school. You can field a good football team when you have 2,100 kids to pick from. Maybe there’s a bunch in the hallways who aren’t going out who should be. There’s no reason with that many kids that you can’t win a bunch of games.”
After playing a brutal schedule the past two seasons, the school has scaled back some on its non-region games for 2014. Former Panthers coach Drew Hummel previously said Carolina Forest has contracts with Class AAA teams Darlington, St. James, North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach and Class AAAA schools Lexington and Fort Dorchester. The Panthers and the rest of Region VI-AAAA will also be welcoming in Socastee, which is moving up from Class AAA.
The reduction in strength of schedule could help Carolina Forest get on the right track. Either way, it won’t be an easy task.
The ways things are looking, that may end up being Morris’ job to tackle.
“It just happens to be the circumstances for this situation,” Morris said. “Carolina Forest is a great school. Just being down there, I think it’s a community ready to be successful in football.”