The man who stands a mere 5 feet 9 has been entrusted with a big responsibility at Morgan State -- pumping some life, and victories, into the football program.
Lyvonia "Stump" Mitchell was introduced yesterday as Morgan's coach, ending a search that lasted less than 48 hours. He is the 16th coach since 1920, and the ninth since Earl Banks retired in 1973.
Mitchell, 36, replaces Ricky Diggs, who went 10-45 in five seasons. Diggs gathered his players Monday night and told them he was resigning, and by Wednesday, Mitchell, a former NFL running back, had been promoted from offensive coordinator.
He was in Houston on a recruiting trip Friday when Diggs called, telling him to return to Baltimore by Monday. This began the process that landed him the job as coach -- which officially is on an interim basis until Morgan names an athletic director. That announcement is expected within the next few weeks, said Rick Perry, the university's vice president for student affairs. But the new AD's approval of Mitchell is considered only a formality.
"It's an honor for me to be selected as the new coach at Morgan State," Mitchell said during a news conference in Hurt Gymnasium's boardroom, which was crowded with players and alumni. "Our philosophy is to bring in young men with a lot of dedication, enthusiasm, and work habits that are great. And we know the victories and success will be here.
"We're trying to get the best athletes we possibly can. We're recruiting here in the city trying to get these guys, and we're going to show people, with their help, we can beat anybody on the schedule."
Mitchell had never been a head coach on the college level. He spent two years at Casa Grande Union High in Arizona before coming to Morgan this summer and being reunited with Diggs, his former running backs coach at The Citadel.
The task before him is to transform Morgan into a winner, something that hasn't happened since 1979. The program also has two years left on its NCAA probation, but none of this is a concern, Mitchell said.
"I'm not setting any goals because I know we're going to win," he said. "I don't see it as a challenge. We're going to go out and have fun and the victories are going to be ours."
The Bears were 1-10 this past season and will lose record-setting quarterback Michael Moore, but Mitchell said the team can prosper without much tinkering.
"I guarantee you, with the players we have standing here and the players who are probably out working out, we're going to bring the pride back that was once at Morgan State," he said. "We do not have the depth we need now, but with our off-season starting as early as it is, when the guys get back in January, they're going to be excited. And that's where you win football games."
Sophomore linebacker James Hall, the team's leading tackler, said Mitchell was a popular choice among the players.
"He helped us a lot when he first came in, just being there with us, giving us someone to talk to, someone we can be more free with," Hall said. "He's definitely going to have an impact. I'm not saying that Ricky Diggs didn't know what it takes, but [Mitchell] just brings more to the team. He's more of a players' coach. He's there for you more."
Tanya Rush, Morgan's acting athletic director, said the decision to hire Mitchell was made quickly to help with recruiting and to "maintain the continuity and the stability for the young men in our program."
Mitchell is hoping to remain as coach on more than an interim basis, but "I have to prove I'm capable, and the only way I can do that is by going out and getting some top-notch players. And in September, I have to prove that we're capable of winning."