MIKE GUNTHROP hasn't been involved in the Towson-Morgan State series since 1994, so he isn't eager to bite. Melvin Coleman is only two years removed, so he doesn't mind ripping into the emotional fiber of the cross-town football rival.
"Morgan will be fired up," Coleman said. "They better be. They better not come over here thinking this is going to be a cakewalk. They'll be pumped up. We'll be fired up. I know I will. There will be no prisoners, and the Morgan players know that."
Towson (0-0) opens its new stadium tonight, and there isn't anyone better to invite than Morgan State (0-1). Coleman played in the series as a Morgan defensive back for four years until 2001. Gunthrop was a standout center/guard for Towson from 1988 to 1992.
Now, here is where it really gets fun:
Gunthrop is now the offensive coordinator for Morgan, and Coleman is the secondary coach at Towson.
"No, no, no, I never thought I would be standing on the Towson sideline," Coleman said. "It's business, but it really is awkward, because I'm fresh out of playing at Morgan."
Gunthrop said: "It's going to be interesting. I know the importance of the game, especially for us. I don't want to get too caught up with the history of the place. The game is important to us for a lot of reasons, like recruiting locally and, of course, bragging rights."
Morgan hasn't had much to brag about in the series. After losing the first three games, Towson leads the series 11-4, losing again only in 1999, by the score of 28-22. But regardless of the record, Coleman knows Morgan will be ready to play. Coleman, 22, had some of his best games against the Tigers. In 2000, he had 15 tackles, made two interceptions, forced one fumble and recovered another. He also knocked down three passes.
"When I was at Morgan, I always talked trash to the Towson players," Coleman said. "It was just friendly, competitive stuff. I'll be talking at this game, because there are guys out there for Morgan who played with me. Hey, we've already traded some good-natured stuff this week."
Towson leads the series because it gets more of a commitment from its administration and has had less transition in the coaching staff. Since the series began in 1979, the Tigers have had two head coaches. Morgan has had 10, including the highly successful Clarence Thomas, who left because he felt he wasn't getting the proper support.
But what else is new?
Athletics, especially football, has never been a priority for Morgan president Earl S. Richardson. Playing and practice facilities at Morgan have been some of the worst in Division I football.
"It's not a matter of Morgan having the players," Coleman said. "You talk to other coaches and players, they all talk about the talent at the school. While I was there, we went through five defensive coordinators in four years.
"It wasn't hard for me, but it was hard for some players to learn a new system every year. One thing I have learned, from being on both sides of the ball, is that Morgan has better players than Towson, but Towson does a better job scheme-wise, team-wise. They're very organized."
That's why the Bears hired Donald Hill-Eley. Maybe he'll get more administrative support. He has been impressive so far. His mission isn't just to develop players, but quality people.
"We had always heard that Morgan had good players, it just lacked direction more than anything else," said Gunthrop, a Poly graduate. "What Don has done is not emphasize the past, but the future. We need to develop character first. The football will take care of itself."
The Bears have instituted a shirt-and-tie day on Wednesdays. During training camp, it was mandatory that all players attend church services on Sunday. Morgan had a youth football camp during the summer, inviting recreational players from Stembridge, Northwood, Madison and Westport. Players have volunteered for community service through reading programs throughout the city.
Gunthrop said: "We want to change the perception [so that] when a kid goes on to high school and maybe wants to play in college, Morgan will get a good look."
The Bears want to see similar results on the field. Gunthrop is running a pro-style, multiple-set offense. Last week in a 28-24 loss to Gardner-Webb, Morgan had a lot of yards but few points. Gunthrop called it a learning experience.
"We definitely can score some points," Gunthrop said. "But as a coaching staff, we have to become better at putting kids in the right situations, and since I'm the offensive coordinator, a lot of it falls on my shoulders."
The Bears have some solid offensive linemen in guards Joe Wright and Yannick Boka. They have a versatile tight end in Vishante Shiancoe and a good running back in T.J. Stallings.
But the key will come down to discipline. If Morgan stays with a power running game and doesn't get cute, the Bears can wear down Towson.
If the Bears win, Gunthrop will reply to some of the e-mails he has gotten this week from former teammates who don't know he is at Morgan. He can joke with several members of Towson's coaching staff, such as John Swigart and Donnie Zimmerman, former Tigers teammates.
If Coleman wins, he'll be talking some smack when the two teams shake hands at midfield, and exchanging some good, old ribbing.
Said Gunthrop: "Hey, I wish their coaching staff good luck 10 other times this year, except when they play us."