New Morgan State football coach Damon Wilson does not need much motivation. But just in case, he has another reason to fare well.
His wife, the former Allison Dunn, is a 1998 graduate of the university. Wilson said she is not the type to apply any pressure, but he acknowledged that he is eager to help his wife’s former school succeed.
“She’s really excited about me having the opportunity to coach at her alma mater,” he said two days after the Bears announced his hiring on May 26. “And for me, that’s kind of an added deal, coming home to a wife who is an alum. So she’s excited about the opportunity at Morgan, which is a dream come true. I had the opportunity to be the head coach at my alma mater, and now I get to do the same for my wife’s alma mater. So I’m excited.”
Wilson, 45, is the 23rd head coach in program history, replacing Tyrone Wheatley who confirmed in February that he was leaving to be the running backs coach for the Denver Broncos after two full seasons of competition at Morgan State.
Wilson, who played tight end in 1997 and 1998 and earned a bachelor’s in social work and a master’s in organizational communication from Bowie State, spent the previous 13 years with the Bulldogs, guiding them to three consecutive Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association titles and five NCAA Division II Tournament appearances. Interim Bowie State coach Kyle Jackson predicted Wilson would quickly win over players and fans alike.
“Although it’s an entirely different program, he has his philosophy and his mindset of how he wants his program to go,” he said. “I believe that once he gets that culture and gets the players to buy into what he’s selling, they’ll be fine. ... I know that Coach Wilson is a big structure guy, and I’m pretty sure he’ll go in there and establish the culture and philosophy that he wants for his program to go, and they’ll be successful.”
Wilson, who said he was contacted by the university’s search committee in April, was one of four finalists for the job. His track record impressed new athletic director Dena Freeman-Patton, president Dr. David K. Wilson and others.
“Once you’re a head coach, you’re the CEO of the program,” said Freeman-Patton, who left California State University, Dominguez Hills to begin her role with the Bears on Wednesday. “It’s harder to learn that as you go. Obviously, he could do it because I’ve had to do it [as an athletic director] and he had to do it once he was at Bowie. But he’s still hungry. So even though he’s done it already and has that experience, it’s like he’s coming in fresh as a new head coach because he’s hungry.”
As much success as Wilson had at Bowie State, he will inherit a Morgan State program that has not finished a season with a winning record since the 2014 squad under Lee Hull went 7-6, captured the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship, and fell to Richmond in the first round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Tournament.
“Morgan State has had a history of success, and I believe that the timing is right,” Wilson said. “There were certain things on campus that showed me that they are one of the best schools in the country. Now it’s just building the culture from a football standpoint to do what we need to get done.”
Jackson was a four-year starting linebacker from 2007 to 2010 and played for Wilson. Jackson said Wilson had a knack for connecting with his players.
“You can walk to Coach Wilson’s office and whether the door is closed or not, he could be in the middle of a conversation, but his door is always open to communicate,” he said. “That’s one of his best traits — being able to relate and get that buy-in from his players. There’s a quote that a lot of coaches use: ‘They don’t care about what you know until they know that you care.’ He’s one of those guys who likes to show the players that he cares.”
Freeman-Patton said Wilson’s background at the Division II level did not discourage her from hiring him. She said she anticipates the team improving on last season’s 2-9 overall record and 1-4 in the MEAC, but acknowledged that since Wilson missed the opportunity to coach the team during spring ball, patience will be required.
“It was a highly sought-after position even during this timeframe,” she said. “But I think they’ll be able to go through those growing pains, and I think the university — starting with President Wilson — will support this program from the top.”
Wilson said he is planning to visit the campus next week and meet players who are there for summer courses. He said he would prefer to cement a coaching staff by the middle of this month.
As for a timetable for reviving the program, Wilson replied, “Right now.”
“Our goal is to win a championship, and that will be our goal as long as I’m the coach at Morgan State. ... But in order to accomplish that goal, we have to change the mindset of not just our student-athletes, but also our supporters and everyone,” he said. “Everyone has to understand that winning a championship is a mindset, and we’re going to work for that championship in everything that we do. And that starts right now.”