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Christian Morrison: The Happy Heart and Soul of Track & Field

Coach follows formula for success—for his teams and himself

Track & field Head Coach Christian Morrison talks with Assistant Coach Ranard Adkison during a recent practice.

Christian Morrison is almost exactly the opposite of what you’d expect. Though raised in Connecticut, he speaks with the slow and quietly thoughtful drawl of a midwesterner.  And whatever your picture of a winning coach might be, it’s almost surely not Christian Morrison.

For one thing, he just wants everyone to be happy.

Happy?

Yes, happy.

“Someone who is happy will do better at everything,” explains the only track & field head coach Sacred Heart has ever known.

So, take your mental picture of the winning coach—that guy standing by the water cooler chewing on his whistle with veins standing out on his forehead and neck; that guy in the face of his breathless athlete; that guy with soundbite answers that promise the world to top recruits—and forget him. That guy is not Christian Morrison.

While that guy writes a self-help, motivational biography detailing every obstacle and success in his lifetime, Morrison seems almost unaware that he’s been successful at all. Ask him about his program’s statistics, and he seems almost puzzled by your interest. “We’ve won plenty of meets,” he’ll say, which may qualify for a new conference banquet prize: Understatement of the Year.

The truth is that, under Morrison’s coaching, Sacred Heart track and cross-country has walked away with 12 team titles in the 17 years it has been part of the Northeast Conference (NEC) as a Division 1 program. And the SHU women have taken the coveted “triple crown” (that is, they won the conference titles in indoor track, outdoor track and cross-country) the last two consecutive years—an exceptional accomplishment in the sport.

Still, Morrison shies away from owning credit for the teams’ successes, despite having been named NEC Coach of the Year 15 times in his career. “I put it down to the University; there’s something about this place,” he says. “The school has more than doubled in the time that I’ve been here, but the character is the same. People hold the door for you. They say hello to strangers. There is an acceptance and a willingness to work.” Those midwestern values you hear in Morrison’s speech are right here in this northeastern school.

“So we cast a wide net,” he explains. “We don’t go after the blue-chip recruits, but what we do find are a lot of those next-level kids, the ones the others miss, who are studious and nerdy and who you know will show up every day and work hard.”

Whereas that other coach—the whistle-chewing, vein-popping, bullhorn-throated stereotype—might follow the recruiting playbook and oversell his school and program, Morrison, after his own fashion, waits for the recruits to find him. “I want a kid who is thrilled to be at SHU,” he says. “I’d rather have a team where every kid says this school is their first choice.”

The result? “We have one of the largest rosters in the U.S.,” Morrison says.

Which brings us back to Morrison’s First Rule of Coaching: Someone who is happy will do better at everything—a rule that his own career proves applies to coaches as much as to athletes.

After growing up in Connecticut, Morrison was a runner for Marist College in New York before going on to law school at Indiana University and eventually becoming a law clerk for a judge in Kalamazoo, Mich. Between Marist and IU, however, Morrison coached a high school girls’ track team for a year and inadvertently found something of a calling. Once in Kalamazoo, he began searching for coaching positions and found his way to an assistant coaching spot at DePaul University in Chicago. Three years later, Morrison applied for the head coach position at Sacred Heart as soon as it was created.

“That’s the last time I wrote a résumé,” he says with an unmistakable, easy contentment in his voice; the same unassuming simplicity you hear as he explains, “When I’m trying to get recruits to sign with us, I’m very unaggressive. I want them to be happy with their decision. What could be better?”

As happy with their decision, it would seem, as he is with his own. What could be better, indeed?