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Morin demonstrated how home he felt on mats

Hawk wrestling coach retires after 38-year career

March 29, 2011

Greenfield — Throughout his 47 years in wrestling - first as a competitor, later as a coach - Keith Morin has shown a remarkable knack for being in the right place at the right time.

Back in 1964, as a freshman in Greenfield High School, Morin was 10 matches into the season when a few of the varsity team members encountered some academic problems and were suspended. He moved up to varsity, where he remained for the rest of his high school career.

Later, at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Morin went to the varsity squad just two matches into his freshman year when one of the upperclassmen developed a shoulder problem. Again, he stayed on varsity.

Finally, in 1991, as an assistant varsity coach at Greenfield High, he turned down an opportunity to become the head coach upon the retirement of his mentor, Bob Austin. He chose instead to stay with the wrestling program at the middle school, which he had recently started.

That program proved highly successful, and in 2002, when the head coaching job again opened up, Morin seized it and held it for the next nine seasons, compiling a 134-68 dual-meet record.

Morin definitely worked to make the most of his opportunities over the years, winding up just where he wanted to be - back at Greenfield.

"Coaching at Greenfield was like a dream come true," he said. "I had the chance to work with Bob Austin, and we got along well. To then get the head job in the twilight of my career, that capped it."

Leaving the mats behind

Now, at age 60, Morin has decided to retire from coaching after a 38-year career, including 32 years at Greenfield, during which he coached on 14 conference championship teams and worked with 67 WIAA state qualifiers.

"It's time to retire," he simply said. "I've made a lot of friends over the years, and wrestling has been an integral part of my life. I knew going in that this would be my final season. I wanted to go out with these seniors."

Actually, he might have retired one year earlier but for a conversation with Kevin Vazquez, one of his wrestlers, in January 2010. "He told me, 'Coach, I'm going to state this year.' I told him I would stay another year if he went to state. Well, he did go to state, and we actually sent four kids there. That solidified my decision to stay."

Morin and his wrestlers enjoyed a mutual respect.

Respect all around

"I just love the attitude of the kids here," he said. "They work so hard, and they stay loyal to the program. Some of them - like Jim Patnode, Brandon Suttner, Joe Rodriguez, Ben Schultz, Mike Weller, Jeremy Flink and Nick Hatleli - came back (after graduation) and helped me as volunteer coaches."

He is also grateful to his brother Kevin, a state runnerup for the Hawks in 1974 who is now the head coach at MSOE. "We have had many kids attend his wrestling camps, and I know it has helped them tremendously," Morin said.

Schultz, a Greenfield state qualifier in 2007, said he was happy to assist Morin. "He will do anything for us, and we will do anything for him," he said.

Pinning success on him

There are several reasons for Morin's success, said Schultz, who finished his Hawk career with 112 victories.

"He pushed us every day," he continued. "He made us want to work on the days when we didn't want to work. He ran hard practices, but he also mixed it up, using different drills."

Although wrestling became one of the focal points of his life, Morin had not even touched a mat until his freshman year at Greenfield.

"I was 95 pounds at the time," Morin recalled, "and the wrestling coach, Paul Brandl, said he saw me on the football team and noticed I didn't get much playing time. He said (football coach) Lowell Littaritz had spoken highly of me. (Brandl) then asked if I had thought about wrestling. He said in wrestling, I could go up against guys my own size."

He quickly took to the new sport and wrestled on the Hawks' varsity for almost four seasons.

He then went to UW-La Crosse, where he joined the varsity after just two matches. "That was a baptism by fire," he said, "but I stuck with it."

Morin remembers riding home on a plane after his final college tournament and wondering, 'what's next?'

He soon got his answer when he was directed toward Columbus High School, which needed an assistant varsity wrestling coach. He took the position on a one-semester internship in the fall of 1972.

In January 1973, he accepted a job as physical education teacher and assistant wrestling coach at Mauston High School and stayed for five years.

Coming home to Greenfield

He returned to Greenfield in the fall 1978 as an assistant coach. In 1990, he went to Austin and asked if he could start a wrestling program at the middle school.

One year later, he had the chance to become the head coach when Austin retired but opted to stay at the middle school.

"That was a tough decision," he said. "I had just started that program and didn't want to abandon it."

He spent 10 years teaching health and coaching wrestling at the middle school, eventually becoming athletic director as well.

"The decision (to stay) paid dividends," he said, "because I later coached high school wrestlers who I had worked with at the middle school."

In 2002, head coach Tom Sobocinski left the district, and Morin, at 52, became the leader of the Greenfield varsity.

He said his favorite memories from all his years of coaching at Greenfield include seeing Tom Pecora claim the school's first state championship at 119 pounds in 1981, helping coach Bill Kumprey to the 1989 state championship with a 33-0 record at 152 pounds and winning both the Woodland dual and tourney crowns in 2006.

Morin also coached against brother Kent when Greenfield met Wauwatosa in dual meets. Appropriately, they split 3-3.

"I didn't like going against him," Keith said. "I was always glad when that meet was over."

Now, Keith Morin's wrestling run is over, and he told one final story that showed his impact on local wrestling. "At the Woodland junior varsity tournament," he recalled, "a Tosa wrestler came up to me and said, 'Coach, you can't quit; we'll miss you.'"

With comments like that from opponents, Morin can go into retirement knowing his 47 years in wrestling were well-spent.

THE MORIN FILE

WHO: Keith Morin

WHAT: retiring as Greenfield head varsity wrestling coach after nine seasons, with a total of 38 years coaching

HIGH SCHOOL: wrestled at Greenfield from 1964-68

COLLEGE: competed at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse from 1969-72

COACHING: as an assistant, he spent one semester at Columbus High School, five at Mauston and 23 at Greenfield….he became the Greenfield head coach in 2002….his teams won Woodland Conference dual championships in 2005 and 2006 and the Woodland Tournament title in 2006….he coached four wrestlers with high state finishes in Pat Bruyette (second at 215 in 2010), Joe Rodriguez (fourth at 189 in 2006) and J.R. Lewis (fifth at 160 in 2009 and sixth at 152 in 2008)

OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENTS: coached boys volleyball from 1980-91, winning the state championship in 1983 and taking third at state in 1987….coached on Greendale's 1998 state runnerup squad in softball

MENTORS: high school coaches Paul Brandl, Lowell Littaritz, Dale Haymann and Bob Austin; college coaches Swede Pearson and Bill Floyd

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