Fort Lewis College head football coach Joe Morris resigned Wednesday, and the Skyhawks immediately turned control of the program over to offensive coordinator Brandon Crosby on an interim basis.
Morris coached two seasons at Division II FLC after he was named the interim head coach for the 2017 season in place of Ed Rifilato.
Rifilato coached one season in place of famed Division I coach John L. Smith, who resigned after three seasons.
Morris’ Skyhawks went 5-6 overall and 5-5 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in his first season but faded to 1-9 overall, all in conference, during the 2018 campaign. He accepted the defensive coordinator position at West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas. The Buffs boast a rich Division II tradition in the Lone Star Conference.
Morris called the move a good opportunity for his coaching career that will help his young family financially. Morris and his wife, Kelsey, welcomed a son, Joseph, to the family during the 2017 season.
“It’s hard to leave Fort Lewis because I have given a lot to this place,” Morris said. “I think this was the right move for us to make.”
Morris will leave FLC for a third time. He played for the Skyhawks and graduated in 2005. He was a two-time All-RMAC recipient at linebacker. He joined the coaching staff in 2006 and spent three seasons as the team’s defensive coordinator before he left FLC for New Mexico Highlands. He returned in 2013 under Smith as the Skyhawks’ defensive line coach, and he was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2015 before he was named the interim head coach in December of 2015 when Smith left for Kentucky State. Morris shed the interim label after the 2017 season.
“We were surprised, but I had sensed it over the course of the last handful of days,” said FLC athletic director Barney Hinkle. “When Joe informed me of this incredible opportunity he has with West Texas A&M, I wasn’t that shocked.”
Hinkle will turn over control of the Skyhawks to Crosby on an interim basis. He joined the FLC staff in February 2018 as the team’s offensive coordinator after he spent a season at the University of Nevada as the team’s quarterbacks quality control coach while he was a graduate assistant in charge of wide receivers. Previously, he spent time as a recruiting coordinator at West Texas A&M for one year. He played at Baker University and Saddleback Junior College as a wide receiver.
“It’s been kind of a whirlwind the last 48 hours, but when I got into coaching, this is exactly where I wanted to be,” Crosby said. “Being a head coach is the pinnacle of where I want to be. I’m excited for the opportunity. I love Durango and Fort Lewis, and I’m just ready to go.”
Hinkle is impressed with Crosby’s focus and the recruiting class he has largely been responsible for putting together, with three Division I transfers, including former Wyoming quarterback Isaac Leppke, along with a pair of Division II transfers. Crosby is also hard at work trying to complete the recruiting class going into February’s National Signing Day.
“I’m very comfortable,” Hinkle said of the transition to Crosby. “He’s very organized, very ambitious and very tuned into what this football team needs to improve upon.”
FLC has had only 11 winning seasons in its history dating back to 1963. Crosby, who is originally from California, will be the team’s 13th head coach. He will be paired with a former coach in Rifilato, who will return to FLC’s sideline as the defensive coordinator after spending one year with Dixie State University in Southern Utah working with the scout team.
Hinkle said offensive line coach and run game coordinator Jeff Nady will be promoted to offensive coordinator, though Crosby will call the offensive plays and Rifilato will handle defensive play call duties.
Rifilato has coached the FLC football team in some capacity in 12 previous seasons, including the head coach job from 2004-09. After he also spent time at New Mexico Highlands, he returned as the Skyhawks’ linebacker coach under Smith before he was named head coach for the 2015 season. He resigned from the head coach job for health reasons and stayed on as the team’s linebacker coach in 2017.
“I think it will be great working with coach Crosby,” Rifilato said. “I’ve talked to him several times and have had a chance to watch him coach games. He’s a good young coach, has the respect of the players, and (Morris) speaks highly of him. Me, I’m old now, but any way I can help, I’m going to help.”
Morris hopes the move to Texas can help him climb the coaching ladder further. The Buffs have won 11 conference championships and will open a brand new stadium next season. Hinkle said he wished Morris the best and thanked him for his work at FLC.
“I love Fort Lewis, it was great to me,” Morris said. “...I just really wanted to be somewhere where football is valued at a high level. I’d love to coach at the highest level I possibly can. Part of me would love to be coordinator or head coach of (Colorado) or (Colorado State) some day.
“I’m extremely excited to go to Texas and be in that environment and be somewhere it is valued at that level.”