Mercy’s Gary Morris having fun on a journey to 400 victories

Gary Morris has won 262 of his 400 wins at Mercy High School, making him the fourth winningest girls basketball coach in the Catholic League. (Photo courtesy of Mercy High School yearbook staff)

FARMINGTON HILLS — Gary Morris is having a lot of fun coaching basketball.

He’s been doing it for 24 years, the last 16 (since 2005) at Mercy. Before that, at Detroit Dominican (1979) and Madison Heights Bishop Foley (1992-1998).

“I’m on a good roll in terms of having really good players and supportive parents and administrators,” he says. “I enjoy the team and how hard they play and practice. We’re all having fun.”

On Friday, Dec. 13, Morris became the Catholic League’s fourth winningest girls basketball coach with No. 400, a lopsided 58-15 defeat of Canton.

He trails a pair of still-active coaches: Mary Cicerone, fourth-best in the state, who has 664 victories in 37 years at Bloomfield Hills Marian, and Diane Laffey, a notch behind with 652 wins in a mind-boggling 58 years at Warren Regina.

Morris, 64, is within reach of overtaking the CHSL’s third-winningest coach, Linda McIntyre, who won 423 games at Royal Oak Shrine between 1974 and 2004.

Morris’ overall record is 400-152, a 72 percent success rate. Some 262 wins came directing the Marlins. He’s won nine state Class A district titles, five in the last six years; a pair of regional titles; three CHSL championships; and made it to the Class A Final Four in 2014.

“There have been some gut-wrenching losses,” he says, but preferred to talk about one of his memorable moments, coaching Bishop Foley to the school’s first CHSL championship, the Central/AA trophy in 1999.

However, one can’t discuss Mercy basketball without a reference to neighboring Marian, some eight miles distant.

“When I came to Mercy,” Morris says, “we had some great battles with (now closed Livonia) Ladywood. Now, Marian is our arch-rival.”

The confrontations between them during the 2014 season are classic.

They had split their two regular season games to set up the CHSL A-B championship showdown at Detroit Mercy’s Calihan Hall. Marian led by as much as 11 points. Mercy fought back to win 54-53 in the closing four seconds.

Heading into state tournament play, Mercy was rated Class A No. 3, Marian No. 5. They had combined for a 149-149 tie score in their three matches and were now destined to meet a fourth time in the semifinals at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.

The Mustangs built a 32-16 halftime advantage into a 67-55 victory. Two days later, Marian beat Canton, 44-26, for the state championship.

Morris told the media afterward, “We got behind early and it seemed like we were trying to dig ourselves out of the hole, climb back over the mountain. Every time we’d get close, something else would happen.”

Morris, who teaches social studies at Mercy, has observed over his two decades-plus coaching career that players “need more affirmation, more feedback that they are doing well. That wasn’t the case years ago. I have to be a better communicator, be more engaged with them.”

He adds: “As I have gotten older, I appreciate the kids and their work ethic. I’ve mellowed some, but I’m still intense and demanding.

“I tell them this is all about a journey, each year, each game, a leg in the journey.”

Both teams have fired off to 4-0 starts. The journey resumes at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7, on  Mercy’s floor.

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected].