Boys Swimming: Morris ends memorable coaching career
By Bryan Sullivan, staff writer Daily Messenger
Posted Apr 17, 2013
Mark Morris was eager for the start of the 2010-’11 boys swimming season. The head coach of the Pittsford boys swimming team wasn’t just excited about the prospects of the Panthers winning another sectional title.
Morris saw how not only was the Pittsford program the top of the Section 5 heap, but interest was at an all-time high. It was then, the long-time head coach decided he was soon ready to turn over the reins to someone else.
He didn’t want to leave without earning a little hardware first.
Morris retired as head coach of the Panthers at the end of this past season after leading Pittsford to their 11th straight Section 5 title. He coached with the Pittsford program for the last 41 years, was the head coach since 1995.
“My whole career I have been trying to generate numbers and excitement about the sport,” said Morris, who leaves behind a junior class featuring 17 athletes including state champion PJ Ransford and sectional champion Brett Eslinger.
“With that many talented athletes in the senior class I knew my successor would be loaded.”
Leaving on a high note
Morris’ last season was a dream for a veteran head coach. He had, in his opinion, the best team in his 19-year run as leader of the Panthers program.
Pittsford blew out the field at the Section 5 Class A championship meet, winning nine of the 11 swim events. The Panthers then won the public school team title at the state meet.
“This was the best team I ever had, and I didn’t see that coming,” Morris said. “We had terrific leadership from our senior class and a strong junior class.”
Matt Tanchick broke the Section 5 record in the 200 individual medley and 100 breast, while PJ Ransford earned the 500 free record. Ransford and Tanchick teamed with Brett Eslinger and Shea Ransford to earn the 200 medley relay record.
The 200 medley relay won a state title and earned an Automatic All-American and PJ Ransford swam an Automatic All-American time in the 500.
“I have been on this high school team for six years and coach Morris has been there through every step,” Tanchick said. “To be able to be with him on his final year really means a lot to me as an individual. He’s been amazing for us, and I have been blessed to have hands on coach like him.”
Morris finishes career 201-14-1 in dual meets and coached 74 All-Americans and 49 state champions.
Following a mentor’s advice
Morris grew up in Bath and was a member of the Rams first swim team in 1964. After graduating from Cortland, Morris taught physical education at Mendon Center Elementary for 33 years.
Morris’ coaching career within Pittsford featured stints as a football, golf and track coach. His career as a swim coach started as an assistant under Fred Rockow, who started the boys swim program in 1973.
Morris learned plenty about scouting and how to put together a lineup for meet day. The greatest thing Morris took from Rockow; motivation.
“Training year round starts as a mental thing and it becomes a physical thing,” Morris said. “You have to get the right mind set before you add the physical. (Rockow) was the best at psychology. I watched how he dealt with his swimmers and prepared them for big meets.”
When Morris took over as head coach, only one of his athletes swam year-round. In order to get his swimmers to make the drastic change of spending eight or nine months a year in the pool, he knew he would have to get their trust.
So in an individual sport like swimming, he embraced the team concept of athletes training in and out of the season. Today, his athletes train not only with PACK, but the FAST and Golden Comet Swim Clubs.
Last offseason 40 of his swimmers trained with club teams in the offseason.
“He’s been a great coach,” Eslinger said. “He is one of the major influences of my life. He is always pushed me to do the best I could do. He has pushed me to be stronger.”
Help from the seniors
While Morris knew the importance of getting to train year-round, he knew during the season he couldn’t lead the program alone. So he wanted to make sure to have his seniors play the role of assistant coaches.
A strong senior class was integral to the program winning back-to-back crowns in 1998 and ‘99. The leadership was lacking for the next few years, and the Panthers came back to the pack.
“The few times that we have stumbled our leadership has been not as strong,” Morris said. “When the leadership is strong, it makes your job much easier. It’s like having additional assistant coaches.”
2003 proved to be a turning point for the program. Led by veterans Brian Possee and Luke Weniger, Morris’ philosophies of senior leadership and offseason work paid off as the Panthers won the team title by five points.
Pittsford has won sectional team titles every year since.
“He believes so strongly in the team concept with swimming,” said Scott Barker, Pittsford athletic director. “Every single year he has worked hard to build a culture. The kids treat swimming different here, because they want to be part of a team with a long, storied history.”