Speedy Morris’s Fall From Basketball Glory

Back in the ’90s, a basketball coach from Roxborough hit the big time, leading La Salle to a national ranking. Then his career took a nosedive—or did it?

 

IT’S MORNING AT Bob’s Diner, a longtime Roxborough greasy spoon on Ridge Avenue that hustles omelets and offers a bird’s-eye view of a small, lumpy cemetery. At a corner table, leaning over a plate of egg whites and toast, sits a white-haired man who used to be somebody in this town.

William “Speedy” Morris may not be getting a celebrity look-over here at Bob’s, but I wouldn’t judge much by that. Bob’s isn’t exactly show-biz central, which is why you often find Speedy at places like this. Besides, it’s been a decade since Speedy’s been in the news.

Miss a beat, and interest fades; miss two, and people forget.

The basketball heads don’t forget, though. Talk to guys like Fran Dunphy, John Griffin and Phil Martelli, coaching disciples of Speedy and long-standing members of the city’s coaching elite, and they’ll tell you straight out: Speedy Morris was the man. They’ll remind you, should you have dared to forget, how Speedy brought glory to La Salle; how he recruited Lionel Simmons, one of the city’s all-time best, and the job he did with Doug Overton, who could pick the pocket of any player in the game. They’ll make it a point you remember that there were four NCAA appearances and four conference championships, and don’t forget 1990, when no one could touch La Salle, when the team lost just two games and finished the season nationally ranked.

What a ride Speedy had! The neighborhood guys watching on the TVs in the dozens of taverns and taprooms that dot the hills of Manayunk and Roxborough, Speedy’s home turf, couldn’t believe it: Speedy Morris on national TV, rubbing elbows with the big-timers, guys like Coach K and Dean Smith and Bobby Knight!

And let’s not forget, because Speedy never will, all those glorious Big 5 nights at the Palestra in front of 10,000 roaring local fans—half of them screaming for La Salle to stick it to Villanova (or St. Joe’s, or Temple, or Penn), the other half howling for Speedy to sit his ass down.

Heady times? You have no idea.

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  • Steve

    Thank you Speedy for those first 8 years at La Salle. You were a victim of circumstances after that 1993 season… Bob Mullen, the AD at the time made the poor decision to move La Salle into the MCC, a mid-west conference. La Salle compounded the mistake by hiring Tom Brennan as AD after the move to the A10.

  • Scout

    Year of Immaculate championship is incorrectly stated.

    The Palestra – even on its best night – cannot hold 10,000 fans (screaming or otherwise). Speedy saw very few of its best nights.

    Joe Mihalich and Fran Dunphy recruited Simmons.

    Speedy was fired because he did not win. LaSalle put up with him much longer than it should have to the program’s detriment.

    He was treated fairly.

    Part of college coaching is getting on a PLANE and recruiting. Speedy would not or could not perform this crucial task.

    Also, I don’t recall Speedy objecting when a 14 and 14 Lefty Ervin was fired.

    Finally, a great number of years have passed. Speedy has done OK. Please keep moving; there’s nothing to see here.