Sean Morey spent a few hours last Saturday evening cleaning the carpet in the Princeton University sprint football office in the B level at Jadwin Gym.
As the former Brown football star receiver and 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year, who went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, takes over as the new head coach of the moribund Princeton sprint program, he is starting from the ground up, literally and figuratively.
The Tigers haven’t won a game in Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL) action in more than a decade as their losing streak has passed the 80 mark and Morey brings exactly zero coaching experience to the job.
But he does possess a deep understanding of what it means to succeed as an underdog in the world of NFL football since the undersized 5’11, 193-pound Morey molded himself into a Pro Bowl special teams performer and earned a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006.
The upbeat Morey is primed to apply some of those NFL lessons to his new football challenge as he replaces Steve Everette, the former Princeton High coach who guided the Tiger sprint program from 2011-13.
“I am excited for the opportunity to impart the understanding of the game and some of the wisdom that is garnered from the daily grind and the remnants of experiences, whether they be good or bad,” said Morey, 37, sitting in his office surrounded by boxes, desks, and chairs pushed together, game films, and a flat screen on one wall, and two whiteboards.
“There are ways you can approach situations in life with an open mind, a good attitude, with a strong work ethic, with constructive criticism, and being honest about yourself. I have developed this mentality that there is nothing too big that you can’t figure out. Yet you have to take a step back and assess the situation, be honest, be self critical, correct your mistakes, and move forward.”
One of the big problems that Morey has to address in getting Princeton on the right track is attracting more players to a program that has had two forfeits in the last three seasons due to inadequate manpower stemming from injury problems and that does not get any admissions slots for its athletes.
“I am going to have to be creative and look at the intramural sports that are played through campus recreation and identify the kids that might have played some high school football and have an interest in coming out,” said Morey, who can’t use players weighing more than 172 pounds under CSFL rules.
“On-campus recruiting is important and I anticipate reaching out to all of the high schools in the area and building rapport with the coaches so that if kids can get into Princeton that have that aspiration of being a scholar athlete but they are not big enough for it, or as heavily recruited and they will fall within the weight restrictions, to give them an opportunity to compete. We can’t recruit or bring them on campus because there is really not a budget for that. I will probably look more into that and try to identify more creative ways to expose potential candidates to the program. I think the viability of any program is directly related to the ability to practice competitively and to prepare adequately and the only way to do that is that you must have enough players on the field.”
Having worked at Princeton the last two years on a fellowship in general athletic administration should aid Morey in the effort to draw more players.
“It helps because I felt like the first year I spent a lot of time building relationships with people and getting to know people,” said Morey, whose wife, Cara, is an assistant coach for the Princeton women’s hockey team.
“I would take a little extra time to talk and get to know people. I feel like I know who is Princeton athletics.”
Once Morey gets those players, he is going to focus on getting them to know dedication.
“They are going to get out of this what they want to put into it,” said Morey, who acknowledged that he may have put too much of himself into his football career, suffering more than 20 concussions during his NFL years and acknowledging that he takes such drugs as Ritalin and Propranolol to deal with the after-effects of the concussions and function better on a daily basis.
“I do know what it takes to commit to something greater than yourself and to be respectful, to be kind, to be honest, to be dedicated to something. I believe that with the right mindset, you can overcome challenges.”
In Morey’s view, the team’s returning players have displayed an admirable mindset as they have endured a steady diet of losing, including a 2013 campaign that saw the Tigers go 0-7 and get outscored 330-88 in the six games they did play.
“I think part of the reason I took the job is that I already have relationships; I was covering the games as an event manager,” said Morey, noting that the alumni support has been the backbone of the program through its lean times.
“I never saw anybody quit, I saw some bad body language at times. I felt like that, by and large, the kids played hard, and they finished every play. They are good kids. I think their GPA is the highest of any sport so they are smart kids. I feel like they are well rounded and they have a lot of different things going on. I appreciate that. When they come to our lifts, our runs, or our practices, and certainly the games, they are going to have to find a way to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand.”
Morey is also working on the task of getting a better feel for the eight-team CSFL, which has been dominated by Army in recent years.
“I still have to learn more, I don’t know enough as it stands,” said Morey, who is interviewing for assistant coaches to fill out his staff and sees himself as playing more of a role in devising defensive schemes.
“I do think that surprisingly, it is a very physical league. Army and Navy have deep squads and they have the type of player who is very aggressive and plays hard.”
In Morey’s view, he can help his players get up to speed by passing on the knowledge he gained during his NFL career.
“I can help with technique, leverage, understanding concepts on how to win the one-on-one battles, and how to prepare to play the game, how to watch film, and practice tempo,” said Morey, who will be holding five practices this spring under CSFL rules and will have the team participate in a strength and conditioning program as well.
“We will be making sure that people are using the techniques that we coach and teach them. We will hold them accountable to being on time, to having a good attitude, and working hard which is fairly necessary if you want to be competitive at anything.”
The Princeton players will have a good role model when it comes to work ethic and competitiveness in their new head coach. “I was always the first in there and the last one to leave, literally,” said Morey, who had a two-page to-do list at his side.
“It almost became obsessive, especially for me to extend my career because I knew I could lose my job any day. To have garnered the kind of respect to be a captain on every team and go to the Pro Bowl, I felt that I had to live up to that. If I slacked off, it would be a sign of disrespect.”
The respect that Morey has for his coaches will influence his approach. “You can learn something from everyone,” said Morey, who played for such prominent NFL coaches as John Harbaugh, Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, and Bill Cowher.
“I don’t think I will ever be a coach that will manifest some false sense of Machiavellian power rants to motivate. I want to teach, I want to teach the game, I want players to develop as people and as competitive athletes. My expectation is that they have a very positive experience, that they learn, that they get better, that they have fun, and they compete.”
While the rebuilding process will be arduous, coming in on the ground floor with Morey should be a positive experience for the Princeton players.