The cloud hanging over Dolphins' Morgan lifts

Grant Morgan (Gallo Images)
Grant Morgan (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - A little more than three years ago, Grant Morgan was standing at a major intersection in northern Joburg, handing out fliers advertising his winter cricket clinics. Morgan, the current Dolphins coach, had plumbed the depths before, but this was a new low.

His partner in the enterprise was Dave Nosworthy, the former Lions and Canterbury coach. Morgan was staying in a cottage at the bottom of the garden owned by Dave’s brother. He was 42, had no prospects, no relationship and precious few possessions.

He’d moved around so much over the years that he didn’t even own a dog.

However, Morgan had one priceless and unquantifiable asset – his reputation. Those in the know regarded him as a kind of coaches’ coach; the kind of guy who stayed behind long after practice had finished to shoot the breeze or play a struggling batsman into form.

At much the same time, he received a call from Malibongwe Maketa asking him if he’d like to assist at the Warriors. Not for the first time, he packed up and headed south, helping out in his parents’ Port Elizabeth guesthouse in the evenings and coaching by day.

At the beginning of their relationship, he and Maketa entered into a pact. Morgan had learnt from Colin Bland, one of his early mentors, that it’s easy for an assistant to destabilise a coach if he’s that way inclined. Morgan said that, if Maketa lost his job, he would follow him, but reserved the right to pursue other options if the opportunity arose.

It took a season, but finally Morgan received the call he’d been waiting his entire coaching life for. It was from Pete de Wet, the then Dolphins chief executive, who asked him to pack his bags once again.

“I felt bad because mum lost the three men in her life all within the space of a week,” Morgan remembers. “Dad was dying – he was just compos mentis enough to realise that I’d got the Dolphins coaching job. Then her Jack Russell of 16 years also died. She always said: ‘You have to go, don’t hang around for me.’ And that made me feel a bit better as I headed for Durban.”

Last weekend, after two rain-affected days in Durban, Morgan’s Dolphins shared the One Day Cup with the Warriors. To outsiders, it might have looked like a hollow victory, but to Morgan, it represented the lifting of a cloud. De Wet resigned a month after Morgan was first employed and he had to battle for support in an unfamiliar environment. The shared trophy was payback for those early difficulties and a vindication of everything he stood for. He could now sit at the top table as someone other than the serial eccentric and eat his dinner in peace.

Morgan is indeed eccentric. Whenever he goes into a new job, he negotiates a “war chest” of approximately R100 000 with his chief executive. With this money, he incentivises his players to earn more than their monthly salary.

He’s always up for a wager within a game, a bit of fun on the side or an internal competition. He makes themed CDs for his players, and awards batsmen and bowlers caps for special achievements. This entitles them to double meal money on away games, which perhaps accounts for Robbie Frylinck’s impressive statistics in this regard.

“As part of our blue-collar awards, I asked Hollywoodbets, our sponsors, to provide us with two overalls, which the guys wear to the airport,” says Morgan. “We’re always doing that kind of thing. I’m always looking to keep the players engaged, reminding them of a discretionary bonus or an incentive. Cricket’s full of those empty periods. You don’t want to let things drift too much on the fourth afternoon of a four-day game that is going nowhere. You want to keep players interested.”

Morgan is well known on the circuit for his incentives, less so for his creative punishments. He has made Tabraiz Shamsi do press-ups in an airport lounge and devised a corker for Dominic Hendricks, who was then playing for the Strikers.

“I needed to remind him not to give his wicket away,” says Morgan. “We devised this ritual where he used to have to pack his coffin, take his coffin to the boot of his car and drive all the way [from the Wanderers] down Corlett Drive to the Bramley Police Station and show his face there.

“After that, he could drive back to the Wanderers, take his kit out of his car and take his place in the Strikers dressing room, knowing that he had to fight harder to keep his wicket.”

Morgan might be one of the more eccentric coaches on the circuit, but he’s also among the most naturally gifted.

“I’m situationally able to adjust my personality to the needs of whoever I’m coaching, whether they are six or 26,” he says. “I had Riki Wessels and Grant McEwan [sons of Kepler and Kenny, respectively] pretty much at the same time I was playing for Eastern Province. Suddenly, I was earning money – I didn’t even realise I was doing it – and was gaining a reputation as somebody who had an aptitude.”

As well as having an aptitude, he has found a way to be happy in a repetitive job.

“You never leave practice or a day at the cricket the same person,” he says. “That’s another thing Colin Bland taught me. You either leave a little better or a little worse off, but you’re never the same person. It’s one of those little lessons that helps.”

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