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Beyond the U: Dan Morgan

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One of Miami’s best linebackers ever has made a positive impact in the NFL, both on and off the field.

Super Bowl XXXVIII: Panthers v Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In the tradition-rich history of the Miami Hurricanes’ football program, there have been many players who have made an impact in the direction and ultimate success of their respective teams and the program. It’s hard to argue there have been many more impactful players in forming a championship team at the U than Dan Morgan.

While the casual fans are more familiar with players like Ray Lewis, Jonathan Vilma, and Jessie Armstead, whose names made headlines in the NFL for years, it’s more than fair to say that Morgan was the best linebacker to play at Miami based upon what he produced on the field.

Morgan came to Miami from J.P. Tavarella High School in 1997, where he was actually one of the top running backs in Broward County. However, he made his impact felt his freshman year at linebacker. He recorded a career best 21 tackles against Virginia Tech and 105 for the season. In 1998, he led the team in tackles with 150 (!!!) in addition to being the first sophomore captain in team history. He continued his strong play in 1999 with 139 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 5 tackles, and 3 forced fumbled. He finally began to get the credit he deserved, being selected second-team All Big East and becoming a semifinalist for the Butkus and Bronko Nagurski Awards.

Morgan’s 2000 season was simply sensational, a generational type of season that we have not seen since and may not see again for a long time. In fact, it’s one that college football has seen once and may never see again, to be honest. Morgan was the only player in college football history to win the Butkus Award (nation’s top linebacker), the Bronko Nagurski Award (defensive player of the year), and the Chuck Bednarik Award (defensive player of year) in the same season. His season highlight came at the best time possible in the thrilling 27-24 win over Florida State, where he totaled 17 tackles, forced a fumble, and returned an interception 23 yards. Who can forget this play...

By the time he was done, he had compiled a school record 532 tackles, started a school record 42 straight games, and became the first player in school history to record 100+ tackles in each of his four seasons. That’s greatness on another level. That’s Ted-Hendricks-three-time-All-American-type of stuff that we will likely never see again with this level of parity and general competitiveness in college football. I went back and look at this year’s All-American team and saw how Evan Weaver, Isaiah Simmons, and Micah Parsons produced, and only Weaver (junior year) reached 100+ tackles before their last seasons.

Morgan was drafted in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers (11th overall pick). Alongside outside linebackers Greg Favors and Will Witherspoon, he helped lead a Panther’s defense that ultimately made it all the way to the 2003 Super Bowl against New England, where he was credited by Carolina with an unbelievable 25 tackles in a heartbreaking 32-29 loss.

Morgan’s performance in the Super Bowl was a prelude for a tremendous fourth season in 2004, where he made the Pro Bowl despite missing 4 games with 102 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 interceptions.

But - a lot like recently retired and fellow former Panther Luke Kuechly - injuries and concussions resulted in an early retirement for Morgan in June 2008. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer, he noted that he had suffered through shoulder injuries, sports hernias, a broken ankle, and an achilles tear. Not to mention at least five noted concussions, although Morgan has noted that it could have been more. For his career, Morgan finished with 390 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 6 fumble recoveries, and 5 interceptions.

That’s the sad truth to one of the most physical positions in one of the most physical sports. When you think about what Morgan was able to accomplish on the field in college, how much contact he went through with 532 tackles, and for how many years he had done it, he had already put his body through an amazing amount of punishment by the time he got to the NFL.

That said, Morgan used his football knowledge as a scout, becoming a scouting intern with the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 before rising to the director of pro scouting. Seattle’s Super Bowl Legion of Boom defense was predicated on an incredible (and physical) linebacking trio of Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, and K.J. Wright. No coincidence those guys were drafted in 2011 and 2012. Just sayin’. Morgan eventually moved up to the team’s position of director of pro personnel.

From Seattle, Morgan moved on to Buffalo in May 2018 to become the Bills’ director of player personnel after Brian Gaine left for the Texans general manager position. Buffalo’s defense has become a monster the past few years, and having someone as seasoned and successful as Morgan in the position of evaluating player talent should only help them stay strong.

Morgan met his wife, Ashleigh, in Charlotte, and they have three children. He was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. I wish Dan the best of luck in his career in the front office and am proud to have him as a member of the Cane family. I expect to continue to see him rise through the ranks and possibly be an NFL general manager one day soon.

Go Canes!