Gillespie: Mike Morgan enjoys being a free agent

October 18, 2014

By: Bob Gillespie

From: The State

 

Last week’s email from Mike Morgan had “This just in” occupying the message line. If you have a sense of irony, you could appreciate Morgan’s news and his enthusiasm at passing it along.

“I had two weekends off the rest of the college football and basketball season,” he wrote, “(and) I’ve just filled them with, of all things, calling two (football) games on national radio, featuring – wait for it, wait for it – South Carolina.”

On Nov. 15, Morgan – who was for 10 years the radio “voice” for USC basketball and baseball, while also doing pay-per-view football telecasts – will call USC at Florida on SportsUSA Radio, a network with 11 outlets in South Carolina. Then, two weeks later, he’ll handle play-by-play of the Gamecocks at Clemson – “proving,” he wrote, “I have no social life.”

In Columbia, SportsUSA’s affiliate is 107.5 The Game, the flagship station for Gamecock Sports Network game broadcasts with Todd Ellis and Tommy Suggs, so you won’t hear Morgan here. But stations in Greenville, Charleston, Myrtle Beach and others will have access to his call, and if your memory dates back more than five years, it’ll seem like déjà vu … or, rather, what might’ve been.

Early in his Columbia stint, Morgan’s ambition was to become the next “voice” for all USC sports, eventually replacing “The Voice,” Bob Fulton, a 43-year constant. But then South Carolina athletics officials went another direction (with Ellis and basketball announcer Andy Demetra), Morgan’s contract expired, and everything changed.

For the better, he says. “I loved (calling USC games) for 10 years, but there’d be no reason to leave what I’m doing now. It would be very hard to give it up.”

Morgan in 2014 is the prototypical free agent, calling 100 or more college sports events a year, mostly for ESPN and Fox. Between now and March, he admits with a laugh, he will sometimes wake up in a hotel room and have to think where he is, and why.

“Few guys are full-time (with a school or network) in what I do; we’re contract employees,” Morgan said. “You sign a contract to work so many games in each sport (of college football, basketball and baseball), and (networks) have the option to add games.

“My schedule is determined by the sports schedule. I work a ton of weekends, but you get used to that.”

Five years ago, Morgan, who estimates he handled nearly 1,000 USC events over 10 years, was briefly in limbo after parting from the Gamecocks. He latched on with the Carolina Panthers doing preseason TV games, and landed college football and basketball gigs for ESPN.

Then in 2010, the Atlanta Braves called with a TV deal for spring training games and 30 Triple-A Gwinnett Braves games. That morphed into an occasional fill-in role on radio, sitting in for another former Columbia radio voice, Jim Powell, alongside analyst and Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, as well as pregame and postgame roles.

“One year after my last South Carolina game, I was with Sutton in Pittsburgh, and it was, ‘Pinch me, I’m dreaming,’ ” Morgan said.

He said he doesn’t aspire to a Powell role, though; “Jim loves one thing: doing (major league) baseball on radio. I love TV and (covering) all three sports,” he said. “You’d never say no to an opportunity to call games for a pro team, but my best scenario is doing what I’m doing now.”

Based in Atlanta, Morgan is, and will continue to be, everywhere. He signed with the SEC Network to do basketball this season – he’s scheduled to call USC-Clemson in December – and also has ACC games for Raycom. This fall, Fox has sent him to football games in the Big 12, Pac-12 and Conference USA in addition to the SEC. In the spring, he’ll cover SEC baseball before resuming his duties with the Braves – which, after Atlanta’s meltdown this summer, seems like a nice break.

Morgan now views his 2009 career change as fortunate, and timely. Iconic figures such as Fulton and Georgia’s Larry Munson, both deceased, are rare in college broadcasting today. “When (Fulton) called games, almost none were on TV and the audience was hanging on every word,” he said. “Now every game is on TV.

“We’re a game culture now, at home or in bars. People want to see the games. And TV has allowed guys like me … to be in our broadcasting primes.”

In 2009, Morgan did his first TV game for ESPN, South Carolina vs. S.C. State, with Brian Griese handling color. In one sense, his two upcoming USC radio broadcasts are almost like coming full circle.

Except nowadays, Morgan’s “circle” is a broadcast merry-go-round that never stops.