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UConn’s legendary soccer coach Joe Morrone passes away at age 79

STORRS, Sept. 17 – The man who made soccer a big time event here in the Nutmeg State – at least on the collegiate level – has died. Joe Morrone, the Hall of Fame coach for the University of Connecticut’s men’s soccer team, died on Wednesday, a few days shy of turning 80. 

Morrone led the Huskies to the 1981 NCAA national championship. He was an athletic and academic leader within the UConn community for 45 years, starting his tenure in July of 1969 when he was named head coach of UConn men’s soccer. Morrone remained in that role for 28 years (1969-1996) and established a nationally-elite collegiate program.

Morrone’s impact on the sport of soccer—at UConn and around the world—has been vividly documented. Morrone was inducted into the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Hall of Fame in 2002 and he was a member of the inaugural class of inductees in the Connecticut Soccer Hall of Fame in 1999.

“The legacy of Coach Joe Morrone is more than the University of Connecticut,” current UConn coach Ray Reid said. “Coach Morrone was a forefather in all of college soccer nationally. He built Morrone Stadium practically with his bare hands. He was the first coach to do inter-regional travel. He was one of the first coaches to actively recruit and also have a fundraising organization (Friends of Soccer). Coach Morrone laid the blueprint not only for soccer at UConn but as importantly for college soccer in the entire country.

“Coach Morrone is the godfather of UConn men’s soccer. We love him and we are respectful of all he accomplished,” Reid said. “I know that what I have today in large part comes from 28 years of Coach Morrone’s labor here and we’ve been able to build on his legacy and continue his outstanding tradition of excellence with student-athletes both in the classroom and on the field.”

“He was truly ahead of his time,” said Erhardt Kapp, a two-time All-American under Morrone in 1979 and 1980 and who played on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team.From an organizational standpoint, Coach Morrone was so ahead of everybody else. Scouting—before we played any game we knew what set plays our opponents used, what formations they used, who their best players were…this was the 1970s and other coaches didn’t start following his techniques well into the 1980s and 1990s. His formations were unique and his in-game moves were unique…like pulling the goalie late in a game…that was unheard of but not for Coach Morrone.”

Other prestigious awards bestowed on Morrone included: the Bill Jeffrey Award from the Intercollegiate Soccer Association of America in 1991; recognition from Soccer America as one of the “20 most influential persons in soccer” in 1991; lifetime membership in the Connecticut Junior Soccer Association, which Morrone founded in 1972; and a Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance “Gold Key” in 1988.

In a crowning achievement to his 39-year highly successful collegiate coaching career, Morrone was named recipient of the 1995-96 National Soccer Coaches Association of America Honor Award, which is presented annually to the individual whose contribution to the sport of soccer have distinguished that recipient to rank among the top names in American soccer circles and is the highest honor bestowed by the NSCAA. 

Morrone retired from the coaching ranks in 1996 as one of only four collegiate head coaches to record at least 400-career victories as his overall 39-year record stands at 422-199-64. At UConn, Morrone compiled a 28-year overall record of 358-178-53. He led his Huskies to the NCAA national semifinals in three consecutive seasons—winning the 1981 NCAA national championship and earning a berth in the NCAA semifinals in 1982 and 1983.

The 1981 UConn men’s soccer team reached the pinnacle in collegiate soccer, defeating Alabama A&M 2-1 in overtime to win the national championship and finish the year ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Under Morrone’s guidance, UConn earned 16 NCAA Tournament berths and during Morrone’s last 19 years at UConn, his teams sported 16 winning seasons and averaged 13.8 wins per season.  

Morrone led the Huskies to three Big East tournament championships (1983, 1984 and 1989).  His teams claimed the Sampson Trophy nine times, emblematic of the New England Intercollegiate Soccer League’s top-ranked squad.  Honored four times as the New England Coach of the Year (1974, 1976, 1980, 1981) he was also selected as the Big East Coach of the Year in 1985 and 1988.

After retiring as head coach of UConn, Morrone launched a distinguished second career at Connecticut—as a tenured associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology where he served as Coordinator of the “Coaching and Administration” concentration, the Lifetime Sports Program and serving as the Chairperson for Admissions to the Kinesiology Department. He formally retired from his academic post within Kinesiology in the summer of 2014.

Morrone began his 39-year collegiate coaching career at Middlebury (Vt.) College in 1958. His 11-year (1958-68) record at Middlebury was 64-21-11. Included in that success was a New England championship and two NCAA Tournament appearances.  Morrone’s Middlebury teams enjoyed a 10-year stretch without losing two regular season games in a row. 

In addition to his Hall of Fame coaching credentials, Morrone created a unique atmosphere within the UConn men’s soccer program. In the 1970s he formed the “Friends of Soccer” organization at Connecticut and through the years his “Friends of Soccer” support group raised more than $2 million in support of the soccer program and members helped build the UConn soccer facility in Storrs.

In April of 1997, following the completion of his highly successful head coaching career, the UConn Board of Trustees approved the naming of the Connecticut Soccer Stadium in Storrs as the Joseph J. Morrone Stadium.  The naming of the stadium recognizes the significant contributions that Morrone made to the growth of soccer on all levels, but most specifically at UConn.

A 1958 graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Morrone was selected as that school’s Outstanding Senior Athlete after starring in soccer, ice hockey and lacrosse.  In soccer, he was an All-New England selection, MVP and team captain.  He added a master’s degree from Worcester State College in 1963.  Morrone also served in the U.S. National Guard and will be buried with military honors. Morrone was pre-deceased by his wife Elizabeth Ann “Betty” Morrone, who passed away Nov. 30, 2007.

Born October 20, 1935, Morrone is survived by a daughter and two sons: Melissa Taintor and her husband Rob of Storrs and their three children; Joe Morrone and his wife Ellen of Tolland and their two children, and Bill Morrone and his wife Jeanne of Brooklyn, Conn. and their four children. Coach Morrone was the proud grandfather to nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren. 

All three of Morrone’s children were outstanding student-athletes at the UConn, each earning All-American status during their respective college careers.

Joseph M Morrone (known as “Joe Jr.) was a three-time soccer All-American at UConn (1978-80) and was honored as the recipient of the Hermann Trophy in 1980, symbolic of the nation’s top collegiate soccer star.

Bill Morrone, a member of UConn’s 1981 national championship team, was a 1982 All-American, and Melissa (Morrone) Taintor was a women’s soccer All-American at UConn in 1983.

Calling hours for Coach Morrone will take place the Tolland Memorial Funeral Home on 375 Merrow Road in Tolland, Conn., on Thursday, Sept. 24 and Friday, Sept. 25 from 4 to 8 p.m. each night. A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26 at St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel on the UConn campus at 46 North Eagleville Road.

To honor Coach Morrone, his family has requested donations be made in his memory to the “Joseph J. and Elizabeth A. Morrone Endowed Soccer Scholarship” using this site. The Joseph J. and Elizabeth A. Morrone Endowed Soccer Scholarship supports scholarships for UConn men’s soccer student-athletes.

 

Since 2009, the Collinsville Press has been providing award-winning coverage of sports and news in the Farmington Valley and across Connecticut.

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