Johnny Morriss was a talented athlete and coach who led the University of Houston track & field programs for 21 years as head coach.
As an athlete at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (then Southwestern Louisiana) from 1926-30, Morriss was an All American and two-time National Junior AAU champion in the hurdles. After graduation, he took a job as a high school teacher and assistant principal at Abbeville High (LA) and continued to compete. During the 1932 season, he set the world record in the high hurdles and was selected as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic Team after a fifth-place finish at nationals. In 1933, his final year of competition, Morriss again set the world record in the 120 yard hurdles and won the 110m hurdles at the First World Student Games.
In 1935, Morriss left Abbeville to work as an assistant under legendary coach Bernie Moore at LSU. In 1936, he moved to the University of North Carolina and served as an assistant coach there until 1942, when he left coaching to serve in the Navy during World War II.
After the war, he returned to Louisiana-Lafayette to coach track and cross country for three years, during which time his teams won three Gulf Coast Conference cross country championships. In 1950, he accepted an assistant coaching position at the University of Arkansas. Incredibly, after only two seasons and two consecutive Southwest Conference Cross Country Championships, Morriss’s contract was not renewed. He then took a position as an assistant to Michigan State Athletic Director Ralph Young. In 1955, Morriss made his final coaching stop at the University of Houston, where he would remain until his retirement in 1976.
Morriss took over the Cougar program from fellow USTFCCCA Hall of Famer Jack Patterson and experienced immediate success. Houston had finished as runners-up at the Missouri Valley Conference Championships in outdoor track & field in each of the three years prior to Morriss’s arrival. Morriss’s teams finished as runners-up three more years before winning three straight conference titles. In 1960, the Cougars won the NCAA Cross Country Championship.
Among the notable athletes Morris coached were Olan Cassell, 1964 Olympic Gold Medalist in the 4x400m, and 1972 Olympian Leonard Hilton. During his tenure at Houston, Morriss also served as President of the National Collegiate Track Coaches Association from 1969-70.