‘He’s going to take my job one day’: How assistants Morrison, Papio’s careers led to new roles at Maryland

Head coach Rob Vaughn was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for Father’s Day visiting his parents with his son last summer. The weekend trip, which took place just weeks after Maryland’s season ended in early June, had been in the plans for four months and was during a recruiting dead period. 

Roughly 10 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach is Coastal Carolina University’s campus. Vaughn, with an assistant coach opening on his staff after losing Corey Muscara to Wake Forest after the 2020 season and never replacing him, had an eye on Coastal Carolina assistant Mike Morrison to potentially fill the void. 

After talking to Coastal Carolina head coach Gary Gilmore and getting the go-ahead, Vaughn arranged a meeting with Morrison at a local Starbucks. What was meant to be a quick meeting over a cup of coffee turned into nearly an all-day event. 

“I sat down to grab coffee with him, which is what I thought was going to be, you know, 30 or 40 minutes to get to know him,” Vaughn said. “We were there for almost four hours.” 

Vaughn and Morrison connected instantly. Immediately, Vaughn knew Morrison was who the Terps had been missing. 

“In that moment it was very clear,” he said. “I walked out of Starbucks in Myrtle Beach and knew that was our guy.” 

Morrison is a Coastal Carolina lifer. So much so that Vaughn worried if meeting with him would be a waste of time, assuming he’d never want to leave Myrtle Beach. 

A Gilbert, South Carolina native, Morrison walked onto the Chanticleers as a pitcher in 2013. He only made 12 appearances, all out of the bullpen, as a freshman but shined in the limited role. His earned run average of 2.31 was third lowest on the team. 

His opportunity steadily rose over the course of his four year career. By his senior season in 2016, Morrison logged over 70 innings on the mound. 

After a 40-14 regular season, including a 21-3 record in conference play, Coastal Carolina won the Big South Conference championship to earn a trip to the NCAA Regionals. After making quick work of the competition at their Regional site and LSU in their Super Regional, the Chanticleers advanced to their first ever College World Series. 

Facing Arizona in the College World Series Finals, Morrison started Game Two, a must-win for Coastal Carolina after falling in Game One of the best-of-three series. He lasted 6.2 innings on the mound, allowed just two earned runs and was credited with the win in their 5-4 victory over the Wildcats to set up a winner-take-all Game Three. 

Coastal Carolina held on to win the deciding game 4-3 after leading by as much as 4-0 in the sixth inning. Morrison was among the first out of the dugout to join the celebratory dogpile that quickly covered the pitcher’s mound. 

“Mike Morrison is 100 percent the right person,” Vaughn said. “He knows what it takes to win at the highest level. It’s been confirmed a thousand times over that I got the right guy.”

Morrison returned to Coastal Carolina for the 2020 season as a student manager, the role he also held in 2021. That’s when another new Maryland assistant discovered him and suggested to Vaughn he was worth a look. 

“I’ve worked with this guy, Mike Morrison, at camps,” Anthony Papio told Vaughn. “He’s our kind of dude. He’s been at Coastal. He’s a career Coastal guy. I don’t know if he would even be interested, but you should get on the phone and talk to him.” 

Much like Morrison to Coastal Carolina, Papio is a Maryland lifer. As a player from 2012 to 2016, the Terps enjoyed their best stretch in program history with Papio on the team. Over his five seasons, Maryland went to two straight Super Regional tournaments including a defeat of No.1 overall seed UCLA in the 2015 Los Angeles regional. 

He ended his playing career as the program’s all-time leader in games played and is the winningest player in school history. 

“He loves this place,” Vaughn said. “You cut him open and that Maryland flag is coming out of his veins.” 

Papio has been Vaughn’s right-hand man through the entirety of his Maryland tenure. His redshirt freshman season was when Vaughn was hired as an assistant, and the two have risen through the ranks together. 

“He’s been with me every step of the way,” Vaughn said. “To see him go from walk-on player to scholarship player to team captain to volunteer – that guy could do anything he wants to do. He’s doing this because he believes in this place. He believes in what we can do and how we can impact the lives of these young people.” 

As a volunteer in recent years, Papio was the first base coach, worked with outfielders and helped Vaughn coach hitting. After his promotion to a full-time assistant this offseason, he now works mostly with pitchers alongside Morrison. 

When looking at the effect the two new assistants have had on players over the winter and early spring, they rave about the coaches’ experience and history of winning. 

“Mo’s been awesome,” senior relief pitcher Sean Heine said of Morrison. “He stepped in and really proved his professional experience. He’s a national champion so he knows what he’s talking about. Anytime you have a guy who’s pitched in the World Series and won a national championship, you just have to soak it in and listen.”

“Pap’s been a really big influence to me since I’ve been here as a freshman,” senior outfielder Chris Alleyne said. “He’s driven me to be better every day so to see him finally get that assistant coach job is awesome. We’re really happy for him.”

Maryland players haven’t held back on praise for the two new full-time assistants, and neither has their new boss.  

“It was a no-brainer for me,” Vaughn said. “He deserved it. Thrilled that I was the one that was able to give him that first job. I would have been a moron to let that guy leave. He’s going to take my job one day.”