Bret Bielema saw something in both Drew and Grant Morgan. Partly because of him, the Greenwood natives etched their names in Arkansas football lore despite looking like longshots when they stepped on campus.
Now, Bielema and Grant Morgan will be reunited in Champaign, Ill., as Bielema, now the Illinois football head coach, announced last week he’d added the younger Morgan as a defensive graduate assistant.
Arkansas fans don’t remember Bielema’s 29-34 tenure too fondly, and it was disappointing considering Bielema came to Arkansas as an elite Big Ten head coach, but the Morgan boys are two bright spots credited to Bielema.
The Morgan Brothers
Drew Morgan had been committed to Arkansas State before Bielema took the job. The new Hogs head man reevaluated all of the in-state prospects and began offering a few that hadn’t been offered by interim head coach John L. Smith.
Drew Morgan, who has been an assistant coach at Elkins High School since 2021, jumped at the chance to play just up the road for the Razorbacks. The move paid off for both parties, as he ended up starting 49 games for the Hogs and finished his career tied for eighth in receptions in school history, plus ranked 16th in receiving yards. He is ranked No. 4 and No. 5 on the UA single-season reception chart.
While older brother was making a name for himself on The Hill, it gave Bielema a chance to get to know Grant a little better. He was a star player in his own right for the Bulldogs.
After beginning his tenure as a walk-on under Bielema, he ended it as an All-American under current Hogs coach Sam Pittman. His final two years were among the better performances for a linebacker in Arkansas history. He started 22 games over those two seasons and was a captain in 2020 and 2021.
He recorded 111 tackles during the pandemic-altered season of 2020 and in his final campaign racked up 101 tackles while leading the Hogs to an Outback Bowl win over Penn State. He also won the Brandon Burlsworth Trophy, named after the late Razorback lineman Brandon Burlsworth from Harrison and given to college football’s top walk-on, and was named first-team All-SEC and a second-team Walter Camp All-American.
He signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2022, but was cut from the practice squad in September.
It is no surprise Grant Morgan, who left Arkansas with an undergraduate and master’s degree, is entering the coaching profession nor is it a shock he is working for Bielema.
Grant Morgan and Bret Bielema
While Grant Morgan played with a severe elbow injury, it was clear football was important to him. A sharp, well-spoken team leader, he was a coach on the field for the defense his final two seasons. Those players often turn out to be the best coaches. Drew, who had the same gritty toughness and leadership characteristics, took a similar road with a brief NFL career and then high school assistant coaching with stops at Fayetteville, a small school in Oklahoma and now entering his third season at Elkins.
It was obvious that Grant Morgan developed a strong bond with Pittman as the first-time head coach tried to lay the foundation to rebuild the program after it plummeted following the firing of Bielema and the two-year disastrous tenure of Chad Morris. The underdog linebacker was exactly the type of player Pittman needed to lead the renaissance, and he didn’t disappoint. It became clear Pittman appreciated the effort in all aspects.
But, it’s hard to beat the bond the Morgans have had with Bielema that now dates back over a decade. Grant Morgan had a front-row seat to the program while his older brother played, and he didn’t hesitate to walk on. Pittman allowed him to shine, but Bielema gave him that first chance, bringing him in when other coaches wouldn’t.
Meanwhile, the Ilinois football program appears to be on the upswing after finishing 8-5 last season – Bielema’s second in Champaign. Last season also marked former Arkansas quarterback and Razorback assistant Barry Lunney Jr.’s first season as the Illini offensive coordinator. It seems like an Arkansas to Illinois football pipeline opening up, and Lunney Jr. wants to expand it. Consider Darren McFadden’s son, Diesel McFadden, currently high school football player, recently announced he will visit Illinois on a recruiting trip. The running back and linebacker still has three years until he graduates from William Taft High School in Chicago in 2026.
Given the Razorback ties at play, there appear to be plenty of positives to Grant Morgan starting his college coaching career at Illinois.
However, making your way in the college coaching ranks is all about opportunity. As the 25-year-old seeks his first full-time job, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him return to Arkansas some day.
But, just like during his playing days, it is Bielema who is offering the opportunity.
Below is coverage of Arkansas football, starting with a former Illinois football recruiting target: