Why former BYU assistant Morgan Bailey is trading blue for Utah red

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PROVO — Morgan Bailey had no interest in leaving her job as an assistant women's basketball coach at BYU, and for good reason.

The former West Coast Conference Player of the Year and Associated Press All-America honorable mention for the Cougars who had been an assistant since Amber Whiting arrived two years ago was more than happy with her role on the staff, working with the Cougars' post players, in recruiting, and using her degree in exercise, wellness and nutrition in her spare time.

But when one of her friends Jordan Sullivan, an assistant at Utah who played professionally with Bailey, called her last week and said the Utes might have a forthcoming opening on staff, she gave the cordial reply.

"It would be really, really hard for me to leave BYU," she said, "but you guys can try."

By Wednesday, the former Timpanogos High star who had only known one side of the in-state rivalry series was being introduced as Lynne Roberts' newest assistant coach, after Jerise Freeman took the same position at Oregon ahead of the Utes' first season in the Big 12.

So what happened in the week or so since? To quote Bailey, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

"I want to be a head coach; it's not a secret. Everyone knows that," Bailey told KSL.com during an interview on ESPN radio in Utah County. "What Lynne Roberts has done at Utah, when they weren't doing well for her first couple of years, she said, 'I've got to make a change or I'm out of a job.'

"I've heard that she went to some coaches in the Pac-12 and asked them to ask why they were easy to guard. She took some lickings of people being blatantly honest with her, and she made a change. So I've been watching them since. … They started to recruit differently, and they have this philosophy engrained into their system and their players that I can learn from. Selfishly, I thought it would be great for me to be with this established program with a coach who has gone through things. I thought it was a great opportunity to learn from her and the support staff."

BYU assistant coach Morgan Bailey during practice at the Big 12 women's basketball tournament, March 8, 2024 in Kansas City, Mo.
BYU assistant coach Morgan Bailey during practice at the Big 12 women's basketball tournament, March 8, 2024 in Kansas City, Mo. (Photo: Aaron Cornia, BYU Photo)

Since graduating from BYU in 2015 and playing professionally for a couple of years, Bailey has been a fast riser across the Beehive State in the coaching realm.

She started her career with a year at Snow College, and after a season at Southern Utah moved to Dan Nielson's staff at Utah Valley.

In three seasons in Orem, Bailey coached eight All-Western Athletic Conference selections, two All-WAC defensive picks, an All-WAC newcomer award winner, and mentored former UVU post Josie Williams to back-to-back all-league honors in 2021-22.

That caught the attention of Whiting, who brought Bailey back to her alma mater when the BYU grad was named the successor to Bailey's coach Jeff Judkins in 2022.

But for as much as Bailey learned prior to her time in Provo, she gave credit to Whiting for fast-tracking her development as a coach while she helped develop one of the best post players in BYU history in Lauren Gustin.

"With every step I've taken, I feel like I've learned so much. I think there's value at staying at a program forever and then stepping in and not skipping a beat; Lisa Fortier comes to mind at Gonzaga," Bailey said. "But I think there's also value in learning different coaching styles, and that's the approach I've taken.

"I'm very grateful for the coaches that trusted me and I learned from. I'm overly appreciative of Amber Whiting, for trusting me completely and fully, for giving me a voice and trusting me as a recruiting coordinator, as a defensive coach, as a posts coach. I had a big plate that was full, but it made me better. I'm super appreciative of her, of Dan, of everyone I've been that has bought into me as a person and as a coach — and I hope the girls I coached know that I care about them more than anything. I hope they will chase their dreams, just like I am."

But while Bailey chases her dreams of being a head coach and guiding her own program, of finding her own voice in the crowded coaching world, one thing has bothered her about her new position, she admitted in a moment of candor.

She's a bit of a Sneaker Head, particularly with Nike — and Utah is an Under Armour school.

"Putting on Under Armours, that's hard," she said with a laugh. "I also don't have anything red in my closet — and on top of that, I joked with Lynne if there were any talks about the team gettin the Swoosh.

"But it's the price you've got to pay. I'll wear it, and I'll wear it with a smile."


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