McMinn Central girls' basketball coach Johnny Morgan spent 33 seasons chasing that elusive state championship until finally capturing the Class AA title last March in Murfreesboro and bringing the gold trophy home to Englewood. Adding to the agony, the Chargerettes had played in state finals in 1997, 2004 and 2010, only to come up short.
As athletic director Doug Armstrong noted, the 2011 championship was a prize that symbolized a lot of hard work over a period of many years by coaches, boosters and players - among them, his daughter Hailey. And to hear those close to him tell it, Morgan hasn't changed one bit. Apparently neither has his assistant, Joe Young.
"He's the same old Coach Morgan," said returning forward Elizabeth Masengil, whose 21 points led the Chargerettes in the final. "So is Coach Young. They're both still pushing us and yelling at us in practice every day. Things haven't changed."
Armstrong is in his 12th season as boys' basketball coach and has guided the Chargers to three state-tournament appearances.
"He's still the same Johnny Morgan," Armstrong said. "If I'd have won that thing, and we hope we'd all be humble, I'd have been hard to live with for at least a few weeks."
Someone who does live with Morgan is Rebecca "Wheatie" Morgan, an instructional coach to teachers in the McMinn County school system and the coach's wife of 27 years.
"It hasn't changed him. He would be able to live without it, because he lived without it before," she said of the championship.
Coach Morgan admitted to being satisfied by the 48-37 title-game victory over Macon County, but then again ...
"I enjoy every win," he said. "I don't have but one goal, and that's to win every game."
That quest for him as a head coach began in the 1978-79 season - the last for six-on-six basketball for girls in Tennessee.
Last year only a 64-55 loss to the host school in the Cannon County Classic on Nov. 26 prevented an unbeaten season. Those teams met again in a state semifinal with the Chargerettes winning 52-41.
"He'll sit and watch film of a team we'd beaten by 50," his wife said. "He's constantly preparing for the next game, regardless of who the opponent is. He wouldn't take the floor unless he thinks he's going to win. He loves the game, loves the sport, and I think he loves preparing as much as anything."
Since the championship, Morgan has attended a few celebrations observing the team's accomplishment. He's also been inducted into the TSSAA Hall of Fame since then.
In his 36th season overall in the coaching profession, Morgan said he still has the desire to keep going for now. And although there will be no undefeated season this time, either, contending to win the next game - Tuesday at Bledsoe County - is his only real focus.
"As competitive as he is on the floor, he's so low-key and easy going away from it," Mrs. Morgan said. "It's like daylight and dark. He's extremely calm when he's home, but I know I'd hate to compete against him."