Jonathan Morgan
Jonathan Morgan

The van was an oven of sorts, with no air conditioning, closed windows and the dead, sweltering heat of summer. It was parked on the side of the road for days.

Inside were binoculars, radios and a man stalking his prey from across the street.

The man spent four years in college learning how to piece together evidence and training for what he thought was his dream job.

That man’s life used to be filled with sweaty jerseys, screaming fans and soccer cleats. That is, until Jonathan Morgan became a private investigator.

“That was my world for six months and I hated it,” the first-year Terrapins women’s soccer coach said.

Morgan left his van, radios and binoculars behind and looked for something else. Anything else.

Morgan, a recent college graduate, turned to his alma mater for a new position. He was offered an assistant coaching job with the Rowan College men’s soccer program, a team on which he was a four-year starter. But it was a profession he wasn’t completely sure he wanted to pursue.

“It was another opportunity to stay around the team and be a part of it,” Morgan said. “I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to coach but it was an opportunity.”

Seventeen years later, the 39-year-old Delaware native is the head coach of the Terps — a program that is undefeated in conference play, at the top of the ACC standings and having the best league start since 1997.

The first time the Terps started ACC competition with two victories, Morgan was just two years out of college. Russ Farr, his roommate in New Jersey, had talked him into leaving his Rowan assistant position to coach club soccer. For eight years, he worked with children between the ages of 3 and 18, teaching basic soccer skills.

“I encouraged Jon to give up what he was doing at the time to see if we could make this coaching thing work,” said Farr, a youth soccer coach who had Morgan as his best man in his wedding. “He always credits me with getting him out of the investigative work and getting him back into soccer, which he loved.”

Farr’s suggestion has led Morgan down a winding path to College Park. But to get there, Morgan and his roommate had to first start a soccer training company together. The New Jersey business gave the pair access to star athletes and opened doors to higher positions.

“That’s where my coaching career really kicked off,” Morgan said. “I worked with some high level and national players. It was really great exposure.”

That exposure led Morgan to Glenn Crooks, the Rutgers women’s soccer coach. Crooks offered him a position as a volunteer assistant for the Scarlet Knights.

Through his work with Crooks and the exposure from his training business, Morgan was invited to coach a summer camp at Ohio State. When a position opened on the Buckeyes’ women’s soccer staff, coach Lori Walker figured Morgan was an ideal fit. Morgan accepted a position as Walker’s second assistant.

“My world was just youth soccer and a few years later I was coaching at one of the biggest universities,” Morgan said. “At that point, I was pretty much committed to college soccer.”

Morgan slowly developed a friendship with then-Terps coach Brian Pensky through the college coaching circuit, and Pensky entrusted him with scouting and judging the New Jersey girls he had trained years before. In 2006, Pensky made an offer Morgan couldn’t refuse.

“I grew up in Delaware, so when an opportunity opened up at Maryland, and Brian asked if I wanted to come back home, I said ‘yes,’” Morgan said. “Maryland was a place I visited a lot in my adolescence. It was close to home, and it was in the ACC. I was like, ‘Absolutely.’”

Morgan spent five years as a first assistant in College Park, where he created training sessions and handled scouting reports. The pair led the Terps to three straight NCAA tournament appearances before Pensky left for the same position at Tennessee in January.

But Pensky didn’t want to go alone.

“I was interested in Jon coming with me to Tennessee,” Pensky said. “We had a good understanding of each other and what our strengths and weaknesses were, and we were a great team. But Jon pretty quickly made it clear to me that his first choice was to go for the Maryland job and to be the head coach.”

After spending 17 years as a trainer and assistant, Morgan was ready to run his own college program. He applied for the Terps’ head coaching position — a stressful and daunting task for a man who hadn’t applied for a job since 1996. He spruced up his resume, crafted a cover letter and prepared for an interview with the athletic department.

Morgan beat out two former college coaches to get the job.

“For him to get a job in the ACC in an area he loves living in, it was a dream come true,” Farr said. “If you could line up all the jobs in the county, he would of picked that.”

Morgan has led the Terps to a 6-2-1 record this season — a run that included a win over then-No. 12 North Carolina.

“I think honestly having Jon take over after Brian has been the best thing for us,” defender Megan Gibbons said. “He knew exactly how the program was run.”

The practices and daily approach haven’t changed much, either. The biggest difference? Morgan is a stickler for flawlessness.

“He’s an absolute perfectionist,” midfielder Olivia Wagner said. “But I think everyone knows it’s going to make us better, so we can see the light at the end. Brian was a great coach and I loved him, but Jon asks so much of us and it’s made everyone tune in and hone in their skills.”

Honing those skills could be the only thing separating the Terps from their competition tonight, though, when they face ACC-rival Duke in Durham, N.C., in an attempt to extend their winning streak to three games.

“You never want to lose to Duke, so it’s going to be a big game,” Morgan said. “We need to go in there excited to play and ready to take it to Duke.”

Win or lose, though, Morgan has no regrets. From a sweaty van to a sweaty locker room, the man who was once miserable prowling for classified evidence is now living out a dream he never could’ve imagined.

“I loved the youth soccer, I still do today,” Morgan said. “But being in a college environment is one of the coolest things anybody can do. This is my passion.”