It's worth noting the rich irony of Chad Morris' coaching stops
Call me crazy, but I’m starting to have some serious doubts about Chad Morris being the guy at Arkansas.
That’s a natural reaction to have after watching a Year 2 coach suffer a loss to a Mountain West team that won a lone game last year. Morris is obviously still searching for that first SEC win, and in a “rivalry” neutral-site game against unranked Texas A&M this weekend, the Hogs are 3-touchdown underdogs.
I can’t blame the oddsmakers. It’s understandable considering how putrid Arkansas’ performance at home in a cupcake matchup was. It’s even more understandable considering that since Morris has been a head coach — that dates to his first year at SMU in 2015 — he’s 0-14 against Power 5 teams. Granted, 8 of those came last year when he inherited a roster in complete rebuild mode.
Based on, oh, I don’t know, losing to San Jose State (?!), I’m going to say the rebuild is far from complete. Search the words “Bielema” on Twitter on Saturday night and well, let’s just say Arkansas fans are confident that the ex-Razorbacks coach could easily have had a few more wins than Morris so far.
Meanwhile, the program that Morris helped build up, SMU, is 4-0 coming off a win at No. 25 TCU. Despite the fact that SMU only won 5 games in the first year of the post-Morris era, it’s easy to wonder if the program is now better than it was at any point while Morris was there.
I can’t help but wonder if we’re going to be saying the same thing about Arkansas in a few years. And if so, what does that say about Morris?
To be clear, I’m not predicting that Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek is going to pull the plug on the Morris era after 2019. But even he admitted that Saturday’s loss was deflating after feeling like the program turned the corner against Colorado State the previous week.
(What a sentence that is.)
“(San Jose State) shouldn’t come into Fayetteville and beat the Arkansas Razorbacks in their home football stadium,” he said on 103.7 The Buzz. “It was a disappointing loss, disappointing performance from our coaching staff, to our players on down — everyone associated with our program. Coach Morris has taken ownership of that, for sure. He did that right after the game.”
He’s not wrong. Morris owned the loss. In his defense, he usually says all the right things. I’ll agree to disagree with him on his treatment of Ben Hicks and how he didn’t come out earlier in support of Nick Starkel, but that’s a different discussion for a different time. Morris’ attitude and demeanor are why he’s been able to win over fans and recruits.
Speaking of that, Morris was praised this offseason for signing the nation’s No. 23 recruiting class. As the coach of a 2-10 team who failed to win an SEC game, he signed a higher-rated class than:
- Oklahoma State
In total, Morris signed a higher-rated class than 42 Power 5 programs in 2019. That’s wild. That’s the type of stuff that doesn’t just get local fans excited, but it makes national media turn around and go “wow, that guy can sell ice to an Eskimo.”
Nobody is denying that ability with Morris. You can bet that’ll be a sell to Yurachek as to why he needs time at Arkansas. He’s in position to sign another top 25 class. You know, assuming things don’t go horribly, horribly wrong in 2019.
What would be “horribly, horribly wrong?” I’d say repeating last year’s dud of 0-8 in conference play with a -181 scoring margin would fit that description. Yeah, the roster is young, but it’s still an offense with a quarterback who has an entire year of SEC starting experience, with one of the conference’s better returning tailbacks in Rakeem Boyd. And while it isn’t his area of expertise, the defense returned plenty of experience in the front 7.
There’s a reason Arkansas fans were hopeful for 6 wins. Now, they’re just hoping that Ty Storey doesn’t lead Western Kentucky to a revenge victory on Nov. 9.
Speaking of former programs, Morris obviously left Clemson in 2014. In the 4 years after that, they didn’t miss a Playoff, they went to 3 national championships and won 2 of them. No, I’m not suggesting that Clemson won because Morris left for SMU. I’m definitely not saying that.
But his career followed this strange, ironic path wherein he spends a few years at a school, leaves and they reach new heights.
Remember, SMU is coming off a win against TCU, which is significant because Morris never beat a Power 5 team during his 3 years there (or in his 9 opportunities at Arkansas so far).
When Morris arrived in Fayetteville in December 2017, he said that because of what he helped build at Clemson, he had the blueprint for a national championship. Of course, that was from his perspective as an offensive coordinator working alongside Dabo Swinney. Morris also said that he told Arkansas players “If you give me a chance, I won’t let you down.”
Arkansas isn’t SMU, and surely, Morris is learning that the hard way. When you shuffle quarterbacks like playing cards in Year 1 and you lose to San Jose State in Year 2, you make people question if you really do have the championship blueprint. Or rather, if you know how to make that vision a reality.
There’s a world in which Yurachek’s patience runs out in the next couple of years and someone steps in only to reap the benefits of Morris’ recruiting success. Some will say Morris wasn’t given time. Others will say he was someone who could establish a foundation via recruiting and selling the program, though when push came to shove, he was never going to be the guy to get it done.
Call me crazy, but I’m starting to see the blueprint for the latter scenario clearer and clearer.