There's no question Arkansas had to fire Chad Morris, but now a bigger question looms
Somewhere in the midst of watching his program get bullied by San Jose State and watching former Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey light up Chad Morris’ squad, Hunter Yurachek had a difficult, but obvious question to answer.
How deep of a hole was Arkansas in?
Was it a hole that Morris could climb out of? Or was he slipping further into the ever-deep SEC West basement?
On Sunday, Yurachek answered that question in clear and decisive fashion — Morris was digging that hole deeper, and he wasn’t going to climb out of it. That’s why the Hogs were willing to eat a buyout estimated to be north of $10 million in order for Morris to go away.
It’s a rarity at a place like Arkansas to see a coach not even get 2 full seasons. That’s how bad Morris’ tenure was.
If you need a comparison, try this one on for size.
Yurachek was essentially like the person who bought a plot of land where a complete gut job of a house stood. Yurachek put his faith in Morris that he’d be able to not only demolish the house, but also build one that wasn’t a total eyesore for the rest of the neighborhood. Morris accomplished the first task of demolishing the house (AKA overturning the roster), but instead of building a respectable house, he built one that was even uglier and more embarrassing than the first one. The wood was somehow rotting already, the roof had leaks and every room was somehow painted a their own unique hideous color.
In other words, it’s another complete gut job.
And yes, while Morris did miraculously sign a respectable recruiting class last cycle, one can’t assume that all of those players will stay on board for his replacement. Some will stay, sure. But in terms of roster depletion, it’s hard to imagine Arkansas takes anything but another step back.
The next hire likely won’t be named until December, and even if it’s somehow a splashy one, they’ll have a few short weeks to sell the program that lost to 4 Group of 5 teams and didn’t win an SEC game in the last 2 seasons.
In the midst of these embarrassing losses — each one seemingly worse than the next — Arkansas fans had to wonder about what rock bottom looked like. I’d say rock bottom was Storey’s performance on Saturday. After all, he never looked like that against an SEC team with Arkansas.
He was one of 6 quarterbacks who started during the 22 games of the Morris era. That’s a stunning stat for a team with an offensive-minded head coach. Clearly, Morris didn’t develop quarterbacks like he was hired to do. Perhaps most telling was the fact that the quarterback who he developed at SMU, Ben Hicks, was benched on what felt like a bi-weekly basis.
The issue with the Morris era was the failure at that position. The guy who was credited with bringing Deshaun Watson to Clemson will probably say that he wasn’t given enough time to develop the next Watson at Arkansas. The problem is you cannot be that inept in a 22-game stretch and sell a future.
Obviously it’s too early to know what the ever-changing Arkansas quarterback room will look like until the new hire is in place. If Arkansas hires another up-and-coming Group of 5 offensive mind, I’d say it’s anybody’s guess. Someone like Memphis’ Mike Norvell would be attractive for Arkansas, but who knows if he’d leave a potential New Year’s 6 Bowl team to go rebuild the twice-gutted Arkansas program.
If Yurachek and Co. decide to do a complete 180 and hire a coach to run the triple option, Arkansas would be looking at another total roster overhaul. The speed guys who Morris recruited like Trey Knox and Treylon Burks certainly wouldn’t have a reason to stay to play in that system.
Would a move like that be risky? Absolutely, but consider where Arkansas is coming from.
The program stole Bret Bielema from Wisconsin in hopes that he’d follow the same model and the Hogs would push people around in the trenches. That proved to be too tall a task in a division with vastly superior talent. They then turned the keys to Morris in hopes he was going to be able to out-scheme SEC West powers like Alabama. Auburn and LSU with an up-tempo, spread-it-out offense much like Ole Miss did with Hugh Freeze.
It’d be a tough sell if the next coach had that type of vision. Those failures are too fresh. Get a coach who repeats either of those same basic principles and you risk alienating a fanbase that’s tired of being the laughing stock of the SEC.
Everything about this move is risky when you consider Morris is set to make 8 figures not to work. Yurachek didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter. There was too much money at stake. A $160 million stadium renovation can’t be followed by sprinkled attendance for blowout losses to Group of 5 teams. The team had its two lowest-attended games since 2001 (via the Washington Post).
The good news for the next head coach? The bar is lower than ever. Instead of raising it, Morris dropped it to lows that the Bielema era never experienced. There’s no way Morris’ successor can dig an even deeper hole, right?
The climb is officially underway. There’s no telling how long it’ll take.
But it’ was the right call to start that climb on Sunday and not 2 years from Sunday.