FAYETTEVILLE - What happened at Clemson can happen at Arkansas, Chad Morris said.
In fact, the new Arkansas Razorbacks coach banks on it happening.
Officially hired Wednesday to succeed Bret Bielema as Arkansas’ head coach after the 2017 Razorbacks floundered 4-8, Morris at Thursday’s Arkansas introductory press conference recalled coach Dabo Swinney’s 2010 Clemson Tigers had only gone 6-7 but were building when Morris joined them as offensive coordinator in 2011.
Clemson went 10-4, 11-3, 11-3 and 10-3 during Morris’ tenure and still are going strong. DeShaun Watson, the quarterback that Morris recruited, led Clemson to successive 14-1 seasons and a national runner-up and national championship for 2015 and 2016 and even with Watson in the NFL, the current Tigers rank No. 1 and are in the Sugar Bowl as part of the four-team College Football Playoffs.
Clemson had the tradition and fan base to do it and so does Arkansas, Morris said, citing the Razorbacks tradition that includes 42 bowl games, 13 conference championships, Morris said, crowned by the 1964 national championship achieved under the late Hall of Fame coach Frank Broyles.
"Clemson came off a 6-7 season and had just gotten beat by South Florida in a bowl game," Morris said. "So coming in and seeing the similarities to seven years ago and building that program and where the University of Arkansas is right now, the similarities are really scary as you look at it and how we can build this thing."
First coaching college as the offensive coordinator for 10-3 Tulsa team in 2010, Morris as a first-time college head coach in 2015 at SMU inherited a Mustangs team that in 2014 went 1-11 and offensively ranked 128th among the nation’ 128 teams playing Division 1 football. They only improved to 2-10 in 2015 but after a 5-7 2016 blossomed this season to 7-5, ranking eighth nationally offensively averaging more than 40 points per game and headed for the Frisco Bowl to play Louisiana Tech.
Hunter Yurachek, Arkansas’ just this week hired athletic director final approving the Morris coaching hire made by interim athletic director Julie Cromer Peoples, was Arkansas hired from the University of Houston whose football team annually plays SMU in the American Athletic Conference. On Thursday Yurachek firsthand described the disparity between SMU’s 2014 team before Morris and the 2017 Mustangs with him.
"We competed against the 7-5 SMU team this year and I can tell you there was a huge difference in those two programs under his leadership," Yurachek said. "When I heard (from chancellor Joe Steinmetz and Cromer Peoples as he was taking the Arkansas AD job) that we were on track to hire Chad Morris, I was excited and I was on board from the start."
Morris is renowned for his innovative, quick-striking, fast-paced no-huddle offenses but said above all, he’s "a high school coach."
Morris logged 16 years coaching high school ball in Texas including three state championships and relationships he said helped him recruit Texans to Clemson and SMU. He brings them now to Arkansas adding to the base he always expects to recruit in Arkansas and neighboring states, especially Louisiana and Oklahoma besides Texas.
"I’m a high school football coach and I’m extremely, extremely proud to say that," Morris said. "When you’re a HS coach you have to wash the clothes, you have to line the field, you’ve got to meet with boosters, you’ve got to meet the English teacher. You’ve got to be in the lunch room on lunch duty. You get it. I’m able to walk into a room at the HS coaches office and sit down and relate immediately to what their day to day life is. To the high school coaches in our state, we’re here for you. This is your university."
Morris also extended an open invitation to Razorbacks past.
"To all Razorbacks past, present and future, I’ve got a plan," Morris said. " I need you to be a part of this. This is your home. We’re going to make a special effort daily to welcome you back. We want you here, we need you here. You’re welcome back with open arms all day, any day."
Morris described his offensive style as multiple, "an exciting brand of football that’ll be spread sideline to sideline end zone to end zone. We’ll go fast and we’ll play fast and we’ll have fun doing it. Defensively, we’ll be built around stopping the run. In this conference you have to stop the run. I firmly believe that. I’ll hire the best defensive coordinator in all of football. That’s our standard."
Morris, complimenting Bielema on the impact the now former five-year Arkansas coach wielded on his Razorbacks players live, said he will meet with Bielema’s still at Arkansas staff.
However it’s obvious he intends to bring in a majority if not all new coaches. Morris did not get specific on whom he’ll bring in, especially with SMU readying for the Dec. 20 Frisco Bowl, but Randy Ross, Morris’ director of football operations at SMU, attended Thursday’s press conference.
Morris said he an emotional parting with his SMU team on Wednesday in Dallas and a good first-meeting with the Razorbacks Thursday.
Morris was asked about receiver Jared Cornelius, the leading returning receiver from 2016, injured for the season after just three games in 2017 and eligible for a Razorbacks fifth-year senior hardship season in 2018 if he doesn’t turn pro.
"All indications are he’s coming back," Morris said. "I know he had an injury this year and we are going to put a top 10 receiver this year in the draft from SMU. So why not? Why wouldn’t you want to come back and play into something that’s going to be fun and exciting?"