The University of Arkansas has officially announced the hiring of former SMU head coach Chad Morris to be the Razorbacks’ head football coach. Morris is the 33rd coach in the history of the program.
Morris, a Dallas native who turned 49 on Monday (Dec. 4), spent three years as coach of the Mustangs after a four-year stint as the offensive coordinator at Clemson. He will be formally introduced Thursday at 10 a.m. in Fayetteville.
Morris has agreed to a six-year contract and will make $3.5 million annually. Per his employment agreement, he will also be eligible for additional compensation through retention payments and incentives. Morris’ buyout would be $14.7 million should the UA decide to fire him at any time before Dec. 31, 2018. The amount drops incrementally through the following five years, from $12.25 million in 2019, to $3.5 million in 2023.
For comparison, former UA football coach Bret Bielema’s initial contract with the UA was worth $3.2 million annually for six years when he was hired in December 2012. He was making $2.59 million at his previous school, Wisconsin, where he went 68-24 with the Badgers and led the team to three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances and three consecutive Big Ten championships.
“The future is tremendously bright at the University of Arkansas with the addition of Chad Morris,” said new athletics director Hunter Yurachek, who was introduced to the media Wednesday morning, about three hours before the university announced Morris’ hiring. “I am confident that Chad will bring an exciting brand of football, phenomenal student-athletes and championships to Fayetteville, and do it all with high integrity. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the incredible work of [interim athletics director] Julie Cromer Peoples in leading a comprehensive search and helping to bring a high caliber coach to Arkansas.”
Morris’ hiring caps a tumultuous few weeks for the UA. Former athletics director Jeff Long, hired in 2008 to replace legendary athletic director Frank Broyles, was fired on Nov. 15. Nine days later, Bielema was also dismissed, just moments following the Razorbacks’ 48-45 home loss to Missouri to cap a 4-8 season.
Bielema’s five-year record at Arkansas was 29-34, including an 11-29 record in the Southeastern Conference. Morris took over a program that was 1-11 in 2014. His three-year record with the Mustangs was 14-22, although the number of wins increased each year (2-10, 5-7, 7-5).
Much like Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, who was rumored to be a leading candidate to be the next Razorbacks coach before ultimately signing a contract extension with the Tigers, Morris got his coaching start in the high school ranks. He compiled a record of 169-38 in 16 years (1994-2009) as a high school head coach in Texas, and won a combined three state titles at two different schools.
His coached Lake Travis High School to consecutive 16-0 seasons in 2008 and 2009 before being hired as the offensive coordinator at Tulsa. After one year with the Golden Hurricanes, he was hired as the offensive coordinator at Clemson. Morris’ impact during his four years there helped result in a 41-11 record, the 2011 ACC Championship and four bowl berths, including two BCS Orange Bowl appearances. Under Morris’ scheme, the Tigers established 127 offensive records (89 individual/38 team) and posted the top three scoring seasons in school history, as well as four of the top five passing seasons at Clemson.
“I am incredibly happy for Chad Morris and his wife Paula,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said in a statement provided by the UA. “It has been fun to see someone who coaches here blossom in his career. He did a phenomenal job in his four years at Clemson and it has been exciting to see what he has done at SMU. I believe he will be a great fit at Arkansas and I am excited to see what he will do with that program.”
Morris earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a minor in statistics from Texas A&M in 1992. He and his wife, Paula, have two children, daughter Mackenzie and son Chandler.