The University of Arkansas athletics department capped a historic week Thursday (Dec. 7) with the official introduction of former Southern Methodist University head coach Chad Morris as the new head football coach of the Razorbacks.
One day after Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz introduced new athletics director Hunter Yurachek to the media and several dozen UA supporters, Yurachek and Julie Cromer Peoples did the same for Morris. Both events were held inside the Fowler Family Baseball & Track Indoor Training Center on the UA campus in Fayetteville.
Yurachek, formerly the AD at the University of Houston, is just the third athletics director at the UA in the past four decades, following Frank Broyles (1973-2007) and Jeff Long (2008-2017), who was fired on Nov. 15. Cromer Peoples, a senior associate athletics director at the UA, filled the position on an interim basis.
Morris’ hiring was announced by the UA Wednesday afternoon. He arrived at Drake Field in Fayetteville late that afternoon and said by Thursday morning he had nearly 900 text messages accumulated on his cellphone offering congratulations, many from former players and staff members. He reflected on his career path during his introductory remarks, but made clear what his intentions are as the Razorbacks’ new head coach.
“Thank you for the opportunity to be the next head football coach at the University of Arkansas,” Morris said. “I promise you, the more you get to know me, I won’t let you down. Our staff won’t let you down. We’re here to win, make no mistake about it. We’re here to win. We want to win, and we want to win championships. That is the process we are involved in right now today.
“We will become the model for other programs to follow.”
Morris, 49, is the 33rd head football coach in Razorbacks history. He takes over for Bret Bielema, who was fired the Friday after Thanksgiving, 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 an SMU program that was 1-11 in 2014. His three-year record with the Mustangs was 14-22, with the number of wins increasing each year (2-10, 5-7, 7-5).
Morris has agreed to a six-year contract and he 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.
His appointment is effective immediately and he will not coach SMU in its upcoming bowl game. The Mustangs will play Louisiana Tech in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. It is SMU’s first bowl appearance in five years, and just the fifth for the school since 1984.
Leaving behind the school and his players and staff, Morris said, was hard to do.
“It was a very emotional day [Wednesday], and the more you get to know me, you will understand why,” he said. “To walk into a group of 118 young men that sold out for you, believed in you, and share with them you are leaving … it was very emotional. A lot of tears were shed. I told them how much I loved them. How much I thanked them. And I hugged every one of them and we all cried together.
“This is about far more than the game of football. Football is what we do. It’s not who we are. I am a husband, I’m a father, I’m a son, and I am extremely proud of the opportunity to touch one life that may touch another life on this journey.”
Morris was joined Thursday by his wife, Paula, his daughter Mackenzie, a junior at Texas A&M University, and his son Chandler, a sophomore at Highland Park High School in Dallas.
HIGH SCHOOL ROOTS
Much like Auburn head coach and Arkansas native 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. Morris 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.
He 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 said he sees similarities in the Razorbacks program right now and the Clemson program when he arrived. The Tigers finished 6-7 in 2010, the season prior to Morris’ hiring, and ended the season with a loss to the South Florida Bulls in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Morris’ impact over the next four years at Clemson 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.
He highlighted the similarities Wednesday night in his first team meeting with the Razorbacks, and reiterated the theme again Thursday morning.
“I’ve got the blueprint for what it takes to win the national championship,” he said. “I was sitting at Clemson when we were 6-7. And what excites me more than anything is seven years ago, Clemson looked just like Arkansas does right now today. Exactly. So there’s a vision. There’s a how. And there’s a why. We get all that aligned, great things happen.”
Morris graduated in 1992 from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a minor in statistics, but did not play football for the Aggies. His approach and coaching philosophy might be best defined as cerebral.
“You can be creative,” he said. “I love to think outside the box. The more someone tells me you can’t do it, I’m going to show you we can.”
Morris said he hasn’t officially hired assistant coaches, although that process has already started. Several of his former assistant coaches at SMU attended Thursday’s news conference, all wearing Razorback lapel pins.