After winning just four games in two seasons and failing to win against a Southeastern Conference foe, Chad Morris has been fired as the head Razorback football coach. University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek made the announcement Sunday following a blowout loss to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, a Conference USA team.
The Razorbacks were favored by 1.5 points going into Saturday, but Hilltopper quarterback Ty Storey – a native of Charleston, Ark., who was a starter last year for the Razorbacks – helped put an even more sour taste to the loss. Arkansas is now 2-8, and 0-6 in the SEC.
Coming into the game, the Razorbacks were the ninth-worst team in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game, giving up 221 per game. The Hilltoppers had the 24th ranked defense nationally, giving up just 317 yards per game. The loss to the Hilltoppers came a week after Mississippi State embarrassed the Hogs in a 54-24 defeat.
“As part of my continued evaluation, I have come to the conclusion that a change in leadership is necessary to move our football program forward and position it for success,” Yurachek said in the statement posted Sunday morning. “It is clear that we have not made the progress necessary to compete and win, especially within the Southeastern Conference. Throughout our history in football, as well as with our other sport programs, we have demonstrated that the University of Arkansas is capable of being nationally competitive. I have no doubt that as we move forward, we will identify a head coach that will help lead our program to that benchmark. I want to express my personal and professional regard to Coach Morris and thank him for his investment in the lives of our student-athletes.”
Barry Lunney Jr., a former Arkansas starting quarterback, will serve as the interim head coach for the two remaining games of the season. Lunney is in his seventh season as tight ends coach and his first as the Razorbacks’ special teams coordinator.
Morris’ firing was not a surprise. Prior to the game, much of the discussion on sports radio and social media was on the likelihood Yurachek would fire Morris if the Hogs lost to the Hilltoppers.
It is estimated that the contract buyout for Morris, who was hired away from being head coach at Southern Methodist University by then interim Athletic Director Julie Cromer Peoples, is around $10 million. Yurachek’s statement did not mention details about a buyout.
“Morris would be owed roughly $10.02 million if he meets the same fate as previous head coach Bret Bielema, who was relieved of his duties just minutes following a loss to the Tigers on Black Friday,” according to HawgBeat.com. “In fact, the way Morris’ buyout is structured, it would actually be cheaper for Arkansas to fire him sooner rather than later because it would begin paying him 70 percent of his salary the moment it pulls the trigger rather than the full 100 percent.”
Morris’ buyout comes two years after the Razorback Foundation had to begin paying former Hog Coach Bret Bielema almost $12 million after firing him early. However, the Foundation recently filed a lawsuit claiming Bielema has not, according to contract stipulations, done all he could to seek “comparable payment for his services.” The Foundation has stopped the monthly payments of $320,833 and is demanding Bielema repay $4.2 million he has already received.
Yurachek’s decision to fire Morris was not a surprise to the members of Tusk to Tail. The group, which provides unique pre- and post-game commentary at tusktotail.com on behalf of Talk Business & Politics, has been tailgating together for more than a decade.
“You could say Chad Morris was dealt a bad hand. Brett Bielema’s last recruiting classes were not capable of succeeding in the SEC and Chad Morris’s system might have struggled to use the larger, slower players even if they were,” noted Tusk to Tail member David Rice. “Still, Morris had a chance to make his mark and refused. Fans wanted a winning season, or at least signs of improvement. If nothing else, give us a glimpse of the future, something to look forward to. Morris could never comply. The fact that he was run off the field by a quarterback he felt he could not win with is a fitting epitaph.”
Talk Business & Politics will update this story as news develops.