Arkansas concluded its coaching search on Wednesday, as SMU's Chad Morris was hired to replace Bret Bielema as the program’s next head coach. Morris went 14-22 in three seasons with the Mustangs, including a 7-5 mark in 2017. Prior to SMU, Morris was a high school coach in the state of Texas and had stints as an assistant at the collegiate level at Tulsa and Clemson.
Morris inherits a team that went 4-8 last season but went to bowl games in the three previous years. The switch from Bielema’s style to Morris will take a year or two, but Arkansas is in good hands with the Texas native.
Here are three reasons why Chad Morris is the right hire for Arkansas:
3 Reasons Why Chad Morris is the Right Hire for Arkansas
In the rugged SEC West, Arkansas is going to play Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M on an annual basis. That’s four teams the Razorbacks are going to be at a talent disadvantage every year. What’s the best way to close that gap in the division? Run a scheme that’s difficult to prepare for on a weekly basis. Morris’ offense certainly fits that description.
After finishing 71st nationally in scoring offense in his each of his first two years at SMU, the Mustangs jumped to eighth in 2017 (40.2 ppg). This offense also averaged 6.6 yards a play, ranked third in the American Athletic Conference in red-zone offense and recorded 22 plays of 40 yards or more.
It’s no secret Morris has a knack for developing quarterbacks. After all, he was instrumental in landing Deshaun Watson at Clemson. However, Morris’ offenses at SMU still ran the ball effectively. The Mustangs were a balanced attack in 2017, as the offense attempted 453 passes to 445 runs. In 2016, SMU had 478 run attempts to 456 passes. Simply, Morris is going to do whatever it takes to put points on the board. And in the SEC where you have to run the ball and win the battle at the line of scrimmage, Morris’ offenses have showed the ability to be versatile with an explosive passing game that can utilize mobility at quarterback, as well as a rushing attack capable of ranking among the best in the conference.
Ties to Texas
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program. Over the last five signing classes, 10 of the SEC’s 14 teams have averaged a finish inside of the top 25 among all FBS teams. Arkansas is just inside that range at 25.6, with Mississippi State (26.6), Kentucky (31.4), Missouri (42.0) and Vanderbilt (47.2) on the outside.
In the ultra-competitive SEC recruiting territory, Arkansas needs a coach who can recruit the state of Texas. Problem solved. Morris has extensive ties to the state, working as a head coach at Eustace, Elysian Fields, Bay City, Stephenville and Lake Travis before making the jump to college in 2010. He’s also a Texas native and every high school signee from his 2017 class at SMU hailed from the Lone Star State.
Stint at SMU
Morris inherited a mess at SMU when he took over in 2015. The Mustangs won just one contest in 2014, and the roster wasn’t exactly stocked with all-conference talent. After a 2-10 debut in 2015, Morris gradually rebuilt SMU into a bowl team. The Mustangs improved to 5-7 in 2016 and finished 7-5 this season. Additionally, all five of SMU’s losses came against teams that are headed to bowl games, including a seven-point defeat to AAC (and undefeated) champion UCF and a three-point loss against Navy.
Morris has already successfully navigated one rebuilding project. The task is a lot tougher in the SEC, but as his track record at SMU has indicated, Morris is certainly the right coach for the job in Fayetteville.
(Main photo of Chad Morris and Hunter Yurachek courtesy of @ArkRazorbacks)