State of the Hogs: Morris pops clutch to highest gear

By: Clay Henry
Published: Thursday, December 7, 2017
Newly hired University of Arkansas football coach Chad Morris speaks Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, to members of the media after a press conference at the Fowler Family Baseball and Track Indoor Training Center in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Newly hired University of Arkansas football coach Chad Morris speaks Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, to members of the media after a press conference at the Fowler Family Baseball and Track Indoor Training Center in Fayetteville.

— Chad Morris looked straight into the bank of TV cameras at his introductory media session after being introduced as Arkansas football coach. The Thursday messages were directed straight to critical audiences.

Morris talked to three groups: Arkansas fans, Arkansas high school coaches, and past and present Arkansas players. He wanted them to know he was locking arms with all three groups.

There were some of all of them in the Fowler Family Center where Morris was introduced. I'm comfortable that all embraced his message.

Fans were nodding their head in agreement as Morris explained his offensive philosophy that's always in the “left lane” with fast tempo and an ability to stretch the field “sideline to sideline, end zone to end zone.” Morris had met with his new players the night before. He described his desired pace as “full tilt boogie.”

Asked later to explain the left lane mention, Morris added: “Pop the clutch and put the hammer down.” He said everything happening with the football team – including recruiting – was in high gear. He thinks he will sign an “elite class” right at the start.

There were high school coaches – like Rick Jones from Greenwood and Billy Dawson from Fayetteville – nodding their heads in agreement as Morris explained that he's “one of you.” They already knew that.

Jones and Dawson are both Morris fans. They utilize many of the same offensive principals as Morris in their spread attacks that have paved the way for multiple state championships.

“I'm a high school football coach and I'm extremely proud to say that,” Morris said. “I am proud to be in that fraternity.

“I've done what you do. I washed the uniforms, lined the field, done lunch room duty and I want you to know we are here for you. It's your program. You are always welcome here.”

There was the same message to former players.

“This is your program and you are always welcome here,” he said. “We need you. We welcome you back every day and any day. Every effort will be made to make that happen.”

Jones and Dawson were grinning ear to ear. They consider Morris both a great friend and a brilliant mind.

Jones recalls a 2001 phone call from Gus Malzahn that helped set up a three-way meeting in Springdale that he attended.

“Gus and I were already talking,” Jones said. “I was (head coach) at Broken Arrow (in Oklahoma). We had put in a new field and Gus was interested in the turf we used. I had been running the (wishbone) and was moving to the spread. I wanted to come talk to him about that. He said, 'Come on over because I have a guy who will be here tomorrow from Texas.' It was Chad.”

Morris calls Malzahn one of his best friends. They talked this week about the Arkansas job. Morris said it was with that knowledge that dove in all the way.

“We talk, text on a regular basis,” Morris said. “We think alike. We share ideas. Gus is a risk taker. We do the same things.”

Jones said that meeting in Springdale produced a treasure trove of offensive ideas and convinced him that the spread and tempo ideas were the best way to play football.

Morris converted to the no-huddle spread with an emphasis on tempo at Lake Travis High School outside of Austin. He won back-to-back 16-0 state titles with that scheme there.

“It was obvious that Gus and Chad knew what they were doing,” Jones said. “I just copied it. You copy and steal. That's what we do as coaches. Those conversations were taking place in 2000 and 2001. We put in the spread in 2001.”

Jones said Morris' ability to consistently win and play for state titles in Texas was impressive.

“He was in six title games,” Jones said. “He's going against 300 schools in the top division. That's a lot more than what you have to do in Arkansas. He did it over and over against the top teams in Texas. That was impressive to everyone.”

Dawson said he got interested in the spread in 2005, again copying things Malzahn and Morris were doing.

“I think I got two tapes of (his) games in 2005,” he said. “It was two-back stuff with lots of eye candy, orbit motion and play-action passing to throw it deep. It's the same stuff out of about 1,000 formations, lots of window dressing but simple stuff for the players to consume.”

Dawson won three state championships at Nashville and at Russellville in 2016. Jones just added his seventh state title at Greenwood last weekend.

Bill Blankenship has coached a combined five high school teams to state championship wins at three different schools in Oklahoma and Arkansas using some of the same ideas he got from Malzahn and Morris. Blankenship worked with both men at the University of Tulsa. He won a state title at Fayetteville High in 2016, then another this year at Owasso, Okla.

“Chad is brilliant and energetic,” Blankenship said. “What I saw is that the players get tremendous energy from him in practice. He brings everyone into his family. That's an ability that makes him special.

“I think you have the same style of football with Gus and Chad, but Gus is a lot more tightly wound and almost introverted. Chad is just the opposite.

“What I know about Chad is that you always feel that he's one of us, the high school coaches. We all have great pride in what he's done and he's always remained just like us. We know he's done what we are doing.”

Jones said the same thing.

“I may not be washing jocks anymore, but I have and so has Chad," Jones said. "That's what he's talking about and we get it.”

Blankenship said the high school coaches in Arkansas are going to love Morris.

“I think it will translate to Arkansas coaches,” he said. “Of course, he was here in Oklahoma at TU and the Oklahoma coaches got him. I don't have to tell you that all the coaches in the state of Texas know him and love him. He's got instant credibility with high school coaches everywhere. He's one of us.”

Morris said his soon to be named staff will all have a portion of Arkansas in their recruiting territory. NCAA rules will allow colleges to add a football assistant before next season, expanding staff sizes from nine to 10.

“All 10 of them will be in Arkansas,” he said. “And, when they come into a high school coaching office, I want you to ask them to teach you something. Ask them for something. Ask they for their best third-and-6 play or their best rush against short-yardage. They will give it to you.”

Morris will have to transition to his system away from a pro-styled scheme that was favored by Bret Bielema the last five seasons at Arkansas.

“We'll have tight ends, but we also be five wide at times,” he said. “We are going to change personnel and it's all about creating mismatches. And, we'll go fast.”

Jones called Morris' offense "really explosive," and similar to what Malzahn has incorporated at Auburn.

"It's multiple and diverse," Jones said. "I watched several SMU games this year. It was so fun to watch, really impressive.”

Morris would say that coaches like Jones, Dawson and Blankenship are innovative and creative, too.

"We try to become more diverse and learn what's out there, always looking for something," Jones said.

“But here's what I'll say: the coaches like Gus and Chad are painting the Rembrandts and the Picassos. Our (paintings) don't look like that. But we keep watching and learning what they are doing. You can tell I'm excited to have Chad here.”

Dozens of former players like Ken and Dick Hatfield, Cliff Henry, Quinn Grovey and Kurt Davis attended Thursday. They were smiling.

“Chad is going to be good,” said Ken Hatfield, the last Arkansas coach to win a conference championship - in 1989. “He's going to get us back in Texas and he'll be able to recruit Arkansas, too.”

Grovey said, “His offense is going to make everyone smile.”

Davis, who comes from a family of high school coaches, just called it “an impressive hire in all ways. I think our fans are going to love it.”

They were ready to jump aboard. They better be quick because Chad Morris has already popped the clutch.

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