State of the Hogs: Morris hire gets high marks

By: Clay Henry
Published: Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks during a news conference Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks during a news conference Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in Fayetteville.

— The “thumbs up” text messages began at the first hints that Chad Morris was the lead candidate for the Arkansas football job. They've continued to my phone this week as Morris began to pick up recruiting victories both in Arkansas and Texas as he's hit the one week mark on the job in the Ozarks.

One potential triumph on the recruiting trail might really turn some heads nationally, a potential flip from Nebraska to Arkansas for Texas athlete Joshua Moore (6-1, 171 pounds) from Yoakum, Texas.

That's significant because there was belief that the home run hire of the off-season, Scott Frost from Central Florida to Nebraska, would boost the recruiting in Lincoln, not make a commitment vulnerable. That shows how much Morris could mean for the Razorbacks in Texas.

Moore isn't just considering Arkansas as he throws open his recruiting. He also has offers from Alabama, Florida, Texas, Ohio State, Southern Cal and numerous others. ESPN has him rated as the No. 5 athlete nationally. Morris is headed to Yoakum - a small town southeast of San Antonio - later this week.

The messages I've gotten on the Morris hire have been from former Arkansas coaches, players and top boosters. The summary is that it's a perfect fit.

One of the first came from retired NFL assistant coach Jim Washburn, Danny Ford's defensive line coach (1994-97).

Washburn found recruiting gold in east Texas under Ford, signing a long list of solid players, including Kenoy Kennedy and Bobbie Williams.

“I bet Coach Morris will stake out U.S. 59 from Texarkana to Houston,” Washburn said in a call Monday. “I'll bet that Texas high school ring Morris will wear will go a long way in recruiting. It looks like the perfect fit.”

Morris is on the 2018 ballot for the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame. He won three Texas state titles, two at Lake Travis with back-to-back 16-0 records. Presumably, he has rings for each of those championships and probably will get some kind of a ring if and when he goes into the Texas hall.

Gene Chizik has been trumpeting the Morris hire on the talk show circuit as part of his duties with the SEC Network. He was firm in his belief that Morris was just what the doctor ordered for the Razorbacks in a 15-minute segment with Bo Mattingly's talk show Monday.

“I've said it publicly several times; It's a fit for Arkansas," said Chizik, a former head coach at Iowa State and Auburn. "It makes perfect sense as you look into it.

“Every situation is different. What Auburn needs or what another school in the SEC needs might be different, but Arkansas needs to recruit Texas and Chad can bring that to the Razorbacks.”

Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt gave it a thumbs up, too. Nutt told Mattingly that Morris was the right coach to bring Texas recruits back to Arkansas.

“It could be a big advantage,” Nutt said of the Morris touch in Texas.

“What we know is that the state of Texas is averaging 340 Division I football players every year. You gotta feel that you can get 10 to 15 of them to Arkansas with Coach Morris.

“When I was at Arkansas, we tried to get 10 to 12. It's great speed, great linemen and players like Jason Peters and Kenoy Kennedy. You can get corners, wide receivers and running backs. They are there.”

Of course, the competition is huge.

“Everyone is there, yes that's right,” Nutt said. “But it's four to five hours from all over Dallas and east Texas. It's a one-hour flight from Houston, direct.

“Yes, Texas and Texas A&M are going to get their recruits. But you don't even have to go after the same ones and there are plenty. You are going to have to beat TCU and Baylor at times, but it can be done and Coach Morris can do it.”

Nutt said he sees a fit in another area, too.

“I think Arkansas fans are going to love his offense,” Nutt said. “I've watched his practices. They are high energy, high octane. The quarterbacks and receivers are going to be excited because a lot of balls are going to be thrown and caught every day.

“He is big on situations in practice. He's going to work the third-and-4s, the third-and-8s and make those practices where they know what's needed in those situations.”

Nutt said it's also important to know the state of Arkansas.

“I'd tell him to start in Little Rock and work his way to every corner,” Nutt said. “I can tell him that when Arkansas has been great, there have been Arkansas linemen making a difference, some that were not big targets in recruiting.

“It's been like that for as long as I can remember, back into the 1950s and all the way to now. If Arkansas is going to be good, there are going to be some linemen from our state leading the way and some of them will be players you have never heard about before they got there.

“Guys like Brandon Burslworth, Dan Doughty and Jerry Reith. I can't explain it, but it happens.”

I'd give that a thumbs up right back at Houston Nutt. He knows. Burlsworth, Doughty and Reith were as dependable as the day is long.

The days are going to be long for Morris for as far as he can see.

“Right now it's that win word,” Nutt said. “It stands for what's important now. It's recruiting.”

Chizik said the tough part for Morris is that things are changing fast. The to-do list for an Arkansas coach is much tougher than an SMU coach.

Morris walked into instant celebrity status that wasn't there on Mockingbird Lane in University Park, Texas. He's got Razorback Club duties and a much longer list of folks pulling at him. He can't leave the office without signing 30 autographs.

Morris took LaDarrius Bishop to an Ashdown restaurant last weekend. It turned into a constant stream of tugs for his attention. Word leaked that Morris was in town and the place filled up. In the end, it all worked out when Bishop flipped his commitment from Mississippi State to the Razorbacks.

That's the trouble with the new Dec. 20 signing day for a new Division I coach. It's going to hit fast.

It may be that Morris doesn't get to take a deep breath until late June. By then, he will probably have signed 30,000 autographs, maybe more.

Chad Morris said no one is going to have to tell him to go, only to say whoa. Right now, the only thing the new Arkansas coach is getting are thumbs up.

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