State of the Hogs: Chad Morris a mathematician at heart

By: Clay Henry
Published: Friday, May 4, 2018
Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks with players Wednesday, March 28, 2018, during practice at the university's practice facility on campus in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Chad Morris speaks with players Wednesday, March 28, 2018, during practice at the university's practice facility on campus in Fayetteville.

— The Chad Morris bio is unique in that he's one of the few Power 5 head football coaches who did not play college football. His college degree might not automatically seem significant.

The new Arkansas football coach majored in mathematics with a minor in statistics. But that Texas A&M degree is significant in everything Morris does as he builds the foundation for the Razorbacks. Asked Thursday if it comes into play, Morris almost laughed.

“All the time,” Morris said. “Holy cow. So much that my coaches hate it. I constantly bombarding them with numbers. I'm a numbers freak.

“Yeah, I use efficiency numbers. I'm really big in play counts.

“When we are playing at a pace and snapping the ball at 82 a game, our win ratio is really, really high.

“You score a touchdown or field goal on about every 13 to 15 snaps. So you can increase your snap total, you increase your point total what would happen?”

It was big in his sales pitch in job interviews both when Dabo Swinney hired him as Clemson offensive coordinator. It was again last December in his Arkansas interview.

“Look, they were snapping the ball 55 times a game at Clemson prior to me getting there,” Morris said. “I told Dabo let's just say we get it on the low end, just 75 snaps, and you score a field goal or a touchdown every 13 to 15 snaps, what would seven more points a game would have done for you in 2010?

“He said, 'Look, Chad, you wouldn't be sitting here today.' OK, it's the same thing (at Arkansas), they were averaging around 60 snaps a game. If we get that thing up to 80 snaps a game, that's 20 more snaps, what would seven more points done this past year? I wouldn't be sitting here. Right.”

The numbers always tell the story for Morris.

“So that's the whole mentality,” he said. “I'm very infatuated with numbers.”

If it's not numbers, then it's relationships. That goes for winning in the recruiting game as well as coaching. The numbers add up right when the relationships are all working at high levels.

Morris was attentive when new assistant Steve Caldwell commanded the room last winter at the Arkansas high school coaches convention in Hot Springs.

“We walked into the lobby together,” Morris said. “I was on one side of the lobby, Steve was on the other side. I noticed when everyone went to Steve.

“That told me so much about the relationships that he had around the state. He is loved. I saw it. He had more people interested in him than I did. It was wonderful because I knew what he meant to our staff.”

Morris watches for that initial reaction anytime someone walks into a room. That first impression almost always tells the story, especially when he's hiring coaches.

“Usually, it's the first two minutes,” Morris said. “I tell this to young coaches all the time, usually in the first two minutes, you've won the room or lost the room. Two minutes is really stretching it, too.

“When you walk in the room, how you command it and just how you open the door is so important.”

Morris can set the stage for an early impression. He tells his players how he once hired assistants when often related to players about how Morris hired coaches when he was ruling the Texas high school ranks.

“I always put a piece of paper on the ground and left it in a hallway,” Morris said. “I'd go get them and always bring them back to my office.

“I made sure they were to my right side and walk them right over it. It would be bigger than a gum wrapper, maybe a sticky note laying on the ground. If the coach would stop and pick the piece of paper up, we'd go to my office and the interview wouldn't last long. I'd hire him.

“So still to this day if you see a piece of paper on the ground and someone picks it up, that tells me that nobody is too big or too small.”

That tossed sticky note would often be the focus of the interview.

“I'd say, 'You saw that paper, right?'” Morris said. “They'd say, 'Yeah, coach, I didn't think much of it.' Well, it just tells me so much.

“Now, it's about the relationships, the ability to understand that when they see the head coach doing stuff like that, it's everything.”

Morris has always taught his coaches that every part of the operation is important, from the coordinators all the way to the custodians.

“We had a big luncheon for our custodial staff recently,” Morris said. “We do it once a year for them. There are a part of this, too. Everyone has a role.”

Morris has felt the state's embrace on trips to Razorback clubs over the last three months. It's the same no matter the corner.

“They just want to touch you,” he said. “They want to feel like they are part of it, they have a stake in it.”

The small details of the program are important in coaching, too.

“I'm involved in technique all over, constantly asking questions,” Morris said. “Part of that happens as we meet as a staff, as we put the offense and defense together. I have a chance to ask the staff what are we looking for here?

“I actually went in to the defensive back room with (assistant coach) Ron Cooper and told the players, 'Here is what the quarterback is looking at. It's body demeanor, feet parallel, the moment you start staggering, or the moment you start getting back on your heels, that's what the quarterback sees.'

“Usually, when I sit in staff meetings, I get a chance to ask the coaches – from (offensive line coach Dustin) Fry to (running backs coach Jeff) Traylor to what I want from backfield depth, what I expect mesh points to be, to the (handoff) exchange of the quarterbacks - I'm constantly on it.”

The details in the defensive staff room start and end with John “Chief” Chavis, the coordinator and linebackers coach.

“What is unique is when you get in as a group and watch Chief sit in the big staff room and he knows where everybody is supposed to be defensively,” Morris said. “He'll sit there and say, '(Steve) Caldwell that end needs to drop his right foot back six inches in stance. (Ron) Cooper, he needs to cheat more to the hash.'

“Just like that, he knows where every player needs to be on every call. That's a big part of who we are.”

There was no doubt about the emphasis on techniques for anyone who watched spring. The detail was there and Morris probably had the numbers to back up every point.

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