Graham steadfast in belief in Morris

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2018
Tulsa coach Todd Graham gestures on the sideline as his team plays Notre Dame during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, in South Bend, Ind., when Tulsa defeated Notre Dame 28-27. Graham hired Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris at Tulsa. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Tulsa coach Todd Graham gestures on the sideline as his team plays Notre Dame during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, in South Bend, Ind., when Tulsa defeated Notre Dame 28-27. Graham hired Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris at Tulsa. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Todd Graham was in his first season as Tulsa's football coach when the Golden Hurricane played at Notre Dame on Oct. 10, 2010.

"Our athletic director had a trophy made up that said, 'Tulsa vs. Notre Dame participant,' to give our team for participating against Notre Dame," Graham said Wednesday at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club. "And we went in to Notre Dame a 21-point underdog and we beat 'em.

"My offensive coordinator on that team was Chad Morris."

Morris, who helped Tulsa beat the Fighting Irish 28-27, is now in his first season as the University of Arkansas' coach, and his Razorbacks are even bigger underdogs going into Saturday night's game at No. 9 Auburn than Tulsa was at Notre Dame.

Auburn is a 30-point favorite after Arkansas lost at Colorado State 34-27 and lost at home to North Texas 44-17.

Graham, who was fired as Arizona State's coach after last season and lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., said he watched Arkansas' losses on TV.

"I'm not even here, I'm not a part of the program, and man, I was hurting for Chad," Graham said. "That was rough.

"But what do you do? You get up off your can. Believe in the guy that's running this thing, because I'm telling you, he stands for something. He's a person of value.

"The system that he wants to run, the things that he wants to do, requires quite a bit of training. You haven't seen the benefits yet this guy brings."

Graham said he has no doubt Morris will turn around Arkansas, which is 5-12 in its last 17 games going back to the 2016 season.

"I believe in Chad," Graham said. "I'm standing up here making no excuses, but I'm telling you, you've got the right guy doing it, and he'll get it done."

Graham, who has a 95-61 record in 12 seasons as a head coach at Rice, Tulsa, Pittsburgh and Arizona State, believed enough in Morris to give him his first college job.

Morris was the head coach at Lake Travis (Texas) High School outside of Austin and led the Cavaliers to back-to-back state championships and 16-0 records in 2008 and 2009 when Graham offered him the job as Tulsa's offensive coordinator.

"I actually told him no three times," Morris said.

Graham flew to Austin to meet with Morris and his wife, Paula, and asked them to at least visit Tulsa before turning down the job again.

"Todd's always been a great recruiter, and he recruited Paula really well," Morris said. "I couldn't tell him 'no' when we got off the plane."

Tulsa ranked fifth nationally in total offense (505.6 yards per game) and sixth in scoring offense (41.4 points) in 2010 with Morris calling the plays.

Morris moved on to Clemson the next four seasons as offensive coordinator, got his first head coaching job at SMU in 2015 and was hired at Arkansas after last season.

"He had everything I was looking for," Graham said of his decision to hire Morris. "He believed in the same philosophy we believed in. He knew the same system, had the same terminology because he had studied in our system.

"He had been coaching in high school for 20 years, so it was just tough for him to take that next step. Especially when you're a high school head coach who's very successful. I bet he's glad he did."

Morris said he is glad he finally accepted Graham's job offer.

"I would not be where I am today without Todd Graham taking a chance," Morris said. "And I'm truly grateful for that."

Graham asked Arkansas fans to be patient with Morris and his coaching staff as they switch the Razorbacks' offensive philosophy from a pro-style to a hurry-up, no-huddle scheme.

"The transition has been difficult, and I think it's been a lot more difficult than anybody would have anticipated," Graham said. "No one's more focused or more motivated -- I promise you -- than what Chad is."

Graham said he believes Arkansas can begin showing progress at Auburn and in the remaining games this season.

"There's no doubt in my mind," he said. "I think that they'll improve -- and they'll improve dramatically.

"It's not going to be easy. There ain't but one way right now and it's up, right? Because I don't think it can get any worse."

Graham said Arkansas was plagued by too many turnovers and mental errors against Colorado State and North Texas.

"That transition, for whatever reason, is out of kilter, because obviously you shouldn't lose to those guys," Graham said. "Now, that's not discrediting the other teams, but that doesn't help things, because winning is the best thing that builds buy-in and builds the culture.

"How it gets better is everybody getting on board. What's it going to hurt you to be positive about what's going on? It ain't going to get any worse than that, in my opinion. At least I hope not."

Graham said playing with more discipline is essential for the Razorbacks.

"What's so critical to discipline being established is buy-in," he said. "When things happen the way they happened, and the doom and gloom starts rolling, the players feels that.

"Everybody feels that and it actually decreases your ability to turn it around. It extends your misery."

Saturday’s game

ARKANSAS AT NO. 9 AUBURN

WHEN 6:30 p.m.

WHERE Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.

RECORDS Arkansas 1-2, 0-0 SEC; Auburn 2-1, 0-1 SEC

LINE Auburn by 30

TV SEC Network

Sports on 09/20/2018

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