FAYETTEVILLE — Reviewing his arrival at Southern Methodist University at 2015 versus his December 2017 head football coaching hiring at Arkansas, Chad Morris last spring, was asked upon his arrival which situation appeared more dire.
Arkansas had fired athletic director Jeff Long before officially firing coach Bret Bielema minutes after the fifth-year coach concluded a 4-8 season and had new athletic director Hunter Yurachek in his first week on the job with Morris all but officially hired by Razorbacks senior associate athletic director June Cromer Peoples.
Then again, at SMU, Morris was hired with the Mustangs coming off a 1-11 season with an interim coach, piloting the last 10 games upon coach June Jones resigning in September.
“We took over a situation at SMU where obviously they had lost their coach in week two,” Morris said. “There was a lot of disarray, a lot of uncertainty, so it was a completely different takeover here than was there. And, what I thought was going to take us about five years to get right took us three and it was still a work in progress. It’s no different here as far as the work in progress. Every day is going to be an opportunity for us to get better. But, I don’t think the program itself was quite the disarray here that you saw there at the time.”
With spring practice concluded after this one-on-one interview was conducted in May, had Morris, in his mind, conjured an X amount of wins that he would be happy with closing the upcoming 2018 season?
“No,” Morris replied. “The biggest thing I’ll put a number on is the No. 1 and that’s one day at a time. Being the best we can be one day at a time and knowing we’re going to be a hard out for a lot of teams. This team has the chance to surprise a lot of people in the fall. And how we are going to do it is just being the best we can be and stacking good days on top of good days.”
Off spring ball, did Arkansas’ talent level surprise him in either direction?
“Yeah,” Morris replied. “Good in some areas and deficient in some other areas which is that way with every job in the country, especially those that came open. Obviously, the biggest thing is we’ve really got to address the team speed, the overall team speed we’ve got to go after it and create more team speed. But the one thing that I knew is these kids are hungry. They are excited. I fully anticipate this group having a great summer and rolling into fall and being a team that could surprise a lot of people.”
So, he doesn’t see a team with their dauber down not just off 4-8 for 2017 but closing 2016 losing 24-7 and 24-0 halftime leads and the games to Missouri in Columbia, Missouri and to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl at Charlotte, North Carolina?
“No, I really don’t,” Morris said. “I feel this is a team that’s hungry. I feel it’s a team that knows it let some people down. They’ve let themselves down and they let their university down. They are a team that don’t want to experience 4-8 ever again. So as far as them moping around, absolutely not. If anything it’s been completely the reverse of that. They are so thirsty for any bit of knowledge that we can give them to be successful.”
Morris’ next public perspective awaits at next Tuesday’s SEC Football Media Days in Atlanta.
YOU BET YOUR LIFE
Unlikely that any receiving the biggest honor of their professional career would think of Groucho Marx.
But I did. Learning last April that I somehow had been voted into the Arkansas Sportscasters/Sportswriters Hall of Fame, I thought of the comic’s classic line: “I don’t want to join any club that would have people like me as a member.”
As I droned on during Saturday night’s induction at the Centennial Special Events Center in Conway, trying to thank everyone who has helped me along the way, and no doubt still inadvertently omitting a multitude I owe so much, I thought of Groucho as Professor Wagstaff in “Horsefeathers” following a professor’s tedious academic address.
“Well, I thought my razor was dull until I heard his speech.”
I appreciate Saturday’s audience having more tact than Groucho.
And, I can’t thank them, Hall of Fame founder Mike Harrison, fellow inductee sportscaster Dave Woodman and of course my wife, Nancy, and family and presenter and Hall of Fame former Arkansas Gazette sportswriter Donna Lampkin-Stephens, enough for an honor and evening I’ll never forget.