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Arkansas hires Chad Morris as football coach; university releases offer letter

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Photographs by Andy Shupe

New Razorback coach Chad Morris waves as he arrives at Drake Field in Fayetteville on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has hired Chad Morris of SMU as its new football coach, the university confirmed Wednesday.

The 49-year-old Morris agreed to a six-year contract worth $3.5 million per year. He has incentives that could total an additional $1.2 million per year and has an annually decreasing buyout that begins at $14.7 million through Dec. 31, 2018, according to his offer letter released through an open-records request.

He'll also receive retention bonuses of $500,000 in 2019, '21 and '23 if he's still employed at Arkansas — and there have been no major NCAA rules violations.

Should Arkansas fire Morris, his buyout begins at $14.7 million in 2018 and drops to $12.25 million in 2019. That's followed by $9.8 million in 2020, $7.35 million in 2021, $4.9 million in 2022 and $3.5 million in the last year in 2023. He would owe the school $3 million if he leaves for another job in 2018-19, $2.5 million in 2020, $2 million in 2021, $1.5 million in 2022 and nothing in 2023.

Arkansas will pay SMU up to $2 million to buyout Morris' previous contract.

Morris has spent the past three seasons at SMU, where he had a 14-22 overall record that included an 8-16 record in the American Athletic Conference. The Mustangs are scheduled to play Louisiana Tech in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20, and it is unclear whether Morris will coach in that game.

[DOCUMENT: Read Morris' 13-page offer letter from UA]

“The future is tremendously bright at the University of Arkansas with the addition of Chad Morris," Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek said in a statement. "I am confident that Chad will bring an exciting brand of football, phenomenal student-athletes and championships to Fayetteville, and do it all with high integrity."

Julie Cromer Peoples, who was interim athletic director for nearly three weeks, led the search for a coach, in conjunction with the search firm DHR International.

“As we began our search for the next head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, Chad Morris was a name that quickly emerged as someone that would be an excellent choice for our program," Cromer Peoples said. "Coach Morris aligns with the priorities we sought to find in our next head football coach including relentless work ethic and the ability to maintain good relationships within our state and beyond to attract the nation’s top talent. Chad is demanding but still relatable to the student-athletes of this generation. He was identified by several closely connected with our program as someone that our state would embrace and would fit the fabric of our university and our program.”

Morris replaces Bret Bielema at Arkansas. Bielema was fired Nov. 24 after a 4-8 season in which the Razorbacks went 1-7 in conference play. Bielema's five-year tenure resulted in three bowl games but losing records overall (29-34) and in SEC games (11-29).

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A Razorback Foundation plane departs Fayetteville to pick up Chad Morris on Wednesday. (Photo by Andy Shupe) + Enlarge

Reader poll

Do you approve of UA hiring Chad Morris as its next football coach?

  • Yes 83% 2487 votes
  • No 16% 479 votes

2966 total votes.

Morris is considered one of college football's top offensive minds with a fast-paced style that places an emphasis on the passing game. SMU ranks 13th nationally this season in total offense (493.8 yards per game) and eighth in scoring offense (40.2 points per game).

But like many teams that run hurry-up offenses, SMU's defense has been among college football's worst. The Mustangs rank 122nd nationally in total defense (486.7 yards per game) and 113th in scoring defense (35.1 points per game) this year and never have ranked in the top 100 of either category under Morris.

Before coaching SMU, Morris spent four seasons as offensive coordinator at Clemson from 2011-14. He broke into the college ranks as an assistant coach at Tulsa in 2010 after a decorated high school coaching career in Texas that included back-to-back undefeated state championship seasons at Lake Travis in 2008 and 2009, as well as a championship at Bay City in 2000.

Morris coached at five Texas high schools in 16 seasons and had a record of 169-38. In addition to his three state championships, Morris had three state runner-up teams — at Bay City in 2001 and Elysian Fields in 1998 and 1999.

"I'm a Texas high school football coach. That's who I am," said Morris, a Dallas native, when he was hired at SMU in 2014. "I think that Texas high school football coaches do it the right way."

Morris brings strong recruiting ties to Texas, a state in which Arkansas struggled to recruit during the Bielema era, but has long been an area of emphasis for the Razorbacks. Morris' first two recruiting classes at SMU were comprised entirely of Texas recruits.

SMU went 1-11 the year before Morris was hired. The Mustangs improved their win total each year under Morris, with records of 2-10 in 2015, 5-7 last season and 7-5 this year.

The Mustangs are guaranteed a winning record for the first time since 2012 and for the fifth time since the program rebooted in 1989. SMU did not field a football team for two years after the NCAA's "death penalty" punishment in 1987.

Morris is a native of Edgewood, Texas, about 60 miles east of Dallas, and attended college at Texas A&M, where he earned a degree in mathematics in 1992. He did not play college football.

Morris has a wife, Paula, and two children: a daughter, Mackenzie, and a son, Chandler.

It is the second time in the modern era that Arkansas has hired a coach from a program with a losing college record.

Ken Hatfield was hired following the 1983 season after a five-year stint at the Air Force Academy, where he went 26-32-1. But Hatfield, a former Arkansas player, proceeded to put together one of the Razorbacks' best multi-year runs with a 55-17-1 record in six seasons, the final two of which resulted in Southwest Conference championships in 1988 and 1989.

Hatfield left Arkansas for Clemson in January 1990 amid declining attendance that was linked to his triple-option offense. The Razorbacks promoted Hatfield's offensive coordinator, Jack Crowe, who had not been a head coach in more than a decade.

Crowe, who had gone 5-15 at Livingston (now West Alabama), had a 9-15 record at Arkansas, including a loss to The Citadel in the 1992 season opener, the Razorbacks' first game as a member of the Southeastern Conference. He was fired a day later.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Comments

arkateacher54 says...

Good hire IF he can come up with a good defensive coordinator. It seems many Hog fans are upset because he is not a big name, but he has had almost exactly the same career trajectory as Gus Malzahn when he was hired as Auburn head coach. I think he will make Hog football more exciting and successful.

Posted 6 December 2017, 11:11 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

arkateacher...........yes ,"exciting AND successful "

Games that end up 52-48 are "exciting" but you have to be on the winning side to be " successful "

Posted 6 December 2017, 11:27 a.m. Suggest removal

goldmerry says...

Great. Six years of no defense. And no championships.

Posted 6 December 2017, 11:31 a.m. Suggest removal

TravisBickle says...

Chad, Chad, best coach we ever had!! I'm not feeling it! We just got rid of a coach with a losing record!! Why would we hire another one??!! I say offer Nick Satan $10M a year and get it over with! Either way it's not gonna make one damn bit of difference unless the hapless Hogs can get the better players.

Posted 6 December 2017, 11:41 a.m. Suggest removal

obbie says...

The contract is signed, the die is cast and he can't win unless all Razorland is behind him. Let's watch to see how many 4 and 5 star athletes are recruited to and who play for the U of A. These guys are the key much like the classes of 1960 thru 1964 (and '69) which proved to be the best in our history. Go Hogs!

Posted 6 December 2017, 12:25 p.m. Suggest removal

drs01 says...

I wonder just why NONE of the previous BROYLES Award winners or finalists are are not interested in this job. They come to Little Rock, sing praise, take the award and go home.Meanwhile, the UofA-Fay seems gravitate toward head coaches regardless of where they come from, or how many flaws they have.
What's wrong with a assistant coach that is voted BEST by a panel of HOF former coaches and sports writers from across the country. That's who voted on the Broyles Award. Why no interest in this job???
So here we go......

Posted 6 December 2017, 1:12 p.m. Suggest removal

user92115 says...

You negative, crude people make me sick. The poor guy hasn't even gotten here yet and you're already knocking him. I'm sure you'll make nasty comments about him all the time just like did coach Bielema. And you keep calling our great young men "hapless Razorbacks." I'd be willing to bet none of you have even been to a Razorback game. What a bunch of losers you are.

Posted 6 December 2017, 1:36 p.m. Suggest removal

TexBack says...

Great hire. Very excited about the future.

However, gratuitous comments about Ms Peoples in the press release by Steinmetz and Yurachek are not necessary. Her little power-trip episode after the firing of Coach Bielema set us back and should be grounds for probation, if not termination. Her attitude is not welcome. Fortunately someone quickly put a boot on her and Steinmetz and they had to rein it in. No more microphones or press conferences. Steinmetz is invested in his decision, so he has to say positive things about her to save his reputation. Mr Yurachek does not have to spew this stuff. He needs to start draining the Jeff Long swamp.

Posted 6 December 2017, 2:12 p.m. Suggest removal

RBBrittain says...

@drs01: Perhaps they wanna remain assistants rather than step into the HC pressure cooker. I've read multiple other sites reporting Morris wants none other than Brent Venables as his DC, though he's also being reported as a HC candidate at Tennessee. If Morris does indeed get Venables, that will probably answer your question.

Posted 6 December 2017, 2:14 p.m. Suggest removal

pigfan34 says...

Let's give the guy a chance. He comes with high recommendations from a lot of people who know more about football than any of us. We can all contribute to a successful program by simply staying positive. Show up at games and cheer for the team. Try staying off of social media and spewing vitriol. There's actually a positive world out here to enjoy. That alone can send a message to recruits. Being positive and encouraging can actually make a difference. If he gets ample time and cannot succeed then we can decide to move another direction. However, it seems only fair that we at least let the guy assemble a staff, recruit players to fit his scheme, and do the things that have gained him such a positive reputation at the national level. I plan to get behind him and do everything I can to make the program successful. Good luck Chad! Go Hogs!

Posted 6 December 2017, 2:17 p.m. Suggest removal

RBBrittain says...

@TexBack: You're wrong to call Cromer Peoples' actions a "power-trip episode"; she did what she did because Chancellor Steinmetz told her to. The only "power-trip" there was Steinmetz making her the public facade for HIS coaching search in the first place. (That's why I kept referring to her as "the interim AD", NOT by name, in my own criticism; my problem with her was her position, NOT her gender.)

Posted 6 December 2017, 2:23 p.m. Suggest removal

mloydcaingmailcom says...

It's official! Arkansas is a lower tier mid major with an SEC budget/payroll.

Posted 6 December 2017, 2:36 p.m. Suggest removal

Packman says...

At least the guy won't be buying his sideline clothes from Omar the Tent Maker.

Posted 6 December 2017, 2:39 p.m. Suggest removal

HenryP says...

You little people just shut up and send in your checks. These U of A elitists are just smarter than you are after all, most of them voted for Pryor and Hillary. Terrible hire....

Posted 6 December 2017, 3:20 p.m. Suggest removal

fish1putt says...

We have been a second class program in the SW Confernce and the SEC for years. Our program just can't compete with other Power 5 teams and results in ruining the careers of most of our players and hires. We need to petition a lower conference and compete with teams equal to our program. If you can't play with the big dogs, stay on the porch.

Posted 6 December 2017, 3:35 p.m. Suggest removal

HenryP says...

No Fish we have been a second class program since short stepping Jeff ran off Petrino....

Posted 6 December 2017, 4:21 p.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

HenryP...........Long didn't kill the Razorback career of Bobby Petrino.
Petrino committed suicide all by himself.

The only thing Long was guilty of was giving Petrino too much rope.

Posted 6 December 2017, 4:46 p.m. Suggest removal

GDB58 says...

If AR is a second class program then you folks that moan and groan and have all the solutions are no class. You definitely can not be called a fan, hopefully your entitlements will end and you can go to work like the rest of the people and maybe you will appreciate what the rest have.

Posted 6 December 2017, 4:53 p.m. Suggest removal

tigrhogfan says...

Pigfan34: Greatly appreciate your comments! Give the guy a chance and support the team!
Geaux Hogs!

Posted 6 December 2017, 6:08 p.m. Suggest removal

Soothsayer says...

Frank Broyles was a great man and a great coach, but he is dead and he ain't coming back. The SWC of the 1960's is dead and it ain't coming back either. We have been members of the SEC for almost 25 years now. There isn't one traditional student currently enrolled at the UA who can remember, or who even cares about those SWC years, so just let them die too. Let the old Texas rivalry die as well, because it wasn't much of a rivalry anyway, especially when Texas leads the series over us 56-22. It was exciting and competitive for about 5 years in the 60's but they pretty much beat us every year. Razorback Football fans have built up expectations so high and have created this alternate reality in their heads that we are on the same level as the elite programs that compete for the National Championship on a regular basis. We are not on that level and have not been for quite some time. We can be on that level if the armchair quarterbacks and the message board geeks would just shut up and watch the game - Let these coaches build a program that can get us there. Coach Morris laid the foundation for the championship program that Clemson is enjoying today. He could do that here if some of these fools would just get some perspective and give the man a chance for Gods sake. WPS and Go Hogs

Posted 6 December 2017, 6:21 p.m. Suggest removal

TravisBickle says...

@user92115, it's HAPLESS HOGS!! Don't get me started on being a "fan." In the SWC days I followed the Hogs EVERYWHERE! Drove 24 hours straight in a van with 5 other guys to the Orange Bowl in 1977 to see them beat Oklahoma. Got a speeding ticket in Tallulah and risked my life on Bourbon St., on New Year's Eve (an Arkansas woman actually got shot in the head on Bourbon on NYE) to see them get pounded by Bama. Sat in the freezing rain at War Memorial for a meaningless game against Mississippi State. Was at Texas Stadium for the Horton Nestra referee fiasco. Been to Fayetteville more times than I can count. Even got tossed from Razorback stadium for throwing oranges on the field! Was a Hog Wild contributor for years and been to every Cotton Bowl they were ever in during the 70's and 80's. It was great when it was us against them, meaning all those teams from Texas. I could go on and on but you get the picture. If the hapless Hogs were a soccer team they would be made to drop down into a lower class conference. I just got sick of the greed and irrational, delusional hype surrounding the program after they joined the SEC.

Posted 6 December 2017, 7:06 p.m. Suggest removal

DerbiRider says...

What's his second half record like?

Posted 6 December 2017, 7:48 p.m. Suggest removal

tuskerfan says...

Travis Bickle, you built a pretty good resume as a Razorback fan, but that's all talk. I'm tired of your "hapless" comments. I'm not alone! All loyal hog fans have been hurt by the recent situation on the hill, but only a few have resorted to disrespectful name calling. You're no longer a fan if you ever were. I say the new coach and team deserves a chance to prove their worth. GO HOGS!

Posted 6 December 2017, 8:46 p.m. Suggest removal

Plato99 says...

Travis Bickle makes a good point, and Mr. Tuskerfan may think he makes a point by signing off GO HOGS, but he only reveals himself to be a cheerleader. Arkansas is in over its head in the Southeastern Conference, and it would make sense to drop to a less high-pressure conference. Conference USA, perhaps, or the American Athletic Conference. We'll never beat Bama or Auburn consistently and our rivalry should be with Arkansas State if the Fayetteville alums could just get over themselves. Arkansas might be the Notre Dame or Alabama of Washington County, but that's not enough.

Posted 7 December 2017, 12:15 a.m. Suggest removal

DerbiRider says...

Well, at least over half of Arkansans can pronounce his name.

...and when fans turn on him we can call it, "hanging Chad Morris"...

Yikes! The grim reaper of bad comedy draws nigh... I'm outta here...

Posted 7 December 2017, 2:03 a.m. Suggest removal

robertelliott says...

Certainly will give him a chance but on the surface this does not make sense. We fire an experienced coach for having a poor record at UA (.468 overall and .275 conference) and hire a coach with less experience who has a similarly weak record (.389 overall and .333 in a weaker conference). We went from trying to get one of the best coaches (Malzahn) and settled on an unproven coach. At the very least this shows weak leadership at the top (or maybe a great crystal ball). Hope they are right and I am wrong.

Posted 7 December 2017, 10:48 a.m. Suggest removal

TravisBickle says...

@tuskerfan, "Recent??!!" 22 years is recent!!?? You're even more delusional than most!! I thought I saw some paper bags on some "fans" heads in a recent hapless Hogs game.

Posted 7 December 2017, 12:28 p.m. Suggest removal

tuskerfan says...

Travis. The hiring choices have been made. What good can come from negative comments at this juncture?Referring to young kids as hapless is wrong, regardless of how disappointed you are. Lately it's been hard to be a razorback fan. Now is the time to put the losses behind us, came together as Razorback Nation, and rally behind our new AD, coach, and team! Negativity at the beginning of a fresh start can only serve to prolong our agony. I'm an optimist at heart and believe in giving people a chance to prove themselves. There's a hard road ahead for our hogs. I would hope you and I can toast a hard fought victory together this fall!

Posted 7 December 2017, 1:35 p.m. Suggest removal

gohogs17 says...

Morris was very successful as Clemson's OC. He has numerous contacts in Texas where the Hogs need to recruit well. Plus, he plans a hurry up offense which has been a success in the SEC. We can't expect instant turnaround but I think we'll be able to be far more competitive than in the recent past. I'm looking forward to the next season with cautious optimism. Even a 6-6 season would be an improvement.

Posted 7 December 2017, 4:01 p.m. Suggest removal

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