A little more than three years ago, Chad Morris arrived in Fayetteville fresh off a plane from Texas, ready to conquer the world.
So confident was the new Arkansas football head coach that he sent out a Tom Cruise “Maverick” Tweet to announce his first recruiting successes:
It didn’t take too long for those shades to come down, and the cocky Tweets (hopefully) silenced forever.
When it comes to coaching in college circles, Chad Morris isn’t feeling like such a top gun any more.
He churned out two of the worst seasons in Arkansas football history, totaling four wins overall. Then he moved to Auburn as the offensive coordinator and put the hammer down on his boss Gus Malzahn’s tenure at Auburn.
Plenty of Arkansas fans joked about the prospect of Morris returning to the Texas high school ranks, where he won three state titles and went 167-40 as the head coach of various high schools across Texas in 1994 to 2009.
While Morris has been humbled at the SEC level, he’s still hot stuff in Texas prep circles.
That’s why, on Wednesday, Allen High School in north Dallas announced him as its next head coach.
I’m not jumping the gun on April Fool’s Day:
We are pleased to announce Chad Morris as the new Head Coach of the Allen Eagles football program. Coach Morris brings a wealth of experience from the high school and collegiate ranks to Allen. Read more at https://t.co/mPB28y4cRj. pic.twitter.com/jHA2I0NyLT— Allen ISD (@Allen_ISD) March 31, 2021
Chad Morris Goes Back to High School
On Tuesday night, multiple sources told Football Scoop Allen High School leaders had made Morris its top target as it seeks to replace its longtime coach Terry Gambill who is retiring.
Allen is Texas’ largest high school and a powerhouse at the state’s 6A classification. It went 65-4 under Gambill.
“If Morris finalizes a deal with Allen, he also stands to be in much closer proximity to his children, who are both active in college football,” John Brice wrote.
“Chandler Morris [also a former Arkansas football commit] recently transferred from Oklahoma to TCU, and Mackenzie Morris is the recruiting operations coordinator at North Texas. Taking the Allen job would bring the Morris family within an hour’s drive of each other.”
Whether Chandler Morris’ former Oklahoma coach, Lincoln Riley, will release him to play for another Big 12 team this season is a matter of controversy.
However, if Riley wants to recruit Allen players in the future, he might want to grant that release.
Chad Morris and his Arkansas Football Contract Buyout
In terms of pay, returning to high school will be quite the step down for Morris.
“Allen’s job posting for a head football coach estimates an annual salary up to nearly $124,000 ($476.01 per day),” Greg Riddle and Joseph Hoyt reported for the Dallas Morning News.
“At Arkansas, he signed a six-year deal worth roughly $3.5 million per year — a contract that Arkansas is still paying him as a part of a buyout” that was originally $10 million.
Arkansas had already gotten out of paying $2.205 million of that amount because of Morris’ guaranteed contract at Auburn.
But Morris has a duty to mitigate in his buyout with the Tigers,” HawgBeat.com’s Andrew Hutchinson writes.
That means his $124,000 salary “will not change what Arkansas pays him over the next two years.”
“If Morris is still there in 2023, his salary at Allen would make a slight impact on what he’s owed by the Razorbacks.”
Morris’ new, lower salary will still place him among the highest paid coaches in Texas high school football, although it wouldn’t crack the Top 5 according to MaxPreps:
According to the Football Scoop’s John Brice, it appears Morris still had actual suitors at the college level, too.
“Though sources said Morris had some college options during this cycle, he has taken a very deliberate approach in waiting for the right opportunity.”
Whatever that right opportunity is, it’s likely he has learned a few lessons during his flameout in the SEC that will make him a better coach.
His areas for improvement come through pretty strongly when going back to the summer of 2020. That’s when the HawgBeat.com’s Andrew Hutchinson wrote about the differences between Chad Morris and Sam Pittman:
“It’s a big difference,” Treylon Burks said in a press conference. “Coach Pittman, he cares about his players. … I just like the fact that even the highest player, he’ll get on to them.
Sam Pittman “is going to treat everybody the same. Even a walk-on or me, anybody, Rakeem (Boyd) — he’s going to treat everybody the same.”
I just like that he’s an all-around good man and that’s what we need on our staff.”
Hutchinson continued: “That comment seems to give some credence to the anonymous quote that circulated on Twitter last summer, indicating Morris separated the walk-ons from the scholarship players in the locker room and treated them poorly.”
That goes against some of what Allen ISD Superintendent Robin Bullock said in a press release reported by the Dallas Morning News:
“The longer I spoke with Coach Morris, the more certain I became that he was the right person to lead the Allen Eagles football team,”Bullock said.
“Coach Morris is clearly passionate about coaching young athletes and helping them find success. His coaching record speaks for itself, and it’s also evident that he is a proven leader who focuses on building relationships with student-athletes, mentoring coaches, and promoting a positive culture throughout the program.”
“When you mix integrity and doing the right thing with the desire to motivate students to be the best, great things will follow.”
Morris, for the most part, seemed like a good guy — just in over his head as an SEC coach. Hopefully, at Allen, he’ll be all the more wise after his rough go and treat players and regular students alike with more wisdom.
Also, it remains to be seen what kind of classes he will teach.
In his previous stints, he was fond of teaching math.
Chad Morris On Becoming Allen High’s New Football Coach
“I am honored to join Allen ISD and the Allen Eagles football program,” Morris said in a news release.
“Allen High School is known throughout the state and nation for having a storied tradition of excellence in everything it does, and the football team is certainly included in that discussion.”
My roots run deep in Texas high school football, and I’m excited for the opportunity to get back to coaching young student-athletes and making an impression on their lives.”
“As a coach, I’ll expect our students to work hard, but I want them to know that I care about their overall development as leaders both on and off the field.”
“It’s my goal to establish a culture that can impact our student-athletes in a positive way, and I believe that will allow us to compete for championships on a consistent basis.”
Allen, by the way, plays football in the nation’s largest high school football stadium. It seats about 18,000 — not too much lower than where turnout for Arkansas football games where trending under Morris.
Bask in its obscene glory:
College football analyst thinks getting Chad Morris is an “outstanding hire.”
Go to the 2:34 mark below for the reasons why and what he projects Morris will do schematically at Allen High School:
Chad Morris Back to Clemson?
Perhaps Morris will use his time back in high school to get his confidence back and then spring back into college football.
At 52 years old, it’s unreasonable to think Morris won’t land somewhere in college again as a one-time offensive innovator. Even his former defensive coordinator John Chavis landed a sweet gig as a middle school coach in Tennessee.
The coaching fraternity is small, after all, and longtime relationships matter.
Morris, who has a decades-long friendship with Gus Malzahn, has already played one of his buddy cards when he got Auburn’s offensive coordinator position shortly after Razorbacks athletic director Hunter Yurachek showed him the road.
But Morris still has at least one card left to play: the Clemson connection.
Ah yes, those other Tigers. The place where the Legend of Morris the Offensive Genius began flourishing on a national scale all those years ago.
From 2011 to 2014, Morris served as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Clemson, helping turn around a team that had gone 6–7 in 2010 under head coach Dabo Swinney.
Former Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips, younger brother of Razorback great Lloyd Phillips, said he had seen something special in Swinney and promoted him to the head coaching position, though many felt Swinney was unprepared. Phillips kept the faith when things looked bleak, signed off on hiring Morris, then a relatively unknown offensive coordinator out of Tulsa.
“I had no qualms going with Chad, even though his work at the college level was minimal,” Phillips later recalled. “But his high school record was pretty spectacular in what he accomplished in the state of Texas, and he came in here and he changed the paradigm on what we did offensively.”
Under Morris’ jittery, Red Bull-fueled hands, he masterminded a fast-tempo, spread offense that brought Clemson back to national prominence. It went 42–11 in his years there.
Head coach Dabo Swinney loved him, and Morris loved him back.
Indeed, at the end of the 2011 season, Clemson gave Morris a six-year contract worth $1.3 annually. He tied Malzahn, then Auburn’s offensive coordinator, as the highest-paid assistant in the nation.
In later years, at Arkansas, Morris would try to play up those Clemson years and make the case he was modeling the Hogs’ program off what Swinney had done.
To be fair, the programs shared some similarities, as I pointed out. They included:
- Both Swinney and Morris were non-native, Southern head coaches
- Both Swinney and Morris had developed recruiting pipelines to big states next door (Georgia, Texas)
Originally, “Morris had enough of those Swinney qualities with his energy, his media skills and his positive coaching style to make it seem like Arkansas was getting Costco Dabo — close enough to the name brand that a slight drop-off in quality was barely noticeable,” USA Today columnist Dan Wolken wrote.
Turns out, it was more like Kwik-E-Mart Dabo.
All the talk about improvement happening within the program that was invisible to the outside world in the 2019 season proved to be talk only. It was one of the most embarrassing “The Emperor’s New Clothes” moments in SEC coaching history.
Perhaps, though, those Clemson ties haven’t been tapped out yet.
While Morris was at Clemson, one of the young rising assistants under him was running backs coach Tony Elliott.
Since Morris left, Elliott has been promoted to co-offensive coordinator with Jeff Scott and now sole offensive coordinator. Under his watch, Clemson has won two national titles and produced the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft in Trevor Lawrence. His 2018 and 2019 produced back to back 650 point seasons — the first school to achieve that since Yale in 1888-89.
Tony Elliott is destined for a head coaching job one day. He was brought up as a candidate for the Tennessee opening, but that instead went Josh Heupel.
Still, if and when Elliott leaves for a head coaching position, Morris could be his replacement.
If Morris were to take over in, say, 2022, he can’t expect to use the same tactics that were so cutting edge a decade ago to take Tigers quarterback DJ Uiagalelei’s game to a level far above what he was able to do with Ty Storey, Nick Starkel or Bo Nix.
The game has evolved, and Morris has yet to prove he can adapt enough to stay ahead of the curve. If he returned to Clemson and couldn’t innovate enough, he could tarnish his legacy there in the same way Bo Pelini hurt his at LSU after a disastrous return to the former defensive coordinator position in 2020.
Elliott, for his part, believes Morris will succeed again.
“I have no doubt that he’s going to bounce back,” he said of Morris after the Arkansas debacle. “It’s just tough for any coaching family to go through a situation like this because at the end of the day, I don’t believe there’s any coach out there that wants to do a bad job.”
“I think every coach wants to do a good job and they do what they believe they need to do to get the job done, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out and that’s the unfortunate piece of it. So, just praying for him and his family, but I know the kind of man he is. I know he’ll bounce back.”
Hawgbeat.com’s Nikki Chavanelle, who covered Morris at SMU and Arkansas, keeps the faith too. “I still think that he can be a very, very good offensive coordinator. But I just don’t know if he’s been in the right situations with the right people around him to make that show.”
Hear more of Chavanelle’s insight on Morris and what we wrong at the end of this clip: