As bad as things got for Chad Morris in his disastrous run as Arkansas football coach, he at least made it through much of is second season before getting fired. In hindsight, compared to what’s happening now with Auburn football coach Bryan Harsin, making it that long doesn’t look so bad.
In the offseason following Morris’ first season, an anonymous source from a random outlet accused him of not trying to develop “any type of relationship with his players. Players hardly hear from him or see him unless there is a camera rolling. He constantly says one thing, but then does another.”
Yes, that caused a bit of stir at the time, but it was also telling that source remain singular and anonymous. It blew over and Morris actually enjoyed some early-season optimism and momentum until the wheels fell off in Game 4 versus San Jose State.
The fire around Harsin, however, doesn’t appear to be petering out any time soon.
Bryan Harsin’s Hot Seat at Auburn
Rumors of an alleged affair with an Auburn staffer (which echoes another former Hogs coach) and mistreatment of players in the wake of a flood of outgoing coaches (5) and transfers (20) are at the heart of Harsin’s hot seat.
One of the more damning accusations came from former Auburn football player Lee Hunter, who left Auburn to transfer to UCF to play for former coach Gus Malzahn. “The reason I chose to leave Auburn [was] because we got treated like we wasn’t good enough — and like dogs,” he wrote on Instagram. “Coach Harsin has the true mindset for a winner but has a terrible mindset as a person.”
In some ways, this is the opposite of Chad Morris, who for the most part has been viewed as a nice guy who was in over his head as an SEC head coach. While Morris went 2-10 both of his seasons at Arkansas, Harsin started 6-2 in 2021 before Auburn lost its last five games.
Smoke Monday, a former Auburn Tiger, added on Instagram: “I was at Auburn for four years and it never felt like how it felt this past season.”
“Harsin is a hell of a coach that wants to win,” Monday added. “But [as] a person, he truly don’t understand kids who come from nothing, kids that come from the hood.”
There are a few other Auburn football players (including current ones) who have essentially backed these sentiments. It’s notable that multiple players are willing to come and talk like this publicly about their head coach.
Chad Morris, for his part, never incurred this level of backlash for current and former players while he was coaching Arkansas (even though some of them did essentially quit during his last fews in season 2).
Morris, apparently, was a good enough guy that his coaches for the most part stuck around him, although many would say he shouldn’t have kept coordinators Joe Craddock and John Chavis around for a second season. Still, Morris never had a coordinator quit on him after a single month, as Austin Davis just did on Bryan Harsin.
And the non-anonymous criticisms from Morris’ players and family members didn’t arise until well after his first offseason.
In much of the 2019 season, “they wanted to get out of their locker room as fast as they could and get back to their places and get away from the team,” Rickey Williams, father of current Razorback Zach Williams, said in August 2021. “Now they’re hanging out in the locker rooms, working together after practice on different techniques and different skills.”
“They’re talking to each other, they’re starting to communicate.”
Nobody is accusing Morris of being a better X’s and O’s coach than Bryan Harsin (or any other former or current SEC head coach, for that matter). But, much as some Razorback fans might deny it, the situation actually could have been worse. For all Morris’ issues, he did avoid the kind of hot water that has put the Auburn football program on the edge of upheaval.
Ironically, Morris played an indirect role in Auburn getting to this point. Had he never spun out in Fayetteville, his friend Gus Malzahn couldn’t have hired him as Auburn’s offensive coordinator for the 2020 season. If Morris had never coached at Auburn, the Tigers’ offense might not have suffered as much as it did. Gus Malzahn might still be Auburn’s coach today.
Ok, on second thought, Malzahn was destined to be fired in such a pressure cooker.
Brian Kelly, Chad Morris and “Club Dub”
by Brent Birch
The personalities of sports stars come in all shapes and sizes. Some have flair with how they play, some with how they dress and many with some combination that either endears them to fans or makes them the target of ridicule of opposing fans. Big personalities in sports bring some flavor to the particular game that they play. For the old school crowd, think Dennis Rodman, Joe Namath, Muhammed Ali, John McEnroe and the like. Larger than life but genuinely authentic. As the late Dennis Green famously said about the Chicago Bears, “they are who we thought they were!”
Modern day you have the quintessential cool of Steph Curry. There’s the unmitigated swagger like Joe Burrow. Even coaches get tagged with adjectives galore like the always boring Bill Belichick. That’s who they are and rarely, if ever, waver from the persona we all see publicly.
Then there is whatever new LSU football coach Brian Kelly was doing last week.
Ever since leaving the traditional, Catholic church influenced campus in South Bend, Coach Kelly has shown a side of him that was rarely displayed at Notre Dame and much more controlled than what we’ve already seen in his short tenure at LSU. The ultra conservative campus likely held him back or clearly stated “don’t you dare” as Knute Rockne would roll over in his grave.
But not at LSU where they’ve gone from goofy Les Miles to unthrottled Ed Orgeron and now to the suddenly trying to be hip Kelly. Based on what’s presented over time in Miles and Orgeron, what we all saw on field and in interviews was pure. Consistent behavior, as odd or outlandish as it seemed, that made them fan favorites when they won and bums when they lost.
Kelly’s personality switcheroo started with this bizarre and sudden southern accent he developed upon taking the LSU job. Nevermind the guy is from Everett, Massachusetts (same suburb of Boston as Razorback great, now SEC basketball TV personality Pat Bradley). I get trying to identify with his new fan base but this came off as completely forced and phoney. For a guy that had never coached below the Mason Dixon line, he picked up a southern drawl that rivaled cartoon legend Foghorn Leghorn in a matter of days.
Coach later kinda sorta admitted he tried the accent on the halftime crowd at the LSU vs. Ohio basketball game in an attempt to lure 5-star quarterback Walker Howard to Baton Rouge. Which must have worked because Howard did sign with the Tigers in December. His explanation fell flat with the local and national media.
Which leads to Kelly’s other ever evolving skill…dancing. If that is what you want to call it.
Walker Howard and Coach Kelly had a cringey cameo during an on campus visit that went viral about the same time as the southern accent shenanigans. Cool…no? Awkward…yes?
But Kelly hasn’t stopped there. He will dance for 3-Star tight ends too as evidenced by his on the fly learning of “the Griddy” dance when Danny Lewis was in LSU for a visit. Leave it to Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin to savagely troll Kelly on social media after yet another awkward video, just a few months after Razorback kicker Cam Little trolled the entire LSU football program with a “Griddy” rendition of his own. Mr. Lewis, a Louisiana native, decided Bama was a better spot for him so Kelly’s dance moves didn’t work as well this go around.
What LSU Football Doesn’t Need
I will give Kelly some credit as all this has kept LSU in the headlines during signing day season. As bad as his dad-like dance moves are, people are talking about LSU. But let’s be real…LSU doesn’t need gimmicks like this. Storied program. Recent national championship. Plenty of players in the NFL and the upcoming Super Bowl including the aforementioned Burrow.
But maybe this is the Brian Kelly we didn’t get a chance to see at stuffy Notre Dame? Hard to tell because if the guy really liked to let loose and shake a tailfeather, even behind closed doors, I would expect him to be a lot better at it.
Does it carry over into recruiting success? Does the LSU fan base like and appreciate the coach cutting it up? Time will tell. I’m guessing if he wins big, they will look the other way. If he ends up being the next Dan Mullen while ending being the wrong fit, it won’t. SEC and national football fans will know pretty quick as LSU operates in a big spotlight.
I can’t help having flashbacks of short-lived Razorback coach Chad Morris and his “Club Dub” debacle. After watching this again, props to Morris on his dance moves as he pulls it off exponentially better than Kelly. Problem is Kelly has proven he can actually coach where Morris didn’t and hasn’t at the big time college level.
Did Morris’ ability to dance and relate to players help him? On field…no, because he’s proven to be a poor SEC football coach. Recruiting…maybe? He did pull in some talent (Treylon Burks, Jalen Catalon, Bumper Pool, Rakeem Boyd, KJ Jefferson, etc.) when Arkansas Razorback football was not very good.
Brian Kelly’s pedigree lends one to believe he will win at LSU but the proof will be in the pudding. His haul for the 2022 recruiting cycle lands LSU at #14 with a few highly rated players committing on signing day. Notre Dame got back to national relevance during Kelly’s tenure but that wasn’t in the rugged SEC West (which gets tougher every year). Will he make it to the days when Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC? I don’t think that is a given. Dan Mullen seemed like a home run hire at Florida. Unlike Kelly, Mullen had plenty of experience in the SEC coming over from Mississippi State. He lasted a total of four seasons.
And don’t think that his personality didn’t have something to do with that. He was continuously at odds with the Gator media. Remember the Mullen press conference where he dressed as Darth Vader after the Gators and Missouri Tigers tangled at halftime? Did Mullen’s odd personality trickle over into recruiting? One would think so given the powerhouse program was doing very, very poorly during this recent cycle while Mullen was at the helm.
Arkansas is lucky as coach Sam Pittman seems to have a very even keel, endearing, professional and passionate personality in how he relates to everyone. Media, players, assistants, administrators, fans and recruits all get the real Sam Pittman. Those locker room celebrations with the jukebox catch phrase and such are palpable and frankly earned as he’s brought this program out of the ditch in record time beating some legit opponents while doing it.
The SEC coaching fraternity is a good mix of by-the-book, vanilla coaches with others a little more polarizing like Kiffin or Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz. Where Brain Kelly fits into all that is yet to be seen but he’s not off to a strong start. His early actions make words like disingenuous, fake and dorky come to mind. He’s simply trying too hard to fit and that won’t go well if LSU doesn’t win at LSU expectation levels. LSU is currently #27 in the 2023 recruiting rankings with only one committment. Meanwhile Arkansas is #3 with eight players already committed. But Hog fans shouldn’t get too excited. Alabama is #38 and there is zero chance they end up there.
Some Advice Brian Kelly Never Asked For
The best advice is to be a Sam Pittman. Beyond genuine and authentic to yourself, your fan base and most of all to your current and prospective players. That leads to longevity in the coaching industry because there is no time wasted trying to invent or recreate yourself into something else. Pittman’s approach to people is as big a reason the Hogs are back on track as Xs and Os.
Kelly seems like a likeable guy and someone players and fans would get behind because he has proven to be a very good football coach at a prestigious school. He’s climbed the ladder to near the top as I would rank the LSU job a notch above Notre Dame in modern day football.
The trick will be whether the real Brian Kelly can handle it or will the LSU version of Brian Kelly flame out as quickly as Club Dubb’n Chad Morris. Advantage Morris on the dance floor but Kelly is hands down the better football coach.
For Arkansas’ sake, let’s hope he has dreams of having the funkiest, slickest dance moves in the SEC, and football takes a backburner.
Wishful thinking anyway.
Some echoes of Bobby Petrino here:
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