Recently, in Razorback Land, it seems like the walls are crumbling.
First, the Kentucky loss, followed by the loss of the Hogs’ highest ranked commit — Ty’Kieast Crawford. Then, linebacker D’Vone McClure and former four-star cornerback Devin Bush announced they would transfer from the program. “That was his decision. I’m happy for him,” Hogs cornerback Jarques McCellion said of Bush. “At the end of the day, I know that whatever school he goes to, they’re gonna get a great cornerback from New Orleans.”
McClellion talks about Bush at the :48 mark below:
And things aren’t going to get better any time soon with Auburn and Alabama on the horizon.
It’s enough to propel Chad Morris to No. 3 on coacheshotseat.com, behind only Love Smith (Illinois) and Clay Helton (USC) and ahead of Chip Kelly (UCLA) and Joe Moorhead (Mississippi State).
Two years ago, around this point, the Arkansas media began turning on former Hogs coach Bret Bielema. The same process is starting to happen to Chad Morris among some of the state’s most well-known sports radio hosts.
The very real possibility of Arkansas getting blown out in the next two games, and losing to a Ty Storey-led Western Kentucky team, looms over the program. It’s enough to speculate on if, and when, Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek would fire Morris, who is in only his second season.
“There’s nothing paltry about Razorback football coach Chad Morris’ buyout,” Jim Harris wrote for SportingLifeArkansas.com. “If Morris is let go on or after Jan. 1, 2020, his buyout is $9.9 million; but Arkansas would be foolish to wait that long if the powers have decided to move on. Before that date, he’d get 70 percent of his current, remaining salary.”
Hunter Yurachek’s Criteria For Football Success
On October 17, Hogs athletic director Hunter Yurachek tried to reassure fans via the Razorbacks website with a message that included this:
“Clearly, our Win-Loss record at this point in the season is not where anyone would like it to be. A loss is a loss, but I am encouraged that in each of our last three games, all decided by one score or less, that the Razorbacks had a chance in the later stages of each to earn a win. I can assure you that no one is more disappointed that we were unable to do that, than the young men and the coaching staff who have put in countless hours in preparation for this season.”
“However, within this program, our focus is on the opportunities that remain ahead. There is plenty of football left to be played this season and our coaches and student-athletes are continuing to prepare day by day for the remaining six regular season games on our schedule.”
This plays off a relatively hard-hitting interview Yurachek gave a few weeks ago. Right after the San Jose State loss, he said he thought that was a simple outlier in an otherwise improving season. “I promise our Razorback fans that we have the right person leading our football program,” he told THV 11’s Dorian Craft. “This program is headed in the right direction. Was Saturday a step backwards? Absolutely, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Craft then began a line of questioning that was unusually tough for Arkansas media that early in a season. She wanted to know specifics about who is to be held accountable for the struggles, and what the time frame fans should expect to see real, definite improvements.
Hunter Yurachek: “The accountability starts every week. It starts with me as a Director of Athletics. Coach Morris is holding himself accountable. The accountability is just in reviewing what happened on the field on Saturday and how do we fix that moving forward. If you’re talking about accountability being any changes, there’s no type of changes that are imminent within our football program as far as our staff. Coach Morris is leading that program. Again, we’re heading in the right direction. We took a step backwards, but that’s not a permanent step backwards.”
“….I can see the evolution of this program because I’m around it day in and day out. To many of our fans that are critical, they just see what happens on a Saturday. They don’t see what’s happening day in and day out in the locker room and the culture that’s being created there. We’re going to have to be patient, and I said it earlier, more patient than any of us want to be, including Coach Morris. But this program is going to make some great strides and look, we’re two and two in a 12-game season. We still have eight games to play. Just asking Razorback fans to hang in there with us.”
Dorian Craft then asked for specific examples of tangible improvements that Yurachek has seen behind the scenes.
“Just the work ethic that’s going on in the locker room,” Yurachek responded. “We have almost 75 freshmen, redshirt freshman, and sophomores. We’re asking 18- and 19-year-olds to go out there and compete in one of the best conferences in the country. We’re also asking 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds to stay focused after everybody’s patting them on the back after a big win against Colorado State and telling them how good they are and how great Nick Starkel played and that we’re finally going to turn that corner.”
“Well, we’re not prepared to turn that corner yet….”
Finally, Craft asked “what qualifies for a successful season in your opinion?”
Hunter Yurachek then said that success would be shown in how the team competed against the heart of its SEC schedule against Texas A&M, Kentucky, Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State and LSU.
“We’ve got to show that we’re competing and that we’re getting better against those teams. That’s not an easy thing to do when you talk about playing in the best football conference in the country, but we’ve got to continue to show that progression.”-Hunter Yurachek
In the last two games, against Texas A&M and Kentucky, the Hogs have actually improved — but only relative to the San Jose State game and worst losses of last year. Compared to where Arkansas was expected to be this season, the improvement isn’t happening fast enough.
And it’s highly unlikely to continue against the tougher competition coming soon.
Still, it’s easy to forget some basic facts. “This is the second youngest starting lineup, on the defensive side, in BCS football,” Pig Trail Nation’s Mike Irwin said. “That defensive starting lineup is young and most of the backups are younger, true freshman. The starters are on the field too much, makes it worse when the offense doesn’t move the ball. They can win this year with this defense.”
“The problem is the offense, specifically the quarterbacks. And it’s been that way since Chad Morris arrived. Until they get a quarterback that can make the right decisions, especially in the red zone, they’re going to continue to get beat.”
On a recent “Ask Mike” segment, Irwin also delved into the role Jerry Jones played in hiring Chad Morris while Julia Cromer-Peoples served as interim director in the days before Yurachek was hired:
It wasn’t like ‘Hey, I’m Jerry Jones.’ You better hire this guy or else, because I’ve got money.,” Irwin said. “He didn’t do that, but he did have an interim AD who was being advised by a lot of boosters, and Jerry Jones is one of them. And he did say some very good things about Chad Morris, and yes, because of who he is and his position as a donor to the school, his opinion did carry weight.
One reader asked: “Why does Arkansas hire unproven coaches and award them with ridiculous buyouts?”
Mike Irwin: “An inexperienced interim AD did that and it was approved by the board of trustees. Now the current AD, who did not hire Chad Morris, said right after he was hired that he doesn’t believe in big buyouts.”
“So we’ve probably seen the last of that. Now if Hunter Yurachek pulls the trigger on Chad Morris at some point, based on how he handled the search for Eric Mussleman, I’m confident that the search for a replacement for Morris would be handled much differently — as in no boosters would be heavily involved.”
Another fan’s question: “I’m not a fan of firing assistant coaches. It just seems like shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. What are your thoughts?”
Mike Irwin: “Well, it is done all the time and sometimes it works. Now the big problem when you do that is you’re probably going to end up with out of work coaches who need a job as replacements for the coaches you got rid of, or coaches at lower level schools looking to move up. A successful, proven assistant at a Power Five school probably wouldn’t walk into a situation like this. They’d want more security.”
Finally, what would constitute a “successful” season in 2020? That’s something Yurachek, nor Morris, has put a win total number on. But it’s a no-brainer to guess how Yurachek would think about this — that at least six wins should be expected in 2020, especially since 5-6 wins were expected this year.
“The thinking on that would be in year three he has his own players pretty much, they’ve had time to learn his system,” Irwin said. “Now let’s see some real progress from you, coach, or you’re gone. As I said earlier, I’m not 100% sure that Morris will get Year Three.”
Catch the entire, fascinating “Ask Mike” segment below: