Today, the Chad Morris era ended. There was no farewell video from him, as there was when athletic director Hunter Yurachek fired Mike Anderson.
Instead, just a perfunctory release from Yurachek that included: “It is clear that we have not made the progress necessary to compete and win, especially within the Southeastern Conference. Throughout our history in football, as well as with our other sport programs, we have demonstrated that the University of Arkansas is capable of being nationally competitive. I have no doubt that as we move forward, we will identify a head coach that will help lead our program to that benchmark.”
Until the very end, even in the wake of Saturday’s travesty of a Western Kentucky game, Morris held to the same old and tired lines about improvement taking time.
“It’s going to take some time,” Morris said following that 45-19 loss. “This is not an overnight fix. And we’ve seen that now for two years. We’re all frustrated. We’re all incredibly frustrated. We have a big youth movement on this team, and a lot of young guys that are contributing and going to be some tremendous football players, but where we are right now with these guys, we’ve got some major deficiencies that we have to fix and we have to fill. But this is not an overnight fix.”
When Yurachek met on Sunday to discuss the state of the program with Morris, he likely pointed out these deficiencies remained unaddressed nearly two years into Morris’ tenure. Nobody expected an overnight fix for the program, but a two-year partial repair is well within the bounds of reason.
The biggest root of Morris’ firing and the Hogs’ on-field struggles wasn’t the relative inexperience of the team, or its lack of talent. It wasn’t a lack of fundamentals or execution, either — those are simply symptoms of a deeper issue.
No, instead, the worst culprit was bad communication skills. It’s an issue that is almost never brought up in interviews. The coaches failed to transmit football knowledge to the players consistently so that they can improve as individuals and as a team.
I chatted with a source who talks to multiple current Hog players on the defensive side. He said that sometimes, during games, defensive coordinator John Chavis* calls plays for which the players never prepared. The assistants on the field discuss often discuss plays with Chavis at the last second. Then it comes in just seconds before the snap, or not in time at all.
As you can imagine, enough of these communication snafus lead to dysfunction and loss of player morale. And sure enough that’s what we’re seeing in the box scores. These issues appeared rampant on the offensive side as well.
As Arkansas Fight’s Adam Ford writes: “I watched the sideline during the Western Kentucky game: on multiple occasions, a banged-up Treylon Burks limped over the sideline. Not once did a coach or anyone more up the hierarchy than the water girl come to talk to him. Arkansas’ quarterbacks – even the starters – tend to mill around on the sideline, talking to no one, when the defensive is on the field. What kind of sideline is that?
Good communication is at the heart of trust, and without trust, how can a team function as a family?
In this context, it’s noteworthy that players didn’t come out publicly in Morris’ defense. Instead of seeing supportive social media posts, we instead saw ex Razorbacks like Jared Cornelius and Dan Skipper (who naturally would still chat with current Hogs) criticize these Arkansas coaches:
AMEN! This is NOT a player problem. 4 out of the 5 years I was at the UofA. I honestly felt like I improved my game in 1 or more areas. Year 5 that wasn’t the case. These coaches are good guys just not sure if they know how to develops players and come up with game plans. https://t.co/ChBtObATrZ— Jared Cornelius (@officialjred) November 9, 2019
This lack of support is unusual among recent Razorback coaches.
As longtime beat reporter Trey Biddy notes, “I hear a lot behind the scenes, but I don’t think that Chad has this team behind him. I don’t feel like they’re fighting for it.”
“Even with Bret [Bielema], losing those games that he did at the end of the year, but the players actually fought for him. They battled against Coastal Carolina and Ole Miss. You know, they battled in some games.”
“You knew Houston Nutt. They always had his back. Darren McFadden grabbed the mic to tell the students to stop talking trash. Players holding press conferences, player call press conferences to support their coach. Those guys would fight for those coaches. They may have been flawed. Yes. The players had their back. They believed in them.”
“Even Bobby Petrino, they feared him. They believed in him though. I just don’t see that with this team. I see a lot of the same mistakes. Every week feels like an experiment.”
Morris has an explanation for the wild inconsistency of the team’s performance: lack of experience.
“We’re asking a lot of 18-year-old young men to step in and play against some older guys. And there’s no excuse in that, but they’re having to grow up and they’re having to grow up the hard way. And we’re definitely not where we want to be. And as I mentioned earlier, it’s disappointing, and we’re all frustrated with it. These young men will continue to grow, and they’ll continue to mature and develop.”-Chad Morris after the Western Kentucky skull crushing
For Biddy, and plenty of other Arkansas media members, this still sounds like an excuse. And it wore thin — to the point where Morris was fired on Sunday and was replaced with Barry Lunney, Jr. as interim coach.
Who will Morris’ replacement? And will the new Razorback coach actually be able to communicate well?
From Mike Norvell to Gus Malzahn to Lane Kiffin (son of former Razorback coach Monte Kiffin), here are a list of possibilities:
For more analysis and opinion, read our latest column by Tommy Foltz:
PS: According to Wally Hall, “Chavis was paid $1.5 million for this season. If he makes it to next year he’ll get $1.6 million. If he’s fired he gets 70 percent of the $1.6 million. If the whole staff is fired it costs the UA more than $12 million. A very bad business model.”