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

By Matt Jones

This article was originally published December 6, 2017 at 10:42 a.m. Updated December 6, 2017 at 6:51 p.m.

new-razorback-coach-chad-morris-waves-as-he-arrives-at-drake-field-in-fayetteville-on-wednesday-dec-6-2017

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

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

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

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

2966 total votes.

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).

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.

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

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arkateacher54 says... December 6, 2017 at 11:11 a.m.

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.

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GeneralMac says... December 6, 2017 at 11:27 a.m.

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 "

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goldmerry says... December 6, 2017 at 11:31 a.m.

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

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TravisBickle says... December 6, 2017 at 11:41 a.m.

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.

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obbie says... December 6, 2017 at 12:25 p.m.

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!

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drs01 says... December 6, 2017 at 1:12 p.m.

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......

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user92115 says... December 6, 2017 at 1:36 p.m.

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.

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TexBack says... December 6, 2017 at 2:12 p.m.

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.

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RBBrittain says... December 6, 2017 at 2:14 p.m.

@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.

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pigfan34 says... December 6, 2017 at 2:17 p.m.

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!

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