FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks didn't land their top target Gus Malzahn to be their head football coach, but they appear on the verge of hiring a Texas-based version of Malzahn.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that SMU Coach Chad Morris was involved in negotiations with University of Arkansas, Fayetteville officials and on the brink of an agreement Tuesday evening.
Morris, who turned 49 on Monday, became a top target for Arkansas after Malzahn spurned an offer from the Razorbacks on Sunday to return to his old stomping grounds. Malzahn had been on Arkansas' radar since interim athletic director Julie Cromer Peoples fired fifth-year coach Bret Bielema on Nov. 24.
Morris, a proponent of the up-tempo Spread offense, shot through the high school ranks in Texas much like Malzahn did in Arkansas in roughly the same time period. He won three state championships in his 16 years as a head coach in Texas, including back-to-back crowns at Lake Travis in 2008 and 2009. He held a 169-38 record in high school.
Negotiations with Morris came the day after Arkansas secured Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek to lead the department. He had held the position of vice president of athletics at the University of Houston prior to his appointment by UA Chancellor Joe Steinmetz.
Yurachek and Steinmetz will participate in an introductory news conference today on the UA campus.
Yurachek replaced Jeff Long, who was fired by Steinmetz on Nov. 15, a month and a half shy of completing his 10th season after succeeding Frank Broyles.
Long sent a congratulatory tweet to Yurachek on Tuesday, writing "Congratulations @HunterYurachek, hope you grow to love UA, Fay/NWA/ & Arkansas as much as our family. Wishing you the best! Go Hogs!"
A native of Edgewood, Texas, Morris has a three-year record of 14-22 at SMU, his first head coaching job.
Morris took over the Mustangs after they went 1-11 under June Jones and interim coach Tom Mason in 2014.
SMU was 2-10 in his first season and improved to 5-7 in 2016. His current team is 7-5 with a trip to the inaugural Frisco Bowl against Louisiana Tech on tap for Dec. 20.
The Mustangs are ranked No. 13 in the FBS in total offense with 493.8 yards per game and No. 8 in scoring with 40.2 points per game.
Former Arkansas quarterback Rafe Peavey, who transferred in 2016 to SMU to play for Morris, posted a tweet on Tuesday evening that read "Arkansas, y'all are getting a good one."
Morris served as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Tulsa in 2010, two years after Malzahn departed the same position to join Gene Chizik's staff at Auburn.
The 2010 Golden Hurricane went 10-3 under Todd Graham with Morris' unit ranking No. 5 in total offense with 505.6 yards per game and No. 6 in scoring with 41.4 points per game.
Morris joined Dabo Swinney's Clemson staff in 2011 and produced the nation's No. 26 total offense (440.8 ypg), which ranked No. 24 in scoring (33.6) and No. 21 in passing (282.3).
The Tigers went 11-2 in 2012, finishing No. 9 in total offense (512.7) and No. 6 in scoring (41.0).
Clemson capped its 2013 season with a 40-35 victory over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Morris' offense ranked No. 10 in total offense (507.7) and tied for No. 8 in scoring (40.2).
In his final year with the Tigers, his unit was No. 58 in offense (408.3) and No. 51 in scoring (30.8) with sophomore quarterback DeShaun Watson at the reins.
Memphis Coach Mike Norvell, who was among Arkansas' list of candidates, signed a contract extension with the No. 20 Tigers on Tuesday after leading the team to a 10-2 record. Norvell, 36, a former standout receiver at the University of Central Arkansas, led the Tigers to a berth in the American Athletic Conference championship game where Memphis lost 62-55 in overtime to unbeaten No. 12 Central Florida on Saturday in Orlando, Fla.
Chad Morris’ collegiate coaching career:
YEAR ALL CONFERENCE
2015 2-10 1-7 (t-5th AAC West)
2016 5-7 3-5 (5th AAC West)
2017 7-5 4-4 (4th AAC West)
TOTALS 14-22 8-16
NOTE Morris was 169-38 in 16 seasons as a high school coach in Texas at Eustace, Elysian Fields, Bay City, Stephenville and Lake Travis.
Sports on 12/06/2017
Print Headline: UA closing in on deal with Morris, sources say