Chad Morris had a good early pitch when he got the Arkansas job in December 2017 but the players never really bought in and looking back that was clear as a bell his very first day.
ESPN’s Tom Luginbill noticed it from the players, too.
“I just never felt like there was a lot of enthusiasm from the players’ side,” he said told Derek Ruscin and Zach Arns (Ruscin & Zach) on ESPN Arkansas Wednesday afternoon.
Luginbill had known Morris for awhile but he’s had some time to look at the overall. Like some others in the media he really didn’t see it coming.
“I’ve known Chad all the way back to his high school days,” he said on the show. “I think he’s a really good coach … he’s proven that. You don’t go from being the offensive coordinator that’s received a ton of credit for getting Clemson where they are now offensively to all of a sudden take a stupid pill and becoming a bad football coach. That didn’t happen to Chad Morris.”
What Luginbill didn’t say but maybe he noticed was the players’ reaction to Morris in his first team meeting. The video was put up just about everywhere but here it is as released by the UA:
In my rearview mirror the players didn’t look too interested. Since most of the fans and media weren’t really looking for anything negative we didn’t exactly see it.
Hogs basketball coach Eric Musselman said on Ruscin & Zach just before Luginbill about the time he met legendary football coach Paul Brown who said the most crucial part of a meeting is the first three minutes. That’s when the players determine whether they are in or out.
if you subscribe to that the players were out quick.
“The coaching staff, Chad, were always very engaged,” Luginbill said. “It was important to them and they truly believed they were going to turn the thing around.
“I don’t know if the players ever looked at it that way.”
They didn’t. Some in that video were gone before the following summer via the transfer portal or they just weren’t going to play for Morris, who may have tried to jump in the left lane and put the hammer down when he should have left the cruise control at the limit for a few miles.
“When you look at the philosophical differences of what Bret Bielema was going to be on offense and what Chad Morris is, you don’t just wave a magic wand and have that change overnight,” Morris said. “The problem is he didn’t need to change it overnight. They just needed to show they were making progress and instead they regressed. I don’t think any coach can survive something like that.”
What Luginbill didn’t say is that it too often appeared Morris thought he had more time, which was a lack of experience at the big-time college level.
He was hired by an inexperienced interim athletics director that jumped into the deep end of the pool.
Combine that with either not listening to people experienced at the SEC level or having anyone that had a clue, he failed miserably at the political side and the full-time boss didn’t have anything on the line when Morris didn’t win games.
It should have been apparent he didn’t have the talent to win at the SEC level and he probably knew it. Morris thought he could recruit his way out of the problem and said as much on numerous occasions.
“You’re in a conference if you don’t have great players on defense it’s hard to survive,” Luginbill said. “Right now Arkansas is not going to have a defensive front like Auburn or an Alabama or an LSU … even Texas A&M as of late. That’s always going to be a challenge playing in the SEC West.”
Having a rotating door at the quarterback spot was another problem and graduate transfer Feleipe Franks may help with that … but not alone.
“Can he bring some offensive linemen with him?” Luginbill asked. “Sam Pittman’s an offensive line guy and if you watched Arkansas the last two years that was the core of the problem was up front, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.”
Franks may discover it would have helped him bringing some of Florida’s linemen with him, but he can still be a positive for the Hogs, he feels.
“He’s bringing some stability,” Luginbill said. That’s the one thing that position has not had at Arkansas is some stability and hopefully that’s something that will permeate throughout the locker room.”
Oh, and just be patient taking care of the small things which is something Morris never could seem to get over to any of the eight guys who started over the two-year debacle.
“Sometimes just the sheer factor of getting first downs is something that can create such confidence,” he said. “Forget about touchdowns and field goals … just get a first down, then getting the next first down. Arkansas had a LOT of trouble with that a year ago.”
Not only did Luginbill not see a buy-in with the coaches but the quarterback position as well.
“I don’t think anybody on that team trusted whoever it was that was going to take the snaps,” he said. “You weren’t seeing success, you weren’t seeing progress and you weren’t moving the ball up and down the field.
“Whoever it is needs to prove they can be a consistent factor of positive momentum of moving the football.”
Morris couldn’t figure out how to motivate players which ultimately proved to be his undoing.
Early appearances are at least that has changed with Pittman coming in.