What’s the old saying? If people aren’t laughing at your dreams, you aren’t dreaming big enough? Chad Morris doesn’t have that problem.
The new Arkansas coach was introduced on Thursday, and stated he took the job in large part because when he surveyed the landscape in Fayetteville, he saw the next Clemson.
Before we dive in, let’s assess where Clemson was before Morris got there. Dabo Swinney had just completed his second full season, and the sharks were circling around him. The Tigers went 6-7 in 2010, losing to every program Clemson fans viewed as a peer — they dropped games to Auburn, Miami, Florida State, South Carolina, and closed the year by falling in the Meineke Car Care Bowl to South Florida. At the time, Clemson hadn’t won the ACC since 1991 and had claimed but one national championship.
Sounds a lot like Arkansas today, right?
“The similarities of what Clemson looked like and the vision that was being put in place, the staff that was being assembled, just seeing the similarities of seven years ago and building that program and where the University of Arkansas is right now, it’s really scary,” Morris said.
We know what happened from there. Clemson snapped its 20-year ACC title drought in 2011, a No. 11 AP finish in 2012, a top-10 finish in 2013, and then the breakthrough of 2015 when Clemson joined the elite of the elite, an ongoing 40-3 run with back-to-back-to-back ACC titles and College Football Playoff appearances, a national championship last year and a shot to defend that crown next month.
And we know how and why they did it: Swinney an assembled an elite staff, and that staff recruited an elite roster. Chad Morris was hired from Tulsa after that 6-7 2010 season. Brent Venables arrived a year later, hired after Clemson allowed 70 points in an Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia. Deshaun Watson arrived in 2014, a locker room full of blue-chips came with him and haven’t stopped since.
Morris thinks he can replicate that formula in Fayetteville.
“You’ll see an exciting brand of football that will be spread sideline-to-sideline, end zone to end zone,” he said. “We’ll go fast, we’ll play fast, and we’ll have fun doing it. Defensively, we’ll be built around stopping the run. In this conference you have to stop the run, I firmly believe that. I’ll hire the best defensive coordinator in all of college football. That’s our standard. We’ll be physical, and when the (game) ends on Saturday afternoon I want our guys extremely upset because they have to wait another seven days before they can go out and hit somebody again.”
The bet for both sides here is that Morris’s high school credentials will allow his staff to build a fence around the state border for the handful of Power 5 players Arkansas produces each year while keeping the pipeline with Texas high schools open.
“When Arkansas was winning and winning big, they had a great mixture of players from the state of Arkansas, players from the state of Texas, and then scattered through Louisiana, Oklahoma, and across the rest of the country,” he said. “Being able to recruit the state of Texas as well as putting a fence around the state of Arkansas is huge.”
The blueprint is there. You can argue 2017 Arkansas is exactly like 2010 Clemson. The Hogs, like the Tigers, have a two-decade conference title drought and one national championship. They have a fan base starving to rejoin the big time.
But there are a lot of programs just like 2010 Clemson, and very few like 2017 Clemson. And none of them had to climb over Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn and Jimbo Fisher and Ed Orgeron to get there.
Which, in his mind, is all the more reason why Chad Morris is right man for the job.
“The time is now,” he said. “The place is here. The process has already started.”