Before he was Chad Morris, highest-paid coordinator in college football, he was Chad Morris, struggling high school coach.
After winning a state championship and playing for three more as the head coach at Elysian Fields and Bay City, Morris became the second head coach trying and failing to duplicate Art Briles' success at Stephenville. It wasn't working. People wanted him gone. He wasn't calling plays like Briles called plays, and for that he had to go. "You can get fired quicker as a Texas high school football coach than you can as Clemson's offensive coordinator, I promise you that."
Morris was close to testing that theory, until he convinced the Stephenville booster club to fly he and his offensive staff to go meet an Arkansas high school coach named Gus Malzahn. Morris had called after Stephenville's season ended, and Malzahn told him to come in early January. The Stephenville staff flied to Little Rock that week to see Malzahn's Springdale team in the state semifinals, and then again the next week for the state championship. By the time they returned in January, Malzahn knew Morris was serious about turning his career around.
From there, Morris describes his career like it's a list of groceries.
Back-to-back 16-0 state championship seasons at Austin's Lake Travis High School, a 10-win season at Tulsa, an ACC championship in his first year at Clemson and 22 more wins (and 2.6 million more dollars made) in the last two years.
At first, Morris didn't want to go. He and his wife were making good money, and he was sitting on top of a goldmine at Lake Travis (the Cavaliers would go on to win two more state championships following Morris' departure). Life was good in Austin. It wasn't until Todd Graham, himself a former Texas high school football coach, convinced Morris to join him in Tulsa by saying that he could impact more lives in college ball than high school.
Now, after years of sitting and listening to college coaches speak at conventions, Morris is the college coach speaking to the people he used to be. Sunday night at the AFCA Convention in Indianapolis, Morris dished on his philosophy and his habits to a group of several hundred high school and (mostly small) college coaches.
- In calling a game, Morris likes to call two reverses a game and take three deep shots a quarter. He firmly believes in running his quarterbacks. He tries to score on every play. "I told Coach Swinney from day one, 'You're going to have to tell me 'woah', not 'go'." He referenced his play call from Clemson's one-yard line in the Orange Bowl. Morris tried to score a touchdown, but the play ended in a safety. "Somebody scored, it just wasn't us."
- Morris writes his game plan down six different times by the time Saturday rolls around. Beginning with film study on Sunday afternoon, the he'll review selected plays (usually about one third) from the day before, so he can get clarification from his assistants or vice versa. On Sunday night, he watches the first half of the last three games from that week's opponent. He gives each offensive assistant his own film to study (second down, red zone, etc.) on Monday morning. He lets the staff go at about 8:30 or 9 p.m. on Monday night, but he stays until about two in the morning - with his GAs, of course. "Sometimes it's easier if you get everybody out of there, throw some country and western on, and get to work."
- Tuesday is the day he studies third down. "If you want to win at any level," Morris said, "you better be good on third down. Third and one or two will win you a lot of ballgames."
- He reviews the plan with the staff on Wednesday, and the game plan is done by Wednesday night or Thursday morning.
- Morris noted that Clemson scored on 66 percent of the possessions in which it did not go three-and-out last season.
- Morris is part of the minority of offensive coordinators that calls the game from the field. The reason is two-fold. First, he likes to look his quarterback in the eyes. "Sometimes you need to look him in the eye and say, 'Hey look, this is pretty serious, dude.'" Face-to-face communication with the offensive line is also important to Morris. He speaks to them first after every series, and requires his quarterbacks to sit with the linemen on the bench.
- Second, Morris says he'd be too anxious to call plays from the press box. "I don't smoke, but if I did I'd smoke a carton of cigarettes up there," he said.
- Clemson quarterbacks spend 15 minutes every day on nothing but footwork.
- Morris tells his quarterbacks that it's his job to think and their job to play. "Don't think, just play," he said. "Let me do the thinking, you play." He also stressed that agonizing over a perfect play call should be avoided. "If you have to call the perfect play, it's going to be a long night anyway," Morris said.
- Ultimately, Morris builds his entire offense around getting a one-on-one match-up with the ball in the air. "If we can get the ball in the air in a one-on-one match-up, we've done our job. If we can't win it, then we've got to recruit better."