Last season had to be a strange one for Chad Morris. He left a program on the cusp of the national elite to take over a program that was anything but. It'd be like, well, it'd be like watching your former players and co-workers put together an undefeated regular season while you go 2-10 in the first step of a major rebuild.
But Morris, now on the cusp of his second year as the head coach at SMU, isn't worried. His method of team building has worked enough times in the past for him to know it'll work in Dallas, too.
"I know what we're about," he said in an interview on The Ticket in Dallas. "We've won everywhere we've ever been. That's not just me, that's our coaches. I knew that if we could establish our culture, not change from what we were and what we're about. Winning is a byproduct of doing the right things, and if we could maintain that and put the right things in place, keep these young guys engaged, the success is going to pay off down the road. (We're) teaching these guys far more about football, you're teaching them much more about life. Not everything's going to go great for you, so how you respond and deal with that is what's going to really, in the end, be your legacy. I felt like we took a great step in the right direction. No one's happy with 2-10. We're not going to back down from being 2-10; that's what we were. But we also felt like we achieved a lot of success in year one."
While some coaches taking over a 1-11 team may be tempted to discount the input from the senior class they inherit, Morris leaned on his. After all, they were the only ones in red and blue that had seen success on the Hilltop, helping SMU reach the Hawaii Bowl as freshmen in 2012.
"I wanted those seniors to understand that they do have an important process, an important role on the football team even though we didn't have the final outcome. I had an exit interview with the majority of our seniors, and listening to those guys talk about what they gained through being a part of this program for a short period of time tells me we're on the right track," he said.
Another key to his future success, Morris said, was bringing in players from successful high school programs. Just as losing can begat losing, so can winning begat winning.
"They know what it takes to win, and being a high school coach and having won in the past, it's like a sponge. 'Just lead me, Coach. Get us going in the right direction,'" he said.
The bedrock of Morris's program, the virtue he has preached since he first put on that SMU visor back in late November 2014, was that SMU's rebuild would be built on the backs of the Texas high school football system. In fact, every player to sign or commit to Morris since his arrival has hailed from the Lone Star State.
"I am one of them, I am a Texas high school football coach. There are so many things you can relate to that are out there on the practice field, that had to hang up laundry, had to wash their own clothes, stripe their own fields, then they had to deal with in-services. I can relate to that," he said. "My commitment when they came out and hired me on that Wednesday night in November 19 months ago was the fact that, immediately we're going to gain credibility with our high school coaches in the state. In order to win in this state, you better recruit this state. I am extremely proud of the fact that we are the only Division I program the last two years on Signing Day that has signed all Texas kids. We're marketing the Texas Tough mentality. Doesn't mean we that we're not going to cross the borders to go recruit because we will, but you better be sure enough the guy is a difference maker because these high school coaches in this state are going to be the reason we get it turned around.
"There's nothing that would infuriate me more than being a high school coach, looking at a program in our state and seeing a kid that I knew, that I had or played against and watching a Saturday afternoon football game and thinking, 'Why isn't he there? I don't get it.' I've recruited all over the country -- Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas, all over -- and every school I go into, 'Tell me about Texas high school football.' That's what they want to know."