After losing to Western Kentucky 45-19 on Saturday, Arkansas has decided to pull the plug on the Chad Morris era after less than two seasons.
Barry Lunney, Jr., will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
“As part of my continued evaluation, I have come to the conclusion that a change in leadership is necessary to move our football program forward and position it for success,” Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek announced. “It is clear that we have not made the progress necessary to compete and win, especially within the Southeastern Conference. Throughout our history in football, as well as with our other sport programs, we have demonstrated that the University of Arkansas is capable of being nationally competitive. I have no doubt that as we move forward, we will identify a head coach that will help lead our program to that benchmark.
“I want to express my personal and professional regard to Coach Morris and thank him for his investment in the lives of our student-athletes.”
The loss means that for the second time this season the Razorbacks have paid a guarantee to a team of $1.5 million and also took a loss in the game, Steve Berkowitz points out. It happened earlier this year when Arkansas lost to San Jose State.
The loss dropped the Razorbacks to 2-8 on the year, and after going 2-10 in year one, it dropped Morris to just 4-18 overall. Of those four overall wins, just two have come against FBS competition, and none were over Power Five opponents. One win came last year against Tulsa, and the other was this year against Colorado State.
Morris has been one of the fast risers in the coaching profession, as just a decade ago he was the head coach at Lake Travis High School in Austin. From there, he got his break into college football at Tulsa for a season as the assistant head coach / offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He's perhaps best known for his time at Clemson (2011-14) where he helped the Dabo and the Tigers reach new heights with explosive and efficient offensive attacks.
In 2014, SMU came calling with an opportunity to return to Texas and be a college head coach. Taking over a really tough job, Morris built on wins each season, going 2-10, then 5-7 and then 7-5 before landing the Arkansas job as the Razorbacks moved on from Bret Bielema.
Taking over a roster that Bielema had crafted to pound the ball and play with multiple tight ends, most folks expected some growing pains as Morris and his staff came in with a spread no-huddle approach that relies heavily on playmakers at the receiver spots. Ultimately, the decision makers felt progress wasn't happening fast enough and change was needed.
Morris made his name at the college level developing Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson at Clemson, but he never managed to solve the quarterback position in Fayetteville. The Hogs began the season with two graduate transfers in Nick Starkel (Texas A&M) and Ben Hicks (SMU), but Saturday's loss saw them play freshman KJ Jefferson and John Stephen Jones. That pair went a combined 9-of-25 for 87 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, while WKU's Ty Storey -- who left Arkansas after not winning the QB1 job -- went 22-of-32 for 213 yards with a touchdown and no picks.
The SEC, and the SEC West in particular, isn't afraid to pony up some serious money for head coaches. The league pays only two coaches in the league (Mississippi State's Joe Moorhead and Ole Miss' Matt Luke - both first time FBS head coaches) under $4 million annually. While that's good news, being on the same side of the league as Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Gus Malzahn, and Ed Orgeron is going to be a challenge for even the best coaches the game has to offer.
Special teams coordinator and seventh-year tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. has been named the interim head coach for the program for their final games of the season against LSU on the road and Missouri at home.
Stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.