The day SMU fans knew was coming is finally here. Reports for several days have pegged SMU head coach Chad Morris as the next head coach at the University of Arkansas. Morris held a team meeting on Wednesday morning to announce the news to the Mustangs and his staff, who were in the dark since reports began hitting twitter on Tuesday afternoon.
Morris accepted, what ESPN and the AP reported Wednesday morning, a roughly $4 million annual deal for six years, leaving SMU after three seasons.
The Texas native had a 14-22 record at SMU and his energetic and optimistic attitude resurrected the Mustangs from a 1-11 mark in 2014 and left it with bowl eligibility this year for the first time since 2012.
As painful a realization it is that SMU is a stepping stone job in 2017, Morris unquestionably left the program in better position than he found it just three years ago. Coming in as a successful offensive coordinator at Clemson, Morris, a former Texas high school football coach of 16 years, reestablished ties to local high schools and raised the prominence of SMU among recruits within the state. It will be up to his successor to maintain these relationships and the Mustangs credibility in a state with four ‘Power 5’ schools and five ‘Group of 5’ schools to compete with.
What remains at SMU is quarterback Ben Hicks, 1,000-yard receiver Trey Quinn and 1,000-yard runner Xavier Jones on an offense that is top-16 nationally in scoring (40.2 points-per-game), total offense (493.8 yards-per-game) and passing yards (308.0 yards-per-game). The year before Morris took over, SMU scored 10.6 points-per-game in a 1-11 season.
Known for his explosive spread offense, Morris got the most out of his recruits and molded players like Courtland Sutton into stars. Ben Hicks became a record-setter under center in two years and Sutton is likely to be SMU’s first first-round pick in the NFL draft since Reggie Dupard and Rod Jones in 1986.
It is early to speculate about Morris’ successor, but the task will be theirs to ensure that the Ponies recent run of success is not a flash in the pan. He will have to build upon the solid foundation that exists within the program and increase SMU’s footprint within a very winnable American Athletic Conference. With plans for an indoor practice facility and the ability to pay (Morris was the highest paid coach within the ‘Group of 5’ conferences) SMU should be able to bring in a quality coach before the early signing period later this month.