Chad Morris Loses Momentum in the One Area He Still Had It: Recruiting

When Chad Morris was hired as the new head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks on December 6th, 2017, it was met with many polarizing opinions. He was an up-and-coming offensive mind who had the endorsement of his former boss at Clemson, Dabo Swinney and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. His recruiting ties to the state of Texas were also heralded. And any Arkansas fan knows the importance of successfully recruiting the Lone Star State. However, there were some red flags. First, he started his career with a record of 14-22 in his only stop as head coach at SMU from 2015-2017. Though he did improve drastically during his 3 years in Dallas, he was never able to pick up a Power-5 win…something he has still failed to do at Arkansas.

A Rough Start

Two months after the Morris era began in Fayetteville, he signed the 49th ranked recruiting class for 2018 (last in the SEC). It is impossible to put that on him, as he had such a short time to put a solid class together. And realistically, the only thing expected of him was to keep the current commits to hold true to their pledge. With little talent and many players not buying into the new coaching staff, the Razorbacks went 2-10 which is to date the worst season in school history.

Despite the struggles on the field, there appeared to be a glimmer of hope on the recruiting trail. Treylon Burks and Hudson Henry, the top two prospects in Arkansas, were committed to the Razorbacks. And the coaches were relentlessly going after “ballers” in Texas. This was a breath of fresh air to Razorback fans.

The previous coach, Bret Bielema, only signed 5 players from Texas in as many years. When it was all said and done on National signing day, Morris and his staff had put together the 23rd ranked class (10th in the SEC). Eleven of the 25 signees were 4-stars, a school record. After the transfer of quarterbacks Cole Kelley and Ty Storey, Morris brought in his former player from SMU Ben Hicks and Texas A&M’s Nick Starkel. The moves this staff made had fans buzzing as they were essentially doing everything picture perfect off of the field to turn a battered program around.

Arkansas QB Nick Starkel wasn’t the savior that Razorback fans had hoped he’d be able to be – (Photo by Charlie Kaijo)

Hope in the future

It is very easy to drink the off-season Kool-Aid, especially when you had the kind Arkansas had. Despite having such a disappointing season, Morris was getting national coverage for the job he and his staff did. With two hand-picked quarterbacks coming in, it was almost certain there would be major improvements in year two. Most reasonable fans were very aware that this would be a season full of growing pains, but were still confident five wins was not far-fetched. That was until the product on the field was displayed.

Going into this season, Arkansas looked like they could achieve another Top 25 class, if everything went to plan. Even though it can change in a snap, they were in that position through the first three weeks. The first two games were not promising as the Hogs barely escaped past FCS Portland State and did not look good against Ole Miss. There was a strong sense that Morris was going to get it turned around in a Week 3 against the Colorado State Rams.

Nick Starkel got his first start and was magnificent throwing for over 300 yards. Although the defense gave up a large amount of yards and points, they turned it up in the 4th quarter. And that helped lead the team to a big victory. It was a game they were expected to win. However, the manner in which it happened was huge for a team that had been through so much.

Ever since the loss to San Jose St, the Razorbacks have been in a tailspin – (Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

The Slide Begins

Since the clock hit zero against the Rams, it has been doomsday ever since. It began with “club dub” and the coaches allowing players to ride that win the entire week. As opposed to, you know, getting prepared for your next opponent. San Jose State, a team that had won 4 games since 2016, came into Donald W. Reynolds stadium and whipped Arkansas in every facet of the game. Excluding an admirable, but losing, performance against Texas A&M, that season did not have many positive moments.

That brings us to the topic where Morris had a ton of momentum: recruiting. Ever since the San Jose State loss earlier this year, it has been a domino effect. Moments after that game, the Hogs lost the one defensive back they had committed in Jamie “Greedy” Vance. That was not a surprise. However, it was a sign that he better get things figured out or more would jump ship. Three weeks later after a horrible loss against Kentucky, their top prospect Ty’Kieast Crawford told the coaches he was re-opening his recruiting.

The cut got even deeper for the Hogs one week later against Auburn. Their new top prospect (since Crawford had already decommitted), linebacker Martavius French, had a visit that weekend for the Auburn game. He re-opened his recruiting that next day. This was arguably the biggest loss because it was a position the Hogs are very thin. And they had already missed on some big prospects in last year’s class. French’s two teammates, Bryson Eason and Tamarion McDonald, also held an offer from the Razorbacks. They were possibly going to join him in Fayetteville. The trio has since committed to Tennessee.

It will be a tall order for Morris to recapture his recruiting momentum – (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

Momentum is difficult to rebuild

I will throw in that it is common to have decommitments, especially these days. Don’t forget these are 16, 17, and 18 year old kids who have worked their butts off to play big-time football. When they get their first offer, especially from a Power-5 school, it is easy to jump on it. Later, they realize they should’ve kept their options open. That being said, it has a much bigger impact on a team such as Arkansas.

For the 2019 class, Morris got great players because he and his staff did a phenomenal job of selling playing time. As great as that is to have in your back pocket, it can only work for so long before results have to be shown on the grass. On top of that, coaches from other schools continuously reminding recruits that the Hogs are coming off a 2-10 season. (They could duplicate that this year). There has been little to no improvement in multiple areas.

Where to go from here

In some ways, this is not completely Morris’ fault. In fact, when he was hired, he inherited two years of lazy recruiting and a team full of complacency. However, some of his decisions this year have been the reason for the bad results on the field. And recruits have taken notice of that. It has been bad. And truth be told, I do not see it getting any better. Only the man above knows how this class will turn out. But this coaching staff better get it figured out quick. Chad will still be around next year. However, as we have heard so many times: once you lose momentum in recruiting, there is a slim to none chance you will ever get it back.