DALLAS — There is an NFL playoff game on the television in the cluttered luxury suite at Gerald J. Ford Stadium that new SMU coach Chad Morris is temporarily using as an office.
A 46-year-old Texan who grew up just outside Dallas, Morris cannot help but be distracted by the Cowboys and Packers, but Morris doesn’t watch football like most fans.
He examines and dissects the game. He tries to see the defense through the eyes of Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo, and then figure out how to teach his quarterbacks to see it that way, too.
When it comes to football, Morris is always on the clock.
“I try but there’s no way,” to turn it off, he said.
— SMU coach Chad Morris
“My wife is a bigger football fan than I am. I’ll come home and she’ll have football on TV. Or she’ll be watching College Football Live, and I’ll say, ‘Paula, can we please turn it?’ Give me “American Idol.” Give me “Duck Dynasty.” Give me some type of reality television or something. Put it on The Weather Channel for me.”
The former Texas high school coach has returned home to lead a college football team for the first time. After spending four seasons as one of the most successful and highly paid offensive coordinators in major college football, Morris left a comfy gig at Clemson to become the latest coach to try to save SMU. He plans to rebuild the Mustangs with materials made in Texas.
“I know what football in this state means,” Morris said. “In particular, I know what high school football means. Any coach who comes into this profession, you better be able relate to high school coaches, whatever job you take. I’ve got that. We now have connections to high school coaches.”
The Mustangs have been a mess for most of the last 25 years, never fully recovering from a two-year shutdown due to NCAA sanctions in 1987.
SMU finally seemed to right its football program under coach June Jones, who led the Ponies to four consecutive bowl appearance from 2009-12. But it wasn’t built to last. The Mustangs went 1-11 last year and Jones resigned after two games.
Faced with another reboot, SMU honed in on Morris, who graduated from Texas A&M and coached high school football in the Lone Star state for 16 years. Morris left Texas to start his college coaching career at Tulsa in 2010, but he never did dig up those roots.
On the day in December he was introduced by SMU, Morris checked his cellphone to find 690 text messages and 898 email. High school coaches from all over Texas, coaches he had made sure to stay in touch with while he was in South Carolina, wanted to congratulate him and welcome him back.
As of a couple weeks ago, he still had 256 unread texts.
“I’m going to answer them,” Morris said.
It was that personal touch, a good luck text on a Friday night, a congratulatory letter for making the playoffs, which helped Morris to keep those Texas ties strong. And that made him an obvious choice for SMU.
“I’ll stop short of saying it was a requirement, but it was a strong preference that whomever we hired had some tie to the state of Texas,” SMU athletic director Rick Hart said.
Morris said there are enough good high school football players in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to recruit on $10 worth of gas.
“I will not drive by or fly over kids in our home state to get kids from outside of here,” he said. “That’s not right. There’s enough talent right here.”
Despite some success on the field, SMU lost touch with its base under Jones. According to The Dallas Morning News, no FBS team in the state of Texas had fewer Texans on its roster in 2014.
Morris pulled two members of his new staff — running backs coach Claude Mathis (DeSoto) and director of recruiting Mark Smith (L.D. Bell) — straight out of Dallas-area high schools.
SMU probably won’t win most head-to-head recruiting battles with its nearest Big 12 neighbors, TCU and Baylor, but it won’t back down from the big boys under Morris.
“We feel pretty good sending our kids that way,” said Lake Travis coach Hank Carter, who followed Morris at the Austin high school. “We know he understands how things are done in Texas.”
Morris also understands offense. His hurry up, no-huddle spread didn’t just break records at Clemson, it helped establish an identity for the Tigers. He wants it to do the same at SMU.
“We are a hurry-up, no-huddle football program,” he said. “We don’t wait on anything. We go get it.”
This article was written by Ralph D. Russo from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.