On Tuesday afternoon, Arkansas coach Chad Morris stood at the podium at SEC Media Days and sold his program.
He sold a rich history in Fayetteville. He sold a culture change. He sold himself.
Hired after last season ended, Morris is starting the Razorbacks from square one, trying to rebuild a team that was only 4-8 a season ago. There’s quite a bit of uncertainty in Fayetteville — from the starting quarterback on down the roster.
He knows that external expectations are low. Posed with a question about the prospect of likely being picked last in the SEC West, Morris wasn’t fazed.
“Whether we're picked to finish first or finish last is irrelevant at this point in time. As the way I looked at it, nobody's played a snap yet,” Morris said.
“You can't help but not to hear it. It's how hungry is this football team going to be because of it. And we got a lot of returning starters, a lot of returning lettermen, that experienced the season that they had last year. And I've said it before, and 4-8 is not acceptable. It’s not acceptable whoever coach is, regardless of that. So these young men have had to feel that.”
Morris brings a different pedigree and perspective than the other five first-year coaches in the SEC. He said he takes as much away from his teaching career — “I do not believe there's such a thing as a great coach and not a good teacher,” he asserts — as he does from anything on the field. His journey from nearly becoming an actuary to high school teacher and coach to the SEC is one of the more unusual stories in college football.
But in the end, Morris’ tenure at Arkansas will be defined by his ability to steer the team on the field. He acknowledged his program had a long way to go to restore the rich tradition.
For now, that process will be slow and steady, and must be focused internally, first and foremost. Asked who he believed to be Arkansas’ biggest rival, Morris seemed a bit perplexed.
“Right now,” he said, after pausing briefly to consider the question, “I would say our biggest rival is the Arkansas Razorbacks.”
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.