McCollum’s Column: Home run? Just check Morris’ box score and reputation

You can’t classify “home run” hires before a guy even steps into the batter’s box.

 

Just like multi-star high school recruits, you usually have to wait a couple of years before talking about home runs, grand slams and slugging percentages.

But from all indications, Arkansas’ new coach, Chad Morris, is a heavy hitter. After his initial news conference, there’s much meat on the bone to get even the most cautious fan salivating.

He checks all the boxes (and maybe a couple more) that most fans desired.

Folks in Dallas familiar with the SMU program say Morris runs a clean program, is a straight shooter and cultivates deep relationships with players, alumni, boosters, faculty and friends. He apparently completely re-energized the SMU program, which was down for the count when he took over.

Morris, a legend in Texas high school coaching circles, took over an SMU program, which had already endured the NCAA’s only death penalty, was about to be buried again. June Jones, his predecessor, had resigned after three games on the way to an 0-12 season the year before. In one of the most populated area of Texas, he inherited a team with very few Texas high school recruits.

He seems to be just as caring and classy as Bret Bielema. He’s got the same fast-paced innovative style as Gus Malzahn and Art Briles without the baggage. He’s Clemson’s Dabo Swinney with a similar mission and passion. He has a brilliant offensive mind but knows the value of defense and stopping the run and that will be reflected in his coordinator and staff.

He’s a dynamite coach waiting for a place to light the fuse.

Yeh, he was 14-22 at SMU, but before you evaluate that, consider the degree of difficulty. There was one steep incline.

Morris should be evaluated by how he helped created the offensive template that Swinney used at Clemson to create possibly the most envied and powerful programs in college football.

He wants Arkansas to be Clemson 2.0.

“We want to be the model,” he said at his introductory news conference.

And about “home run” hires, which is bandied about so much by people without perspective that it’s a meaningless cliche.

Take Swinney for example. He was promoted from assistant coach to interim coach to head coach and was 19-15 at Clemson after two and a half years. Supporters and boosters initially questioned the promotion to interim coach and questioned it more as a head coach. Home run? He was barely on first base.

Look at him now.

It’s about the right fit, laying the right foundation and passion for the job.

It’s about developing relationships. As Morris describes it, it’s about touching and inspiring people who touch others who turn building blocks into a skyscraper.

He not only recruited star quarterback DeShaun Watson, who sparked a national championship run, to Clemson, but Watson, now with the Houston Texans, was welcomed into his home after Hurricane Harvey.

That’s cultivating relationships that go beyond X’s and O’s and the scoreboard.

That’s a package that, in continuing the baseball metaphor, who appreciates speed, knows how to win in a variety of ways but also hits with power.

 

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