Photographs by Andrew Albright via Cross Church
Arkansas football coach Chad Morris, right, listens while Cross Church Fayetteville pastor Nick Floyd speaks during an event Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
FAYETTEVILLE The prompt from moderator Nick Floyd was simple: Detail the low point of your coaching career.
The response from Chad Morris captivated the 400 men in the auditorium at the new Fayetteville campus of Cross Church on Tuesday night. They got a really good inside look at the new Arkansas football coach. Morris explained how his wife, Paula, prodded him to tackle adversity 15 years ago.
There was plenty of inside stuff as Morris explained his beliefs on how to parent, coach and just lead in general. Then he waited around afterward as men from all walks of life throughout Northwest Arkansas got his autograph and posed for pictures.
The most riveting stuff came when Floyd, the pastor at the Fayetteville church, asked Morris to go back to the 2003 season at Stephenville, a small town about 80 miles southwest of Fort Worth that has long been a dominant team in Texas high school football.
“I had come in one year after Art Briles,” Morris said, "and we went 6-4 and didn't make the playoffs.”
There was anger in the community. It was easy to understand those sentiments in 2003. The Yellow Jackets had enjoyed unbelievable success under Briles. From 1998 to 2001, Stephenville played in four straight state title games, winning 4A Division 2 championships twice.
“You have the possibility of playing 16 games a year in Texas and they did that every year, 64 games,” Morris said. “It's a town that all they think about is football and being a cowboy. That's all there is.
“So what we did didn't set well.”
That's an understatement.
“Paula was teaching sixth grade,” Morris said. “One day after school she stopped on the way home to get dinner, and what you do in Stephenville is pick up Whataburger. She came in upset.
“She said a student came to her class wearing a T-shirt that had Morris on the back with a circle and a line drawn through it. A parent had done it.
“Well, I was miserable. I just was laying on the couch for two weeks. Now Paula is hardcore. She's tough and she says what she thinks.”
Finally, she did.
“She said I was making everyone else miserable,” Morris said. “She said I had two choices: get out of coaching and go paint houses with my dad, or sell cars with a friend. Or, you can do something about this. She was just being honest.”
She wasn't the only one.
“Darrell Floyd, the superintendent, called me in,” Morris said. “He was upfront; another 6-4 year and I'd be fired.
“That was during the time when Bill Parcells was coaching the Dallas Cowboys. He had a saying, 'If you are going to go down, go down your way.'"
In 2003, Gus Malzahn had Springdale rewriting the record books in Arkansas high school football.
“Gus had invited me up, so I went,” Morris said. “So that's where it all started for me. I was at my lowest point, just knocked flat.
“So I was on a mission. I went to Gus, a coach who was running the two-minute offense the whole time. If he'd not reached out to me and wanted to lend a hand, I wouldn't be here.”
Interestingly, Morris said there were other coaches learning from Malzahn at that time. One of them was Josh Floyd, Nick's older brother and a former quarterback for Malzahn at Shiloh Christian. Josh Floyd won four state championships as head coach at Shiloh and now is a successful head coach at Hewitt-Trussville in the Birmingham, Ala., suburbs.
Rick Jones, then a Wishbone head coach at Broken Arrow, Okla., also was being influenced by Malzahn at that time. Jones took over at Greenwood in 2004, switched to the no-huddle passing game and has won seven state championships.
Morris never won a state championship at Stephenville, but went 43-6 in his final four seasons there and landed a coveted job at Lake Travis in Austin, where he was 32-0 at won two state championships in his final two years as a high school coach.
“Gus and I are very close,” Morris said. “He's one of my best friends. I owe him so much.”
Morris also believes there is a debt to six basketball players who talked him out of quitting coaching at Eustace, Texas, two years after he graduated from Texas A&M.
“I wasn't going to coach,” said Morris, then an assistant basketball coach and math teacher. “I had applied to the Irving Fire Department, the DEA and the FBI.”
All three began to call after he aced the interviews.
“Six players came to my house,” he said. “They had heard I was fixing to leave. They were distraught. They told me I made a difference in their lives and I couldn't. I told them, 'In three years, you are leaving me, so what's the difference?' They said it wasn't the same thing.
“Paula and I both felt that. It tugged on our hearts. So I became head basketball coach and then here we went.”
Morris said it's been a great life with Paula, daughter Mackenzie and son Chandler. Their lives revolve around church, dogs, hunting and fishing.
“We've had as many as four golden retrievers,” he said. “We've got three now. One had to be put down in January. His name was Coach. It about killed me.
“I do like being outside. I love sitting on a tractor. I get kidded because it's an enclosed cab with air conditioning.”
Morris likes to explain his life as simple. Never mind that he's a Power 5 head football coach.
“Coaching football is what I do, but not who I am,” he said. “I'm a dad, husband and a son.”
He's clearly a part-time father to his players, although that's not in his job description.
“What I will tell you – and this may be a low number – there is a belief that 65 percent of our players do not have a male figure in their lives,” he said. “They either were never there or walked out.
“So what I have to do is deal with breaking barriers to gain their trust. I've always said to players that the way I can make them great is to gain their trust.
“Then, we have to empower them with the tools to take them beyond football. We see that when they are 35 and they come back. I know then if I've been successful.
“It's not about entitlement. We hold them accountable.”
That's the tough part of being a parent.
“I tell Chandler all the time, 'I don't need a friend,'” Morris said. “I've got enough friends. What I especially don't need is a 16-year-old friend. We must make sure we teach our children how to treat a woman. So I model that for them. My dad modeled that for me. I show them the value in being a dad. With our players, we do that, too, because we want to make sure someone shows them.”
Parenting is crucial because someone will fill the void if you don't.
“Talk to your kids, because if you don't, there is someone out there who will talk to them,” he said. “Make sure that voice is the right voice.
“The two most influential persons in your life are the dad and the coach. They were for me.”
Most importantly, Morris said fathers should not try to be the coach, too. He struggles with that.
“If Chandler comes home and wants to talk some ball, we talk ball,” he said. “But it has to be him wanting it. Sometimes I ask myself, 'Why won't he talk ball with me?'
“I went to watch him scrimmage last week. He's the quarterback at Highland Park (in Dallas). There was a play in the red zone. He threw to a tight window on a corner route and he had the flat open. I went crazy. I kicked my water bottle over. Why didn't he take the flat? His choice went incomplete and they have fourth-and-1.
“Paula told me to pipe down. I have to separate dad and coach. You must keep it about having fun. Now winning is fun, but the fun should be about the journey.”
There are many talks with parents struggling with the same issues.
“The number one mistake a parent makes with these players is that they try to be a fan instead of being their parent,” he said. “Even in recruiting I deal with so many parents who walk the fine line and they don't want to make them mad.
“I keep telling parents, 'You quit being his coach and I'll quit being their dad. Relax. It'll work itself out.' So many dads live through their son. Be there for them, listen to them, help guide them, but don't drive the car for them. Now, you might tell them there is a bridge out at mile marker 18 and the lights of the car are going to go out, I bet he's going to slow down. So kind of guide them.”
Leadership was discussed at length.
“I define leadership as influence,” Morris said. “Some influence out of fear. That's not going to last long. When fear leaves the building so does all leadership. You can influence out of giving. You can only give so much money and once you tap out and have no more money, what happens to leadership?
“Or you can give leadership out of relationships. That's who I am. I'm a relationship and I wear my boots and my jeans and we are down to earth people. I also love knowing I can make a difference in not only the lives of our players, but the lives of our coaches.
“It's not just me, but Paula with their wives. I can make a difference and that's even with those who are older. We have the longest tenured coach in the SEC in John Chavis. He's been in the SEC 34 years. Joe Craddock is just 32. I've got the responsibility of influencing John and give him guidance.
“Leadership is not about you know everything. Oftentimes you don't, but it's being able to go and say I don't have an answer but let's work together and find the way to get it done.”
There were some light-hearted moments late in the program when Nick Floyd played a rapid fire question-and-answer with Morris.
• Best QB of all-time – Peyton Manning (although Chandler would say Tom Brady).
• Favorite food – Mexican.
• Favorite movie – The Blind Side (SJ Tuohy, Morris' assistant director of football operations, was portrayed in the movie).
• Favorite phrase – Left lane, hammer down (wishes he had a patent).
• Who should play Chad Morris in a movie – Chuck Norris, with a mention of Walker, Texas Ranger.
Then, Morris closed the program with his goal.
“I want to be the same person every day,” he said. “Just be consistent and persistent. God gave me an incredible platform and I want you guys to pray for me to keep doing the right things in the right way.”
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