FAYETTEVILLE — Less than three minutes after meeting his new team for the first time, Chad Morris had a much-needed message of hope for the Razorbacks.
Morris, who was hired away from SMU on Wednesday morning, had just walked into the team meeting room that afternoon in Fayetteville when he related a story about where he's been in his career.
Before being hired by the Mustangs, the 49-year-old Morris had worked as the offensive coordinator at defending national Clemson. Only, when Morris started with the Tigers, they weren't the same Clemson that reached the College Football Playoff for a third straight year this season.
They were a lot like Arkansas is right now.
"I've got the blueprint [for] what it takes to win a national championship," Morris told the Razorbacks. "I was sitting at Clemson when we were 6-7, and what excites me more than anything is seven years ago, Clemson looked just like Arkansas does today."
Morris continued preaching his message of a return to national relevance to the rest of Arkansas on Thursday when he was publicly introduced as the new coach.
The former Texas high school coach talked repeatedly about his numerous ties to the prep coaching ranks — particularly in the Lone Star state — and how he expects that to help a downtrodden team that finished 4-8 last season. He takes over a program that is 33-42 in the six seasons since the firing of the scandal-ridden Bobby Petrino, the school's worst stretch since 1948-52.
And that's just fine with Morris.
"We want to win, make no mistake about it," Morris said. "We're here to win, we want to win, we want to win championships — and that's what we're going to do."
Morris is no stranger to northwest Arkansas, having visited the area along with the rest of his high school coaching staff in the early 2000s. He did so at the time to learn from another prep coach who has since fared well in the collegiate ranks, former Springdale High and current Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
Malzahn and Morris have followed similar career trajectories, following their highly successful prep careers by transitioning to college as offensive coordinators — and then head coaches.
The Razorbacks also had interest in hiring Malzahn before he agreed to a seven-year extension at Auburn on Sunday night.
Like Malzahn, Morris is well known for his up-tempo offensive approach. SMU was 13th in the country in total offense with an average of 493.8 yards per game this season, a key reason the Mustangs finished 7-5 after finishing 2-10 and 5-7 in Morris' first two seasons.
It's an approach he plans to bring to the Southeastern Conference, along with promising to hire a defensive staff capable of planning for the rugged opponents in the SEC West.
"You won't find a more explosive offense in all of college football," Morris said. "We're going to go fast, play fast and have fun doing it."
Morris' hiring comes after several weeks of uncertainty surrounding the Arkansas program, which fired athletic director Jeff Long on Nov. 15. Hunter Yurachek was hired as the new athletic director on Monday, and he credited interim athletic director Julie Cromer Peoples for doing the bulk of the work in identifying Morris as the right choice.
Cromer Peoples said she spoke with former Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips, among others, during the search.
"[Phillips] expressed not only his confidence in Chad's coaching ability, but his absolute belief that he would be a great fit for the Arkansas program and would embrace what it means to be the head coach of the Razorbacks," Cromer Peoples said.
Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.