FAYETTEVILLE -- The Chad Morris era at the University of Arkansas is over less than two years after it began.
Morris was fired as head football coach by UA Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek on Sunday morning. The move came less than 24 hours after Arkansas lost 45-19 to Western Kentucky in the season's on-campus finale in front of an announced crowd of 42,985, the worst attendance at Reynolds Razorback Stadium since its expansion to 72,000 seats before the 2001 season.
Arkansas fell to 2-8 on the season and 4-18 under Morris, the worst 22-game stretch in the program's history. Morris was 0-14 in SEC games as part of the Razorbacks' current 17-game losing streak in conference play.
A UA news release announced that former Arkansas quarterback Barry Lunney Jr. will serve as interim coach for the Razorbacks' final two games, a road date at No. 2 LSU on Nov. 23 and the finale against Missouri at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Nov. 29. Lunney has served as the Razorbacks' tight ends coach for the past seven years.
Lunney and Yurachek will hold a news conference at noon today at the Broyles Athletic Center.
Yurachek, contacted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as he left his office at the Broyles Center on Sunday morning, said he could not comment as he was running late for his flight to watch the Arkansas women's soccer team in the SEC championship game in Orange Beach, Ala.
He issued a statement as part of the UA release announcing the firing.
"As part of my continued evaluation, I have come to the conclusion that a change in leadership is necessary to move our football program forward and position it for success," Yurachek said in the statement. "It is clear that we have not made the progress necessary to compete and win, especially within the Southeastern Conference.
"Throughout our history in football, as well as with our other sport programs, we have demonstrated that the University of Arkansas is capable of being nationally competitive. I have no doubt that as we move forward, we will identify a head coach that will help lead our program to that benchmark.
"I want to express my personal and professional regard to Coach Morris and thank him for his investment in the lives of our student-athletes."
Yurachek announced he would start a nationwide search to find Morris' replacement.
The Razorbacks will conduct their fourth coaching search since Bobby Petrino was fired for cause after a motorcycle wreck in the spring of 2012. He had a 34-17 record in four seasons.
Morris, 50, served the shortest tenure of a noninterim Arkansas head coach since Bowden Wyatt went 11-10 in the 1953-54 seasons, including the 25 Little Pigs Southwest Conference championship team of 1954, before leaving to coach at his alma mater, Tennessee.
Morris agreed to a six-year deal on Dec. 5, 2017, with an annual salary of $3.5 million. Based on the terms of his contract, Morris would be owed a little more than $10.1 million for the remaining four-plus years of his agreement.
Morris maintained after Saturday's loss that he was the right man to conduct the Razorbacks' rebuilding effort.
"It's going to take some time," Morris said. "This is not an overnight fix. We've seen that now for two years. We're all frustrated. We're all incredibly frustrated.
"We have a big youth movement on this team and a lot of young guys that are contributing and who will be tremendous football players. Where we are right now with these guys, we have some major deficiencies that we have to fix, we have to fill."
The Razorbacks' flagging attendance was accompanied by a 16% drop in season-ticket sales this year, to an average of 43,397.
Based on announced numbers of tickets distributed for Arkansas' six home games, more than 135,000 tickets went unsold at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
John Goodson, chairman of the UA board of trustees, offered his support to the administration.
"The board of trustees has tremendous confidence in our [UA System] President Don Bobbitt, Chancellor Joe Steinmetz and Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek," said Goodson, an attorney from Texarkana. "We have no reason not to support their decisions."
Asked about the board's role in a coaching search, Goodson referred again to the UA System and campus leaders.
"We support those decisions that are made by our president and our chancellor and athletic director. And that's the system that we have in place, and we'll follow that system," Goodson said.
Arkansas' offensive performances under Morris -- a prep coaching legend in Texas, where he will be inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame next year -- did not reflect the style he boldly predicted when he was hired.
"You won't find a more explosive offense in all of college football," Morris said at his introductory news conference on Dec. 7, 2017.
The Razorbacks ranked 13th in the 14-team SEC in total offense last season, and they are 11th this season.
Morris arrived in Fayetteville with gusto after starting a turnaround at SMU, a program that went from 1-11 in the year before his arrival to 7-5 in his final season in 2017.
Former UA interim Athletic Director Julie Cromer Peoples guided the hiring of Morris with input from a search firm and school officials. Yurachek, announced as the permanent athletic director the day before Morris' hiring, gave his approval to the decision.
Yurachek said the day before Morris' hiring that a great structure was in place to succeed at Arkansas.
"And really what we need is we need a football program that competes for championships in the Southeastern Conference," Yurachek said. "That's what drives the train. It's really what drives your revenue. That's what creates that brand perception that you need.
"We have other very, very nationally competitive sports here at the University of Arkansas, but for our entire athletic program to be successful year in and year out, we need our football program to be successful year in and year out, not only in the Southeastern Conference, but nationally."
Morris and his staff delivered in one key area: recruiting. The Razorbacks' 2019 signing class, the only full season of recruiting done by Morris and his staff, earned the No. 23 spot in the 247.com composite national rankings, the highest finish in school history.
Several players from that class -- including receivers Treylon Burks and Trey Knox, defensive end Mataio Soli, offensive lineman Ricky Stromberg and defensive back Greg Brooks Jr. -- have been seasonlong contributors.
The Razorbacks went 2-10 in Morris' first season, the first 10-loss campaign in Arkansas football history. They won two of their first three games this season: the opener over Football Championship Subdivision-level Portland State, 20-13, and a 55-34 victory over Colorado State.
However, Arkansas lost to three-touchdown underdog San Jose State 31-24 the next week, sparking the current seven-game losing streak.
Morris and the Razorbacks just completed a four-game stretch that included the worst scoring differential in school history.
Arkansas' losses to Auburn (51-10), at Alabama (48-7) and against Mississippi State (54-24) and Western Kentucky (45-19) by a combined 138 points is the largest total in a four-game sequence by the Razorbacks.
After Morris announced that the Razorbacks were entering a four-game stretch that presented an opportunity for a November to remember, the Hogs capped that week with the 30-point home loss to Mississippi State on Nov. 2 before an announced homecoming crowd of 52,256.
In Morris' final game, ex-Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey on Saturday ran for two touchdowns and passed for another while beating his former team.
Storey and Cole Kelley started 11 of 12 games last season for the Razorbacks, then transferred away as Morris and his staff brought in transfer quarterbacks Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel.
Information for this article was contributed by Matt Jones of WholeHogSports.com and Jaime Adame of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
A Section on 11/11/2019
Print Headline: Chad Morris out as coach at UA