By Lee Lance.
Every person in every profession has a bad day, no matter how good they are. In the coaching profession though, a bad day can turn into a bad year quickly, and that is exactly what happened to new Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris in 2003.
Morris was the head coach at Stephenville High School in Texas at that time, and he was following up a legendary coach there, Art Briles. Briles had led Stephenville High to four state championships in his time there, and left mighty big shoes to fill.
In 2003 though, Chad Morris’ Stephenville team didn’t even make the playoffs. “My first year was the first time that they didn’t make the playoffs in 15 years” Morris recalled Thursday.
It didn’t take much time for Morris to understand that missing the playoffs wasn’t going to cut it at Stephenville High School, and the advice was coming from everywhere to improve things. “I was humbled” Morris says, “I was willing to change my philosophy on the way I would approach things offensively”
“At that time, a friend of a friend told me ‘Hey there’s a guy that’s on the cutting edge as a high school coach in Springdale, Arkansas……it might be worth a phone call.’” Morris knew that he needed to try something, noting “you don’t go to too many Christmas parties with people in the community if you don’t make the playoffs.”
So he made the call. That call was to Gus Malzahn, who at the time was the head coach at Springdale High School.
“(Malzahn) didn’t believe me, he thought I was a rival coach that was trying to steal information from him” Morris recalls. After the phone call, Morris made the trip to Springdale to watch Malzahn’s team compete in a playoff game, and to try to convince the coach that he wasn’t a rival, but was really looking to learn. It took two trips to watch them play to convince Malzahn. “When he saw me the following Friday……he knew this guy was for real”.
After that second trip, the two set up a time to meet and talk more, and the relationship grew from there. “We built a friendship……we would take our staff up there for the next three, four, five years” Morris said. Since that time, the two coaches still talk weekly. “Every where he’s been, I always have my staff there.” “He leant a helping hand when I was down.”
The trip has paid off for coach Morris in more ways that just that friendship. Since that first meeting, and after making the transition to an offensive philosophy based a lot on Malzahn’s offense, Morris and his teams have gone 85-9.
Morris’ offense isn’t a copy and paste of Malzahn’s though. “Every offseason we had the capability of going and visiting different staffs throughout the country” Morris said.
From Urban Meyer at Florida to Kyle Whittingham at Utah, Morris has studied them all, and has molded a breed of offense all his own. “You put your own stamp on it, because the bottom line is, you’ve got to be yourself” Morris said.