It’s hard to know why new Arkansas football coach Chad Morris waited until Wednesday to announce the coaches he hired to fill out his football coaching staff.
The bulk of the offensive coaches had been recruiting for the Razorbacks since shortly after Arkansas named Morris its latest head coach on Dec. 6.
The rumors of John Chavis taking over as the Razorbacks third defensive coordinator in as many years began making the rounds before the Dec. 20-23 early national signing period for college recruits.
Morris did say Wednesday that some of the new hires had coaching duties to complete.
One guesses he was speaking mainly of Chavis, who completed his tenure as Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator on Dec. 29 in the Belk Bowl, which the Aggies lost 55-52 to Wake Forest.
However, various recruiting services had reported that Chavis was recruiting for the the Razorbacks since Jan. 2. and by the end of last week several of the defensive assistants’ names were already bounced around.
So why wait?
Maybe, it was as simple as Morris wanting to announce the staff all at one time? Maybe, it was more about Arkansas attempting to control the message and to have a little distance between that Belk Bowl score and announcing Chavis? Who knows for sure?
However by waiting so long, Arkansas left room for all kinds of speculation among Razorbacks fans. Some interpreted the wait as Arkansas being embarrassed about the coaches hired to work in the program. Some speculated the contract negotiations were difficult and uneasy.
Most speculation is usually off base and fruitless, but the question remains why leave a hungry and somewhat disgruntled fanbase wondering about the program that they support with their passion and their money?
Why play cat-and-mouse with that information? This information game dates back to the announcement of Morris’ hiring which was widely reported two days before Arkansas officially announced it.
The past 14 months have been brutal on Arkansas football fans. The disappointment over the end of the 2016 football season festered into one of the worst seasons in the program’s history in 2017.
As embarrassing as the 2017 season was, the house cleaning with the dismissals of athletics director Jeff Long and head football coach Bret Bielema were just as messy.
While the week-long fallow courtship of Gus Malzahn may ultimately have worked in Arkansas’ favor by leading it to Morris as the program’s Plan B, being spurned by a first choice in a coaching search never feels good to a fanbase.
Take all that in, and it’s no wonder Arkansas’ fanbase has gotten a bit surly. It’s no wonder every move is being questioned if not criticized. It’s no wonder some fans aren’t as quick to put on their Razorback-colored glasses and swill the cardinal-and-white or the anthracite-colored Kool-Aid.
Arkansas fans aren’t exactly in a trusting mood at this point, and the program seemingly playing cat-and-mouse with them over who the coaching staff was going to be didn’t really engender confidence in the new leadership.
What Arkansas’ PR department, new athletics director Hunter Yurachek, and Morris need to understand is that Razorbacks fans are seriously worried about whether the football program will ever be competitive in the Southeastern Conference again. That fear has them leery of investing much trust in any decision, and delaying or holding back information for whatever reason doesn’t sooth those fears.
Bielema had a long honeymoon at Arkansas because fans understood that the Bobby Petrino/John L. Smith fiasco left the program in a mess and his resume as Wisconsin’s football coach was outstanding. It didn’t hurt that Bielema was a really personable guy with a unique charisma that engendered more good will.
Bielema got a lot of latitude, but ultimately, the wins did not add up, and no matter how affable he was, a change was needed.
What kind of honeymoon will Morris have as the Hogs’ coach?
I’m not sure. Hog fans aren’t in a lovey-dovey mood.
However, Morris does have an energy and a charisma of his own that I personally enjoy. There is a fieriness about him that is welcome after the laid-back nature of Bielema. The more I hear him talk about football the more confidence I feel in him.
The film room series featuring Morris and former Razorback quarterback and current radio analyst Quinn Grovey that can be found on the Razorbacks’ official website is a nice piece of propaganda for the program that is an excellent way to introduce Morris’ offense to hungry Hog fans. A similar series with Chavis wouldn’t hurt.
Likewise, it was a good move to allow Chavis to speak to the media on Wednesday and explain what he hopes to bring to Arkansas’ defensive unit. Certainly his message should allay some fans’ fears about his philosophy and desire to coach, which had been questioned among fans on the various social media platroms.
When Chavis said in his press conference that he knows that he can coach defense, recruit talent, and develop players, I believe him and his resume backs him up.
Chavis’ three-year tenure at Texas A&M wasn’t impressive from the outside looking in, certainly not as impressive as his work at Tennessee and LSU. However, there was something dysfunctional about Kevin Sumlin’s regime prior to Chavis joining the Aggie staff. Sumlin’s program seemed to underachieve based on expectations, and I lay that in his lap not Chavis’.
In truth, Arkansas’ never hired a defensive coordinator with the credentials and history of success that Chavis has. Jim Mackenzie, Jimmy Johnson, and Monte Kiffin had strong reputations before coming to Arkansas, did outstanding work while on the hill, and went on to degrees of greatness after they left, but none had accomplished as much as Chavis before coaching for the Hogs.
Now, all that we have seen from Morris and his staff is talk and words on paper. We won’t have anything truly concrete until Sept. 1 when when the Razorbacks kick off the season against Eastern Illinois.
But, I have to say that the more I hear from Morris and his staff, the more trust I have in him and the decisions he is making. I think there are other Hog fans that feel the same way.
Particularly in the early stages of his Morris’ tenure, it would behoove Arkansas’ program to get him and his coaches out in front of Razorback fans as much as possible. No doubt, Morris needs the freedom to do his job, but the aforementioned film room videos and other creative ideas should be employed.
While there is obviously information that is not for fan or media consumption, transparency will only create more trust among the Razorback fanbase with the new direction the football program is taking under Yurachek and Morris. It will also help put to rest a lot of the needless speculation that often clouds the Razorback landscape.