FAYETTEVILLE - Former Clemson Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips said he knew he had a great football coach in Dabo Swinney even if Clemson fans did not.
But it wasn’t until Swinney convinced him, Phillips said, that hiring virtual unknown Chad Morris as Clemson’s offensive coordinator would solve Clemson’s offensive problems that Clemson fans realized what a great head coach they had.
Since retired as Clemson’s athletic director, Phillips was a University of Arkansas 2-degrees grad, Razorbacks defensive tackle letterman under Frank Broyles in 1966, ’68 and ’69, and from 1988-94, first the Razorback Foundation president and then senior associate athletic director before becoming athletic director at Oklahoma State.
He still cares deeply for his alma mater and applauds Arkansas naming Morris Dec. 6 as the Razorbacks’ new head football coach.
“I think he’s an excellent hire,” Phillips said. “Y’all are going to be very happy with him.”
Especially if Morris does for Arkansas, coming off a 4-8 season, what he did for Clemson program in 2011. In Swinney’s second full year on the job after taking over upon Terry Bowden’s midseason resignation in 2008, Clemson struggled offensively through a 6-7 2010 campaign dimming not only Swinney’s popularity but Phillips’ too.
“You know how folks are,” Phillips said. “If you don’t just get it right coming out of the chute, they want to shoot you at sunrise. When we were struggling it was: ‘If you don’t get rid of Dabo then we’re going to get rid of you both.’ That was the mentality. But I thought if we could hang on by the thumbs to Dabo we really had a chance to have a special coach.”
For Phillips to hang on to Swinney things had to change offensively.
Swinney hiring Morris, the 16-years high school coach in Texas with just one collegiate season coordinating the University of Tulsa offense behind him, proved the answer though Phillips had to be convinced to believe it.
“We are very competitive with how we pay folks and he researched a lot of people with national reputations,” Phillips said. “Of course I’m thinking we’re going to hire somebody from the SEC or ACC or Big 12 - a major conference. Dabo brought Chad from Tulsa.” Phillips acknowledged he was of unaware of Morris, but Tulsa’s 2010 offense excelled, Swinney said, and the previous 16 years Morris had coached the best in Texas including three state high school championships.
“Dabo really researches things,” Phillips said. “And at the end of the day, Dabo convinced me this was the right guy for the job. Based on Dabo’s recommendation I had no qualms going with Chad even though his work at the college level was minimal. But it his high school record was pretty spectacular what he accomplished in the State of Texas and he came in here and he changed the paradigm on what we did offensively.”
Morris helped change Clemson’s record, too. The Tigers during Morris’ offensive coordinating 2011-2014 tenure were 10-3, 11-2, 11-2 and 10-4 and included him personally recruiting DeShaun Watson, the now NFL quarterback guiding Clemson to the 2015 national runner-up and 2016 national championship.
The current nationally No. 1 Tigers, 12-1, and playing Alabama in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl whose winner plays the Georgia vs. Oklahoma Rose Bowl winner on Jan. 9, run the same offense that Morris ran at Clemson and for his 2015-2017 head coaching tenure turning around the program at SMU from 1-11 in 2014 to 7-6 and a bowl game in 2017.
“He built a foundation that when he left for SMU we had a couple of young coaches with his tutoring and Dabo moved them up and we haven’t missed a beat,” Phillips said. “And it’s all because of the foundation that Chad laid. He was a great hire.”
Phillips predicts Morris will be “a great hire” for Arkansas, too,. He lauded Julie Cromer Peoples, Arkansas’ senior associate athletic director and leading the search as interim athletic director between the firing of Athletic Director Jeff Long and hiring of Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek.
Cromer Peoples had worked 10 years administrating in the NCAA Office before serving in athletic administrations at Indiana and the last four years at Arkansas.
“I’ve known Julie from NCAA days when I chaired the Committee on Infractions,” Phillips said. “I’ve always had tremendous respect for Julie. She’s an excellent administrator and she did really a nice job in that search. I applaud Julie for the work she did in getting this done.”