Behind closed doors Morris sees hope for Hog football program

Morris discusses 2018 season /

If there was a theme song for Arkansas football coach Chad Morris’ press conference Thursday where he gave the post mortem for the 2018 football season, it might be the 1973 Charlie Rich hit “Behind Closed Doors.”

Yes, it’s an old song, but I’m an old guy, and right now it feels like the Razorbacks’ last good team was 40 years ago.

I’m being facetious and hyperbolic with that last statement. The Razorbacks have played plenty of good football since the 1970s under head coaches Lou Holtz, Ken Hatfield, Danny Ford in 1995, Houston Nutt, and Bobby Petrino, but the situation Arkansas’ football program has staggered through since the final two games of the 2016 season has been draining on fans.

Morris’ message Thursday was that despite the Razorbacks’ awful 2-10 record including an 0-8 mark in SEC play during his first year as coach that good things are happening within the walls of Fred W. Smith Football Center is cold comfort for a fanbase that watched their beloved program sink below Kentucky and Vanderbilt’s in the SEC.

“It’s nowhere close to our standard,” Morris said of the season. “It’s not acceptable. We know that. I know that. Our players know that.

“I will say, as I did last Friday night, that there is growth happening inside this program. We spent the first year establishing the culture of this program, how we do things, what we stand for and things we’re not going to deviate on.
“There is not one person in this building that thinks any part of this season is acceptable. And everyone is working tirelessly every day to get this program back.”
That’s good to hear, I guess, but I remember hearing former Razorback head coach Bret Bielema make much the same pronouncement throughout his first season when the Hogs went 3-9 and didn’t win an SEC game in 2013.

That rhetoric must be part of some coaches handbook under the chapter on “How to Spin Underachievement.”

I’m not denying the truth of Morris’ statement, but as a Hog fan hearing it again so soon when the program has never been more profitable because of SEC Network money, tickets have never been priced higher, and the amenities for players and staff have never been greater leaves me wondering about the return on the emotional and monetary investment of Hog fans in a program that has never been worse on the field.

Now, the situation the Razorbacks are in isn’t of Morris or first-year athletics director Hunter Yurachek’s making.

They inherited the troubles from former A.D. Jeff Long and head coach Bielema, but after nearly a year on the job, it’s hard to know on the outside of the walls Morris spoke of just how much improvement has been made. Fans certainly haven’t seen much tangible evidence on the field.

Granted the Razorbacks did show improvement after beating themselves in games against Colorado State and North Texas with turnovers, penalties, and general ineptitude, but any gains made fell off the cliff following tough losses to Ole Miss and LSU.

From the outside looking in, the 52-6 loss to Mississippi State and 38-0 loss to Missouri in the final two games spoke of a beat-up and battered program at rock bottom relative to the rest of the SEC. I’m glad Morris believes the picture looks better from the inside, but I hope you can understand why I’m more than a bit skeptical.

Now, a glimmer of hope could come as soon as Dec. 4 when former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant has said he is going to announce his decision on where he will play his final year of college football. Morris and other UA assistants reportedly had a in-home meeting with Bryant Thursday night.

It would be a major coup for Morris if Bryant picks Arkansas over schools like Auburn, North Carolina, Mississippi State and others, but there is no one player in the college game that can cure all of the Razorbacks’ ills.

The Razorbacks need serious help in terms of talent and depth at nearly every position. Morris and his staff are addressing those needs in recruiting, and if they can hold the pledges they already have, the recruiting class will be one of the best if not the best on paper Arkansas has signed this century.

The early signing period of Dec. 19-21 is fast approaching. The regular singing period for the class of 2019 opens on Feb. 6.

Both of those dates should provide fans tangible proof of the progress Morris and his staff have made in recruiting. If Morris and his staff can recruit a top-20-ish signing class after a 2-10 season, recruiting should only improve if Morris gets the program back on track.

While it’s hard to predict a rosy forecast for the Razorbacks next season, Arkansas’ non-conference schedule of Portland State, Colorado State, San Jose State, and Western Kentucky gives them a shot at a winning season and a bowl trip. The growing pains that tripped the Hogs up this season against Colorado State and North Texas should not be a factor in Morris’ second season as coach.

There was no way for Morris to sugarcoat the 2018 season on Thursday. It was miserable. However, it is good to know that Morris has hope for the future, even if the evidence of that hope is behind closed doors.