FAYETTEVILLE — Having addressed the annual Arkansas Kickoff luncheon last Friday in Springdale, the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday and with his first weekly radio show from The Catfish Hole in Fayetteville still ahead Wednesday night, Arkansas Coach Chad Morris promised trying not to repeat himself addressing Wednesday’s Northwest Arkansas Kickoff Club’s noon luncheon at Mermaid’s Restaurant in Fayetteville.
So, after attributing the state’s hunger for Razorbacks winning football in attracting record attendance announced at the three luncheons, Arkansas' new head football coach pumped the brakes on his customary “hammer down/left lane” refrain.
Morris instead talked of those who most influenced him to coach when he was a 21-year-old math teacher and coach pondering becoming an accountant, applying for the FBI or following his father’s footsteps as a fireman.
“Relationships,” he was told, are key to any profession. Certainly true in coaching, Morris said from experience.
Relationships establish a culture, Morris said.
He defined a team’s culture as “nothing more than a belief that drives a behavior that produces a result.”
Inheriting an Arkansas team that floundered to 4-8 last season is, “unacceptable at the University of Arkansas no matter who is coaching,” Morris said.
“We talked about the reverse engineering effect that a change in behavior will bring a change in result,” Morris said.
Morris recalled an incident changing his own behavior.
With firemen customarily working 24 hour shifts and then being off the next 48, Morris said his father also had a business painting houses. His father so painstakingly prepared a house to be painted that the prep took far longer than the painting, Morris recalled.
Morris and his brother silently cursed the caulking and painstaking prep.
So when his father was called to another job and left his sons in charge, Morris said he and his brother took prep shortcuts toward starting the painting faster.
But not fast enough to pull a fast one on their dad.
“My brother and I we halfway did it,” Morris recalled. “We just did enough caulk for show. He came back and threw a fit and said, ‘Get out of here! I’ll do this! These people are expecting your best work. What you put into it is what you and they get out of it.’ My father said, ‘If it’s worthy of your time, it’s worthy of your best time.”
Morris said that goes back to “culture, belief, and accountability.”
Morris did promise to “talk some football” and eventually did.
He remained unwilling Wednesday to name a starting quarterback in the battle between fourth-year junior Ty Storey of Charleston and third-year sophomore Cole Kelley of Lafayette, La., but said, “I’m excited about the battle.”
He expressed the most excitement on offense about “the great stable of running backs” that include juniors Devwah Whaley and T.J. Hammonds, junior college transfer Rakeem Boyd, sophomore Chase Hayden and redshirt freshman Maleek Williams.
“I feel running back is the deepest position that we have,” Morris said.
Starting with junior incumbent left tackle Colton Jackson of Conway requiring back surgery in July through projected redshirt freshman replacement Dustin Wagner last week requiring an appendectomy, Morris said, “there have been setbacks in the offensive line. But that’s why we have 85 scholarships. It’s next man up. And I believe we’ll have Colton Jackson back in the next few weeks.”
Jackson’s return initially was forecast at midseason at the earliest but Morris has said the the 6-6, 300-pounder is “healing ahead of schedule.”
After Tuesday’s practice Morris lauded Austin Capps, the junior from Star City moved from defensive tackle to left guard.
“Austin Capps is coming along,” Morris said. “I’m very proud of him and where he’s at.”
Morris said on Wednesday that hiring veteran SEC defensive coordinator John Chavis has proven “a huge, huge plus.”
“You’ll see a very different defense than what you’ve seen in the past,” Morris said. “He brings pressure from everywhere. You have to look around on water break because you think he’s bringing pressure then, too. He’s really excited about changing the culture of our defense.”
Morris specifically cited weakside and middle linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Scoota Harris, cornerback Ryan Pulley, safety Santos Ramirez, Kamren Curl, switched last spring from corner to strong safety, cornerback Chevin Calloway, backup corner Montaric “Buster” Brown and defensive ends Randy Ramsey and Gabe Richardson.
In a brief session with attending fans, Morris cited safeties Joe Foucha and Myles Mason as the true freshmen most counted upon to play right away approaching the season-opener Sept. 1 against Eastern Illinois.
Responding to a question about standout walk-ons, Morris immediately cited third-year sophomore backup middle linebacker Grant Morgan of Greenwood.
“I’m excited about Grant,” Morris said. “Grant’s been a part of this program for several years and he’s made a huge impact.”