Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knew he wouldn’t be able to keep Chad Morris forever, and the inevitability grew as Clemson rewrote school and conference records in each of his first three seasons as offensive coordinator. Swinney prepared for the likelihood that Morris would eventually leave Clemson to become a head coach.
Unless something goes sideways, Clemson’s game Saturday against South Carolina could be Morris’ last on Swinney’s staff. A source close to the program said Texas native Morris will become head coach at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott will be Morris’ replacement.
There have been no official confirmations or affirmations. Rick Hart, the SMU athletics director, told USA Today there was “no deal with anyone yet.” A number of reports say a deal has been in place for awhile and that SMU was awaiting the end of Clemson’s season.
Responding to a text message, Morris told TheClemsonInsider.com: “Unreal, everyone thinks they know. Sorry, completely focused on SC.”
Pony Stampede, the SMU recruiting site for Scout.com, quoted a source that said, “Unless he gets cold feet, it’s done.”
Morris, 46 next week, is college football’s highest paid offensive coordinator at $1.3 million annually. Two reports said the agreement with SMU would be worth $3 million annually on average and includes substantial resources to hire a top staff, a factor that probably kept Morris from leaving Clemson sooner.
June Jones resigned after SMU lost its first two games. Under interim coach and defensive coordinator Tom Mason, the Mustangs lost their next eight games and are the only winless team in FBS.
SMU had one winning season in the 20 after the NCAA imposed a “death penalty” for recruiting infractions. In 2009, Jones’ second season, SMU went 8-5. Two years later, SMU played for the Conference USA championship. And this year, after four bowl appearances in five seasons, Jones was awarded a new contract paying him $2.1 million.
Morris graduated from Texas A&M and was a successful high school coach in his home state. Morris’ teams won 82 percent of their games in 16 seasons, played for six state championships and won three, including back-to-back titles at Lake Travis High. In 2010, he left the prep ranks and immediately elevated the production of the Tulsa offense.
Swinney was intrigued by how Morris’ scheme mirrored his preferences, a quick pace and attacking style modeled on a version of the spread developed by Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. Morris sought Malzahn’s counsel while they were high school coaches, and they became friends.
Morris’ impact at Clemson was evident quickly, helping the Tigers win the ACC title for the first time in 20 years. He was named offensive coordinator of the year by Rivals.com.
In three seasons under Morris, quarterback Tajh Boyd broke many Clemson and ACC records and was a three-time all conference selection and 2012 player of the year. Clemson set school records for total offense per game (512.7) and points per game (41.0).
In 2013, Clemson averaged 507 yards and 40 points per game, and Morris was named AFCA assistant coach of the year.
Faced this year with reshaping the offensive line and breaking in a number of first-year players at the skill positions, Clemson’s offensive numbers slipped through the first 11 games to averages of 29.6 points and 402 yards.
Injuries also conspired to set back progress, particularly at quarterback, where freshman Deshaun Watson has a sprained knee ligament. After a week off and steady rehab, Watson is expected to start Saturday as Clemson tries to end its five-game losing streak to South Carolina. With Watson’s status unofficial, Las Vegas oddsmakers pulled the game from the boards after Clemson opened as a 41/2-point favorite.
Morris was a valuable recruiting tool. Once he joined the staff, Watson was the first player offered a scholarship. Running back Tyshon Dye was the next. Dye missed all of last season after a back injury and his debut this season was delayed by a torn Achilles tendon. Dye rushed for 123 yards last week in his second appearance.
Several key recruits are scheduled to visit Clemson on Saturday and virtually half of Clemson’s 2015 freshman class planned to enroll in January, including a pair of highly regarded Florida recruits.
Scott has been significant in recruiting Florida, his home state, and continuity for Clemson would be critical. Son of former Gamecocks coach and Clemson assistant Brad Scott, he started the football program at Blythewood High and won a state championship in the program’s first year running a variation of the spread offense.
Upon Morris’ arrival, Scott was charged with immersing himself in the offense and preparing for an expected transition. Morris looked at several programs the past two years, including South Florida, Texas Tech and N.C. State, but SMU was reportedly on his radar.