SMU Coach Chad Morris Visits East Texas Coaches Clinic + Offers Thoughts On His Five Mustangs From Region
LONGVIEW -- Chad Morris won't sugarcoat it. He despises late January.
Maybe not next season, but the next 10 days could ultimately determine whether or not he's the head coach at SMU three or four seasons down the road. He's at the mercy of more reputable schools cherry picking his recruits, and he'll probably have to talk other selected prospects off the decommitment ledge ahead of National Signing Day.
There's a lot of work left to do in spite of the fact the Mustangs, as of this morning, are expecting at least 15 players to sign the dotted line Feb. 1.
That's really what made his Friday visit to the Piney Woods Football Clinic at Longview's Hilton Garden Inn hotel special. He gave the keynote address to about 300 high school coaches from East Texas, West Louisiana and Southwestern Arkansas just hours ahead of a critical visit weekend in University Park and with very real recruiting challenges in the back of his mind.
"The month of January is the most stressful and busy time for us as coaches," Morris told the media pool a few minutes before delivering his speech. "I really hate the month of January. I really love being around the coaches and being around our (future) players, but I cannot stand just the fact the way the recruiting process goes.
"You get kids committed and then they flip and all that. But that's part of the game. At least you know you're on the right guys. It is a stressful time, and we've got another week left of it, but everybody's trying to get the same guys. So, you know you're on the right guys."
SMU's teams have improved exponentially record wise in both of Morris' first two seasons, but he went on to tell the high school coaches in attendance that there's something real about recruiting a player with a Mustang on your shirt versus the orange paw of Clemson.
Morris is out to enhance the value of the Mustang on his shirt. Being out and about with the high school coaches is one step toward the goal.
'Culture and Building the Program -- Non-negotiables and How to Motivate' was the title of Morris' address. It centered around the things he's doing with the Mustangs to overcome a previous coaching staff that began neglecting in-state recruiting in its final years as well as the lingering effects of the NCAA's decision in 1987 to wipe the school's football program off the face of the earth.
A seminar from Morris resonates with local coaches and coaches just across the borders for two primary reasons.
Obviously, it's insightful to hear what a coach at the next level is working on to improve his on-field product. But Morris is given a certain level of respect because he was raised behind the Pine Curtain in Edgewood, got his career rolling at Eustace and Elysian Fields and became one of the premiere Texas high school football characters.
The coaches got to hear what made a successful high school coach tick. Morris strengthened his network in East Texas and the adjacent regions.
"We've got some great East Texas players on our team," Morris told the media pool. "Ke'Mon Freeman from Liberty-Eylau and Kevin Johnson from Waskom. We're so excited about being able to get back into East Texas, recruit East Texas and know that our brand and our footprint in building the program at SMU is so much a part of our connections."
Morris has five local players on his roster in total. Aside from the aforementioned, he has former Texas High linebacker Anthony Rhone, a rising junior, as well as two redshirt freshmen in former Van running back Aphonso Thomas and all-around Waskom athlete Chan Amie.
What are those guys up to? What happens if SMU persuades another player, like senior Arp running back commitment Kayce Medlock, from the crowd's schools to University Park?
SMU's coach stressed structure, personal values and the value his school's degrees hold in the marketplace. He sold the former two virtues as things that work on the high school level in addition to an open invitation for the coaches to attend any Mustangs football event for a real look at his more abstract points.
In a talk that featured zero Xs and Os, Morris also offered the quality control book his staff writes week-by-week and examines for about a week after the season ends as something high school coaches have the resources to copy. He began using the book while the head coach of Stephenville, through back-to-back state championships at Lake Travis and on to stints as offensive coordinator at Tulsa and Clemson.
SMU's book charts its successes and failures game-by-game. The findings mostly come back to the staff itself.
The book suggests of the 24 sacks it gave up in 2016 that only four were unpreventable. Eleven were quarterback errors and seven were offensive line errors.
So, primary emphasis in sack prevention will be working with the quarterbacks. That will be accomplished by devoting a little extra time each practice reminding the signal-callers about their options when no one is open downfield.
"They asked if we could get Chad and I said, 'Heck yeah,'" clinic organizer and Longview head coach John King said. "I think it shows the love he has for the East Texas and football. He cut his teeth here. He's gone onto great success on the college level, but he hasn't forgotten where he's from. It was fortunate he would be in the area recruiting and finish up the night here.
"They have a big recruiting weekend and he's got big recruits he's entertaining tomorrow. It's a 365-days-a-year job a year for him. It shows that colleges want to recruit our area and want to form a relationship with these coaches."
Morris stuck around to talk personally with any coach that wanted a moment of his time whether it was an area head coach or a positional coach. He may have even partaken in a slice of pizza before departing for the Metroplex.
SMU still has a lot of work in font of it off a 5-7 season, a 2-10 campaign in 2015 and a 1-11 year prior to the current staff's arrival.
But there has been progress both on the field and in the recruiting sphere.
"We managed to keep Courtland Sutton from going to the league, so he's probably the biggest signing of our 2017 class, to return an All-American of Courtland's stature," Morris said. "We've got two Freshmen All-Americans coming back. Ben Hicks at quarterback and James Proche at wide receiver. Defensively, we're continuing to recruit and get better. There's a lot of great things ahead.
"Here's what I do know. We can go one day at a time and be the best you can be on that day."
Morris Said It...
Regarding former Texas High linebacker Anthony Rhone
"Anthony is obviously a coach's kid and has done really well for us. He really had a good year this year, so we're excited about his progress. Hopefully, he'll be able to become a leader and really grow into a leadership role this year as he gets a little older."
Regarding former Waskom athlete Kevin Johnson
"Phenomenal athlete. Fast. Runs a hole in the wind. Great kid, hard worker. This will be a big year for him, his second to play after a redshirt year. Were expecting a lot of great things out of K.J."
Regarding former Waskom athlete Chan Amie and Liberty-Eylau quarterback turned SMU running back Ke'Mon Freeman
"Chan is a same type of deal (as Kevin Johnson). He redshirted and we'll see how he comes back. Obviously, Ke'Mon Freeman from Liberty-Eylau was phenomenal. He stepped in as a true freshman, played some running back and even quarterback for us. He's going to have a dynamic career for us at SMU. This guy has a great future ahead of him."
Regarding former Van running back Aphonso Thomas
"We thought he was going to play this year, but he had some shoulder injuries and had to have surgery. He's coming back and will be 100 percent healthy. He had a great spring after enrolling early. He's definitely going to fit into the mix and fit into the rotation."