After, like, one full day of speculation after Kenny Dillingham’s departure to Florida State, Auburn has a new offensive coordinator. It’s a familiar face to Gus Malzahn, and a familiar face to those in the SEC.
Chad Morris comes on board to help run the attack — but probably not act as play-caller — for the offense in 2020 and hopefully beyond. Morris’ road is pretty well-known, he didn’t make it two years as head coach at Arkansas after a short stint at SMU, but he was one of the top offensive coordinators in the country when he was under Dabo Swinney at Clemson. From 2011-2014, Morris was in charge of one of the most potent attacks in the country when Clemson began its ascent to the top of the college football world.
It was under his tutelage that the Tigers became a feared offense, ranking in the top ten during the heights of his reign in Death Valley. Morris was a career Texas high school coach, finishing his time up in the prep ranks at Lake Travis in 2009 before getting his first college gig as offensive coordinator at Tulsa. He spent just one season there before Dabo hired him away, and his rise started in a hurry.
In 2010, Clemson was 86th in the country in scoring, averaging 24.0 points per game. Quarterback Kyle Parker threw for just 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, with a rating of just 117.2. In his first year, Morris’ leadership turned that offense around, bumped it up to 23rd in the country in scoring, and turned Tajh Boyd into an absolute star. Look at the numbers from year to year:
2011 - 23rd nationally in scoring, 33.6 points per game
- 440 yards per game (282 passing, 158 rushing)
- Tajh Boyd - 59.7% completion, 3,828 yards, 33 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
2012 - 6th nationally in scoring, 41.0 points per game
- 513 yards per game (321 passing, 191 rushing)
- Tajh Boyd - 67.2% completion, 3,896 yards, 36 touchdowns, 13 interceptions
2013 - 8th nationally in scoring, 40.8 points per game
- 508 yards per game (333 passing, 175 rushing)
- Tajh Boyd - 68.5% completion, 3,851 yards, 34 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
2014 - 54th nationally in scoring, 30.8 points per game
- 408 yards per game (262 passing, 146 rushing)
- Deshaun Watson - 67.9% completion, 1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
What we’ve seen is an ability to turn quarterbacks into efficient machines in the passing game, as Tajh Boyd notched three 3,800+ yard seasons, with a three-year total of 103 touchdowns to 36 interceptions. If Deshaun Watson hadn’t spent much of 2014 hurt, Clemson would likely have posted similar numbers to the previous three seasons.
Since Morris is one of Gus Malzahn’s closest friends, many of us are hoping that he can exert some real influence on the head coach to adapt offensively. Mainly, a progression in the passing game would be fantastic, and that’s Morris’ wheelhouse. Arkansas wasn’t awful offensively the last couple of years, Morris just had a heck of a rebuild from a completely different scheme to deal with. SMU rose tremendously under him, but everyone remembers the firing from Fayetteville, Morris was one of the nation’s top offensive coordinators, and tied only with Gus in 2011 as the highest-paid assistants in the land.
Here’s a really good look at the Morris offense and some ways that it differs from what Gus likes to run, but in short, his concepts will likely mesh well with what Gus wants to do on the field. Maybe Morris is a little more passing-oriented, but if you watched the vertical attack from Clemson over the past decade, you know that it’s something that’s largely been missing at Auburn. Morris’ influence will be welcome not only from that standpoint, but from the view that he can be a guy that Gus trusts as a friend to make good decisions and do what’s best for the team.
Under Morris at Clemson, the wide receivers became bonafide stars — Sammy Watkins caught 240 passes in three seasons, while Deandre Hopkins grabbed 154 passes from 2011-2012 — and it started the trend of Clemson as a destination for top-flight wideouts. With just a little influence in the passing game, Auburn would likely shatter passing and receiving records with Bo Nix and the majority of his receiving corps returning intact in 2020.
Overall, anyone doubting this hire at the moment are tainted b the memory of Morris’ tenure as a head coach in Fayetteville, and the knowledge of what Gus likes to do when working in concert with coordinators. He’s never had a true friend, a trusted confidant at the position, and this could be what Auburn needs for the offense to truly take off.