Chad Morris hasn’t said much about his time at Arkansas, at least not publicly, since he took over as Auburn’s offensive coordinator in December.
But with Auburn set to host Morris’ former team — the program that unceremoniously dumped him after less than two seasons — this weekend at Jordan-Hare Stadium, at least one Auburn player is saying what Morris hasn’t put into words the last 10 months.
“I would say it’s definitely personal for him,” starting center Nick Brahms said.
No. 13 Auburn (1-1) will host Arkansas (1-1) on Saturday at 3 p.m., with the game broadcast on SEC Network. It will be, colloquially, the Chad Morris Bowl—the offensive-minded coach’s current team against the one he failed to lead out of the SEC’s cellar during his stint in Fayetteville.
Morris was hired as Arkansas’ head coach in 2018 to replace Bret Bielema, but he struggled to turn around the program in his limited time there. The Razorbacks went 4-18 in 22 games under Morris before he was fired Nov. 10, with two games remaining on the schedule in just his second season with the program, following a loss to a Western Kentucky team led by one of Arkansas’ former quarterbacks.
During Morris’ tenure in Fayetteville, Arkansas lost all 13 SEC games it played—all part of a 20-game conference losing streak that began Nov. 11, 2017 and was snapped last weekend, when the Razorbacks upset Mike Leach’s Mississippi State. Now Arkansas and first-year coach Sam Pittman are headed to the Plains with hopes of starting a new, far less dubious streak by winning their second SEC game in a row — against the team featuring the Razorbacks’ former coach, no less.
Gus Malzahn knows that emotions will likely be high on Saturday. It’s natural; he knows that firsthand from his own experiences being in a situation similar to the one Morris finds himself in this week.
In Malzahn’s first season as Auburn’s head coach in 2013, the Tigers hosted the team he coached the year prior, Arkansas State. Of course, that wasn’t Malzahn’s first experience facing his former team. After spending one season as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator in 2006, Malzahn accepted a job as offensive coordinator at Tulsa. Then, a year later, Tulsa traveled to Arkansas for a game that marked Malzahn’s return to Fayetteville, where he had a somewhat tumultuous stint on Houston Nutt’s staff.
“It was really weird for me, personally, that week,” Malzahn said. “I do remember that. But like I said, once a game starts, you just kind of flip the switch, but before and after, it was definitely, definitely a completely different feel.”
The circumstances will be different this weekend for Morris, since he’ll be going against the program that fired him and not one he left on his own accord.
That’s plenty motivation for Auburn’s players, it seems.
“We’re playing for him,” Brahms said. “We’re playing for each other. I love Chad Morris. Coach Morris is awesome. I’m going to play for him; I’m going to play hard for him. I think everybody is, honestly. Nobody takes him for granted, because he’s a great person and a great man and a great coach. This is his former team that he coached for, so we’re going to play hard for him.”
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.
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