CLEMSON — –The question is no longer whether Chad Morris can save the Clemson football program.
The question is, how long can Clemson keep him?
10 months ago, Dabo Swinney was on the hot seat following a 6-7 season, the Tigers’ first losing record since 1998.
His hire of Morris – one year removed from coaching in the Texas high school ranks – seemed risky, but along with a revamp of his offensive staff, it has paid off. The Tigers average 473 yards per game (15th nationally in total offense) and 38 points per game (14th nationally.
Clemson enters Saturday’s noon home finale against Wake Forest 8-1, 5-1 in ACC play and No.9 nationally, and can clinch its second ACC Atlantic Division title in three years with a win.
Now, it’s time for Morris to get paid.
When he was hired, he signed a four-year deal worth $450,000 annually. That’s good coin, but Morris has become a hot commodity nationally, and will become even more so during college football’s silly season, which will kick off in earnest at the end of this month.
Clemson officials must do whatever they can to keep him on Swinney’s staff as long as possible.
They’re being proactive; last week, Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips told The (Charleston) Post and Courier that Clemson would be “extremely competitive” for Morris’ services. TigerIllustrated.com reported that Phillips has approached Clemson’s Board of Trustees about matching any offer Morris receives to become an offensive coordinator.
That likely means a hefty raise.
Morris’ mentor, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, makes $1.3 million per year, although it must be noted that Malzahn is more experienced and also helped lead Auburn to a national title last year.
A more likely target would be somewhere between the salary of defensive coordinator Kevin Steele (who makes $675,000 annually, best in the ACC) and Malzahn.
It might be hard for Clemson to keep him, though, if a school seeking a head coach comes calling.
North Carolina will almost certainly be looking for a new leader next month, and it just so happens that new athletic director Bubba Cunningham was Morris’ athletic director last year at Tulsa.
And the situation at Texas A&M bears watching, as well. The Aggies – a top-10 preseason team – are 5-4 after a 41-25 beatdown at Oklahoma, and they’ve blown three double-digit leads in the second half.
Morris is a A&M alum – he graduated with a major in math and minor in statistics in 1992 – and actually counseled coach Mike Sherman on the hurry-up, no-huddle offense, elements of which Sherman used last year with great success.
That system – along with the obvious advantage of talent like quarterback Tajh Boyd and super-freshman receiver Sammy Watkins – has carried Clemson to heights unseen since 2000, when the Tigers also started 8-0.
After the season, offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez left for West Virginia, and Tommy Bowden never replicated that success.
It is a lesson Clemson – and the athletic department’s checkbook – would be wise to learn from with Morris.