CLEMSON — Wednesday afternoon, speculation ran rampant in Clemson’s locker room.
Was Chad Morris still in town? Was he in Lubbock? Opinions varied.
“There were players in the locker room saying, ‘I heard he’s already gone,’” said junior quarterback Tajh Boyd.
To counter, Boyd simply pulled out his phone.
“He’s texting me,’” Boyd told a teammate. “Look, there’s nothing there.’”
Clemson’s fears were quelled Wednesday evening when Texas Tech chose Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury over Morris as its next head coach.
Thursday, the Tigers were ready to focus on the not-so-small matter of preparation for New Year’s Eve’s Chick-fil-A Bowl showdown with LSU, a challenge made easier with the knowledge Morris will coordinate the fast-paced offensive machine he has molded over the past two seasons.
“A lot of people were speculating. It’s hard,” Boyd said. “You’ve got one of the best coaches in America and all these job opportunities. It’d be disappointing if nobody wanted him, like a recruit coming out of high school, you want all these schools to offer you.
“If you’re getting all these schools, all these opportunities and athletic directors calling you, at the same time you know you’re doing your job. There’ll be an opportunity for him to become a head coach. I guess the main thing right now is finishing the job with us and finishing strong.”
Sophomore wide receiver Sammy Watkins saw a difference in the overall practice atmosphere Thursday.
“There was a lot of talk at a couple of practices, ‘Coach Morris leaving, Coach Morris leaving?’” Watkins said. “But today we just went out and practiced hard and he talked to us before we went out. We felt real comfortable about him coming back next year and we went out and focused on LSU.”
Morris interviewed with Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt Tuesday at the Anderson Regional Airport, which was believed to be at least his second interview for a head coaching job this month. He also interviewed with N.C. State in Atlanta and had interest from Auburn and South Florida.
“He told everybody, told the guys, talked to a couple guys on the team about leaving,” Watkins said. “It was a big old story, someone caught him in the airport. He’s here, he’s fine.”
Morris’ talk cleared the air of speculation, Boyd said, showing the commitment that Morris has to Clemson’s offense.
“It was great to hear him in that meeting, to know what kind of commitment he has to the team,” Boyd said. “I was proud to hear him say that. Some coaches hop up to another job and don’t worry about the bowl game. We know the type of opportunities he has, the type of coach he is – he’s one of the hottest coaches in the country. It’s going to be like this every year. This is how it’s going to be.
“The offense is only getting better. He wanted to reaffirm to us that all we needed to worry about was the bowl game. Nothing else. He thought there were too many distractions. For us as a program, individual players, all we can focus on is one game.”
For his part, Watkins said he wouldn’t have been upset had Morris departed.
“I wouldn’t’ be mad if he did leave. It’s his decision,” he said. “Too many coaches don’t get the opportunity to apply for a head coaching job. That should be every coach’s dream. I wouldn’t have been upset if he left. It’s a business.”
Boyd – who is weighing his future as a likely mid-to-late round selection should he declare for April’s NFL draft – said Morris’ departure would have affected his decision, but hanging around helps, too.
“He gave me reasons, just wanting to finish strong with his players. It shows his commitment. All you can do as a player is smile and know you have a coach that’s dedicated to you, can help you succeed in anything you can do.”
Clemson held its first practice in its new $10 million indoor facility Thursday. It has not yet been opened to the media, but that is expected soon.
“It was a big welcome home for me,” said Watkins, a southwest Florida native. “You can get a good workout in, you’re not outside worrying about bad grass. A great accomplishment for the whole Clemson organization.”