CLEMSON — Chad Morris came back to it over and over again Saturday afternoon.
Fit. What’s a good fit? What isn’t?
How he answers that question will ultimately decide how long he remains as the conductor of Clemson’s high-powered offense.
Morris was one of this offseason’s hottest coaching candidates, and with good reason. In two seasons, he has transformed a moribund offense into one of the nation’s most prolific systems. Entering a Chick-fil-A Bowl showdown with LSU, the Tigers are among the top 13 in three major national offensive rankings, including top-six in total offense and scoring offense.
Over the last two weeks, he interviewed with N.C. State, had interest – at the very least – from Auburn and South Florida – and met with Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt at the Anderson Regional Airport.
His dalliances created a more than healthy level of anxiety among Clemson fans and even players, given Morris’ role in Clemson’s offensive revival.
If (OK, when) Morris leaves, that job will have to be special.
“There’s a huge commitment to winning in Clemson,” he said. “From my deal, my contract, I’m in a situation, it’ s going to have to be the right fit before it can happen.
Just to say you’re a head coach, I have no desire to say I’m a head coach at wherever, I have no desire to do that. We’ve got a great situation here, we’re building something special and a great commitment to winning. That’s what’s happening.”
Morris said several times Saturday that a coach only gets one shot at proving himself as the leader of a program. The way some schools recycle coaches leads me to beg to differ, but it rings true at the highest levels.
He can afford to be choosy. His six-year, $7.8 million contract pays him $1.3 million annually, best in America for an assistant. A pair of clauses in that deal will ensure he remains well-compensated if another program spends big on an offensive assistant.
If the Tigers win the ACC title or finish in the top five nationally in total offense, his salary would be guaranteed to match the average of the nation’s top two offensive coordinator salaries for the rest of the contract
If the Tigers finish in the top 10 nationally in total offense, his deal would match the average of the top three offensive coordinators nationally for the rest of the contract.
Although Clemson’s offense will lose graduating tailback Andre Ellington and possibly star junior wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (projected as a second-round NFL draft pick by ESPN guru Mel Kiper, Jr.,) the cupboard is far from bare.
ACC Player of the Year Tajh Boyd and sophomore wideout Sammy Watkins will highlight an offense full of intriguing pieces like redshirting freshman receiver Germone Hopper, freshman tailback Zac Brooks, and sophomore wideouts Charone Peake, Martavis Bryant and Adam Humphries, among others.
There’s good reason to believe the Tigers will be a top-10, possibly a top-5 offense next season, with players having three seasons to learn and polish his system.
Why wouldn’t he be picky?
“I talk to players about goals in life – what are your goals,” he said. “If your goal is to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and maybe you’re serving at another Fortune 500 company, maybe not at that level. When they call are you going to listen, talk, find out what’s intriguing? Just because the grass is green doesn’t mean it’s all roses.
“Every job has its share of problems. Every dog has fleas. Even those Westminster ones. They may not have as many, but they have them. You have to see if the situation is the right fit.”
Until that happens, Morris will remain at Clemson, and with good reason.
“I don’t judge being successful by being a head coach. Something I’m not going to do as I look at my career, the career we’ve tried to establish. If it happens it happens, but it has to be the right fit.”