By RALPH D. RUSSO
Arkansas fired football coach Chad Morris on Sunday after 22 games and no Southeastern Conference victories over nearly two terrible seasons.
Morris finished 4-18 and 0-14 in the SEC. Arkansas made the move less than 24 hours after the Razorbacks lost 45-19 at home to a Western Kentucky team quarterbacked by former Razorback Ty Storey. Morris’ only victories came again Eastern Illinois, Portland State — two FCS teams — Tulsa and Colorado State.
“As part of my continued evaluation, I have come to the conclusion that a change in leadership is necessary to move our football program forward and position it for success,” athletic director Hunter Yurachek said in a statement. “It is clear that we have not made the progress necessary to compete and win, especially within the Southeastern Conference.”
Morris is the second Power Five coach to be fired after last than two seasons on the job in eight days. Florida State fired Willie Taggart after 21 games last Sunday.
A year after a $160 million stadium renovation and expansion, Arkansas had its two lowest-attended games since a previous expansion in 2001.
Morris said Saturday that he still felt he was the man for the job, but he offered an honest assessment of where the program stood.
“It’s going to take some time,” he said. “This is not an overnight fix, and we’ve seen that now for two years. We’re all frustrated. We’re all incredibly frustrated. We have a big youth movement on this team and a lot of young guys that are contributing and are going to be tremendous football players. But where we are right now with these guys, we’ve got some major deficiencies that we have to fix.”
Morris was hired from SMU in December 2017 after Arkansas fired Bret Bielema. SMU went 14-22 in Morris’ three seasons in Dallas, though the Mustangs improved each year, capping at 7-5 in 2017. Before that, Morris was offensive coordinator at Clemson.
Morris, a Texas native, was a successful high school coach for years before becoming offensive coordinator at Tulsa. After one year, he was hired away by Clemson, where he coached and recruited Deshaun Watson.
Morris was Arkansas’ choice after former Razorbacks offensive coordinator and current Auburn coach Gus Malzahn declined the job. Morris was hired on Dec. 6, 2017, just weeks after Arkansas named Yurachek athletic director.
He struggled throughout and hit a new low on Saturday. Western Kentucky, a member of Conference USA, scored on all five of its first-half possessions to take a 35-7 lead.
“I’m very disappointed that we were unable to send our seniors out any better than that,” Morris said after the game. “It was not at all what was intended for these guys today.”
Arkansas owes Morris just over $10 million in buying out his contract. The university is still paying Bielema as part of an $11.8 million buyout. Earlier this month, the Razorback Foundation, a private organization which handles payments for the buyout, asked Bielema to repay the $4.2 million paid him so far, believing Bielema’s job as defensive line coach for the New England Patriots negated the terms of the deal.
Yurachek said a national search for the next coach will begin immediately. Assistant coach and former Razorback quarterback Barry Lunney Jr. will serve as interim head coach for the rest of the season.
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City and AP freelance writer Eric W. Bolin in Fayetteville, Arkansas, contributed to this report.