BY: Richard W. Humphrey
UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The Mustangs’ Head Football Coach position apparently will stay in Chad Morris’s hands. After weeks of speculation, which had reached a fever pitch by season’s end, Morris announced last week that he had informed the team that he was staying at SMU. A day later, SMU announced that they had extended Morris’s contract for three additional years through the 2023 season. Financial terms were not disclosed.
We may ultimately never know how close Morris got to taking the vacant Baylor job. The Dallas Morning News reported Baylor turned down a counter offer from Morris to take the job with a five year contract at $24.5 million. Another rumor had Morris’s desire for an out clause if he was offered the Texas A&M job. Morris attended Texas A&M. Whatever the circumstances, Morris is staying.
SMU’s season ended the Saturday before when Navy beat SMU by the embarassing score of 75-31. It was a delightful back and forth game in the first half, but Navy dominated after intermission. The Midshipmen ended up scoring 11 touchdowns in 12 possessions, twice missing the extra point. Their punter never took the field. The only possession in which Navy did not score was on a fumble at the end of a run back of an SMU kickoff.
The Mustangs took the opening kickoff and drove smartly down the field for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. They scored a touchdown with 3:14 left in the half to take another lead at 24-21. That was the end of the good news for SMU on this game day. The Midshipmen pushed across a score before halftime, and quickly added two more, one on a pick six, in the second half. to all but put away the game.
The loss to the Midshipmen ended SMU’s hopes of a bowl game this year. They finished at 5-7, a win shy of qualifying. Morris was obviously disconsolate in his post game interview. “I’ve got a group of guys and a coaching staff that are hurting right now.” In an attempt to deflect the attention of his interest in the Baylor coaching job, Morris added, “It’s not about me. This is about the kids in the locker room and moving forward. I feel like the future is extremely bright here at SMU. We go back on the road recruiting on Monday.”
While there is disappointment over not going bowling this year, the 5-7 record is real progress. That’s three more wins than last year, and it was done against a solid schedule. Nine of the 12 opponents are going to bowl games. Seven were ranked in the Top 25 at some point in the season. The American Athletic Conference may not have a team recognized in the top 10 or 15, but it’s a solid football conference up and down the lineup. Eight of the 12 programs are bowl bound.
The All-Conference team was announced, and to no one’s surprise Courtland Sutton was named to the first team. He had a remarkable season with 76 receptions for 1,246 yards. He scored 10 touchdowns. There was some question as to whether he would return in 2017 and pursue an NFL career instead. However, recent tweets have him solidly in the fold.
He tweeted, “This season had its ups and downs. It didn’t end like we wanted it to. However, I am grateful for it all. The best is yet to come.”
Last season, he joined the Mustangs basketball team in January. He is still listed on the current basketball roster, but there has been no indication either way as to whether he will return to play basketball again this year.
Three other Mustangs were named first team All Conference – safety Darrion Millines, defensive lineman Justin Lawler and cornerback Horace Richardson. Millines and Richardson are seniors, but Lawler has another year of eligibility.
In any event, the future looks bright for football on the Hilltop with Morris staying. He is working on his third recruiting class since taking the job, which promises to be the best one yet. Recruiting is his strength. After coaching high school football for 16 years in Texas, he has the contacts with coaches.
His first two classes were better than the Mustangs had garnered for years, and he redshirted some players this season, particularly offensive linemen that could have helped this year’s team. It may have cost the program a bowl game this year, but most certainly is a good move for building a strong program in the future.
Mustang fans should have every expectation of seeing their team go to a bowl next season and perhaps even challenge for the West Division championship in AAC play.
* Baylor filled their vacant coaching job this week, tabbing Matt Rhule, who leaves the head coaching position at Temple. Temple won the East Division this fall and beat Navy in the AAC championship game to win the conference title. They are headed to the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland to play Wake Forest. The Owls are 28-13 under Rhule after winning 10 games for last two seasons.
* The Conference also lost another good football coach this week to a power five conference when Oregon hired South Florida’s Willie Taggert. South Florida was 10-2 this season.