Arkansas has hired Chad Morris of SMU as its new football coach, a person with direct knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press.
The 49-year-old Morris agreed to a six-year contract, according to the person who spoke Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced.
Morris leaves the Mustangs after compiling a 14-22 in three seasons. He took over a team that finished 1-11 in 2014, won two games his first season and improved to 5-7 in 2016 and 7-5 this year.
The Texas native was a longtime high school coach in the state before beginning his collegiate career as the offensive coordinator at Tulsa in 2010. He then spent four years as the offensive coordinator at Clemson, helping lay the foundation for the Tigers’ national championship last season.
Morris had signed a three-year extension with SMU through 2023 after last season.
He takes over an Arkansas program that’s struggled to find consistent success in the Southeastern Conference since the firing scandal-ridden coach Bobby Petrino following the 2011 season.
The Razorbacks went 4-8 in their first post-Petrino season in 2012 under interim coach John L. Smith, and they followed that by going 29-34 in five seasons under Bielema, including just 11-29 in the SEC. Arkansas is 33-42 overall following Petrino’s firing, the school’s worst six-year stretch since it went 22-38 from 1948-52.
Under Petrino, the Razorbacks had their best back-to-back seasons in the SEC since joining the league in 1992. They finished a combined 21-5 over the 2010-11 seasons and reached the Sugar Bowl in 2011 against Ohio State, and Bielema was expected to repeat that success when he was hired away from Wisconsin following the 2012 season.
However, after a steady rebuild of the program, Arkansas collapsed to end the Bielema era — losing 10 of his last 14 games ahead of his firing moments following a season-ending loss to Missouri.
Morris was hired after a nearly two-week coaching search that was led at times by interim athletic director Julie Cromer Peoples following the firing of athletic director Jeff Long on Nov. 15. Arkansas hired Houston athletic director Hunter Yurachek on Monday.
The Razorbacks were believed to have interest in Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, a former high school coach in Arkansas, but he signed a seven-year extension with the Tigers on Sunday night.
Now, they get another former high school coach known for his offensive prowess — with Morris having spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas and going 32-0 and winning a pair of state titles in his only two seasons at Lake Travis in the Austin area.
“I’m a Texas high school football coach. That’s who I am,” said Morris, a Dallas native, when he was hired at SMU in 2014. “I think that Texas high school football coaches do it the right way.”