COLUMN: Chad Morris hands Arkansas another 'L'
Arguably the worst head coach in SEC history, Chad Morris - with the help of his new employer - has found a way to hand Arkansas yet another loss.
The Razorbacks’ former coach, who failed to win any of his 14 SEC games and had as many losses to Group of Five opponents as total victories in less than two seasons, is staying in the division as Auburn’s new offensive coordinator.
More than two months after joining his friend and Arkansas native Gus Malzahn, Morris’ contract with the Tigers was finally released. According to multiple outlets in Alabama, he signed a three-year deal worth $735,000 annually.
That works out to a total of $2.205 million, which will offset the $10.1 million buyout he’s owed for the final four years of his contract at Arkansas.
Although it reduces the amount the Razorbacks have to pay him by about 21.8 percent, Morris’ new contract is a win for Auburn. A quick look across the conference appears to show that the Tigers are using his buyout to supplement his income, saving them money in the process.
Morris’ salary of $735,000…
…would have ranked 63rd nationally and 26th in the SEC among assistant coaches in 2019, according to USA Today’s database.
…would have been less than all but 12 known SEC offensive coordinator salaries in 2019, ahead of only Florida, Arkansas and Auburn. The Gators had a pair of co-coordinators making a combined $1.2 million, while the Razorbacks and Tigers paid their offensive coordinators $600,000 and $500,000, respectively. (Mississippi State did not have an offensive coordinator and Vanderbilt is not required to release salary information as a private institution.)
…is well below the average ($1.16 million) and median ($912,500) salary of SEC offensive coordinators in 2019, when combining the salaries of Florida’s co-coordinators.
…will be well below the average ($1.13 million) and median ($1.1 million) of the nine other known SEC offensive coordinator salaries for 2020, when combining the salaries of Florida’s co-coordinators. (Mississippi State and Missouri will not have offensive coordinators, Jeff Lebby’s salary at Ole Miss has not be released and Vanderbilt, again, is a private institution.)
…will make him just the fifth former FBS head coach to become an SEC coordinator in the past five seasons and earn less than $900,000 annually, while the other 13 have made at least that much. The other exceptions are Arkansas’ Dan Enos ($575,000), who came from Central Michigan; Arkansas’ Paul Rhoads ($700,000), who came from Iowa State; Tennessee’s Mike DeBord ($505,000), who had been a head coach at Central Michigan 12 years earlier; and Texas A&M’s Darrell Dickey ($800,000), who had been a head coach at North Texas 12 years earlier.
This is nothing new in college football. It happens across the country, even at Arkansas as recently as two years ago, when John Chavis was paid $995,000 to be the Razorbacks’ defensive coordinator in 2018. His salary that year was reportedly subsidized by his buyout with Texas A&M and he was promptly given a raise to $1.5 million for 2019.
What should irk Arkansas fans, though, is that Morris’ deal with the school specifically prohibits that. The offset clause in his contract says he has an “obligation to maximize his earning potential with a new employer by seeking comparable employment for his services at a rate of compensation not less than market value and consistent with compensation rates for similar positions in the given industry at the time such employment is obtained.”
The numbers listed above give the impression that Morris and Auburn clearly violated that section of his contract. However, HawgBeat was told that a couple of other factors went into the Tigers getting away with paying him just $735,000 annually.
First of all, Auburn was paying its previous offensive coordinator, Kenny Dillingham, just $500,000. That means Morris is actually making 47 percent more than his predecessor.
Also, the “similar positions” part of the clause is broad and can be expanded to include the rest of the Power Five, not just the SEC. While his salary is on the low end in this conference, it is comparable to those in the ACC, Big 12, Ben Ten and Pac-12.
Both of those points can be easily argued.
Dillingham was essentially an offensive coordinator in title only because Malzahn very publicly took over play-calling in 2019. That won’t be the case with Morris, who Malzahn has already said will call plays for the Tigers this coming season.
“Chad Morris, in my opinion, is one of the best offensive minds in college football,” Malzahn said last month. “He’s going to take our offense and he’s going to run with it. I’m very excited about that.”
Before Dillingham, Chip Lindsey was Auburn’s offensive coordinator and he actually called plays. According to USA Today, he was paid $1.1 million in 2018.
It’s also worth noting that Morris has a completely different resume than Dillingham, who was a 28-year-old who had been an on-field FBS assistant only two years. Both of those years were as an offensive coordinator at Memphis, meaning he had less experience than even that of former Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock.
Morris has been a head coach for five seasons - three at SMU and two at Arkansas - and was the nation’s highest paid assistant coach as the offensive coordinator at Clemson before that, making $1.3 million. As mentioned above, coaches with similar backgrounds have typically at least approached - if not exceeded - seven figures as SEC coordinators, regardless of their success as head coaches.
Considering coordinators in the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 as “similar positions” just because they’re Power Five conferences isn’t really accurate either. There is a growing economic divide between those leagues and the SEC and Big Ten because of the massive television revenues they generate.
That was on display earlier this month when Michigan State was able to hire Mel Tucker away from Colorado by reportedly doubling his salary, an offer the Buffaloes couldn’t counter.
Although it’s unlikely another school will hire him because of how spectacularly he crashed and burned at Arkansas, Morris is still obligated to pursue comparable positions - meaning FBS head coaching job.
Instead, the Razorbacks are still on the hook for nearly $7.9 million over the next four years, with the possibility of that going down more if Morris’ deal with Auburn is extended to a fourth season.
Had he received what appears to be a fair compensation based on all of the numbers above from the Tigers, it could have saved Arkansas an additional quarter million dollars per year.