Case study: Arkansas, two coach buyouts, and its search
You probably get why Arkansas cut ties with Chad Morris after a 4-18 start.
The writing was on the wall. Morris, hired in 2017 after a brief, moderately OK three-year run at SMU (where he went 14-22), was not getting the job done, to put it bluntly.
All his fault? Certainly not. Arkansas had already made the mistake of trying to bring Big Ten football to the SEC with the 2013 hire of Bret Bielema, who had gone 68-24 in seven years at Wisconsin, then utterly flamed out at Arkansas, going 29-34 in five seasons, his best year coming in 2015, when the Razorbacks were a middling 8-5.
Five seasons seems about right for a college football coach, to figure out if what he’s doing is going to work.
A college football program is so many moving parts. You’ve got 85 guys on scholarship, 44 players on your two-deep.
It takes time to get guys to fit what you’re trying to do, get guys to back them up, give all these guys time to learn how you do things, get physically mature.
Two seasons? Or, not even two seasons in the case of Morris.
Arkansas has decided that it’s time to move on, and if you’ve decided it’s time to move on, might as well do it now, as opposed to waiting until the Saturday night or Sunday after the regular season.
Do it now, and you can begin reaching out to agents for coaches to gauge interest in the job.
Wait, and you’re in line with everybody else who waits until after the regular season.
So, in that context, again, if you’ve decided it’s time to move on, it’s good for Arkansas to do it now.
Arkansas is trying to get out of paying Bielema the rest of the $11.8 million it owes him according to the terms of his contract, and is trying to claw back $4.2 million of what it has already paid.
How? By citing terms of the contract that Arkansas says required Bielema to actively pursue similar employment elsewhere.
After being fired by Arkansas, Bielema went to work on the staff of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, first as a consultant, and now as the defensive line coach.
Not good enough, apparently, and the two sides appear headed to court to resolve their conflict.
And now, Arkansas is on the hook for another big buyout for Morris, reportedly in the area of $10.1 million.
A lot of money, to be sure, which has to have an impact on what you have in the kitty to hire another coach, one, and then two, how does the conflict with Bielema look to prospective candidates?
It could come across that Arkansas doesn’t want to live up to its end of the contracts that it puts into effect, particularly when the athletics director, Hunter Yurachek, has made it clear that he thinks losing should be a reason for termination with cause.
However you feel about that personally, contract language is contract language, and in the here and now, the kind of people who are the caliber to run football programs in the SEC West can command contract language that guarantees them a downside if it turns out that it’s harder to compete with the likes of Alabama and LSU than it had seemed at the outset.
The fight with Bielema, and whatever ends up happening with Morris, can’t be a good thing for Arkansas when it comes to its newest coaching search.
This, on top of the money that has to be paid to the two former coaches, and the issue with firing Morris before the end of Year 2.
And the fact, you know, that it’s Arkansas in the first place.
Column by Chris Graham