When you consider that about one-sixth of the NCAA Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision coaching jobs turned over for the 2018 season, it is not that surprising that Chad Morris' ascendancy to the job in Fayetteville has been somewhat beneath the proverbial radar. Morris' modest 14-22 record over a three-season run at SMU plays some role in that, naturally, but his hiring was realistically obscured by splashier events (to wit, UCLA nabbing Chip Kelly, Nebraska getting its anointed golden boy Scott Frost and Texas A&M sending a Brinks truck to pick up Jimbo Fisher in Tallahassee).
Plus, Arkansas's on-field product in 2016-17 was just so damned underwhelming. Changing defensive coordinators and schemes failed. Quarterbacks got drilled all the time. The team would fall bass-ackwards into leads in games but promptly lose those, and were blown out in a slew of others. Morale, attendance and long-term confidence plummeted, all with the specter of Gus Malzahn feigning interest in coming back to a university that never had much use for him as a player or coach. Bret Bielema's five-year reign was accordingly finished.
This is an oddly cyclical thing, too. Amateurish numerology business notwithstanding, Arkansas football has been fiendishly consistent in one way: In years ending in 2 or 7, the Ozarks morphs into an inane epicenter of gridiron drama. What may appear to be novelty is really quite a pattern, and Morris needs to be mindful of it.
Let's start with 1982, wherein Arkansas finished 9-2-1 with an Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl victory and a place in the Top 10. It was Lou Holtz's fourth season of eight or more wins in six years, and he was revered by fans. So of course national politics became an unanticipated source of consternation for then-Athletic Director Frank Broyles: Holtz had dabbled in an unconscionable public defense of unrepentant bigot Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), Arkansas ended up sinking to 6-5 in 1983, and Holtz was relieved of his duties in a move that Broyles would say later was a function of Holtz's indiscretion.
To 1987 we go. Ken Hatfield nudged a little magic back into the program with the triple-option and with Greg Thomas being the first African American to serve as regular starting quarterback, but the Hogs were also getting exposed badly against higher-level competition, including an ignominious 51-7 thrashing by Miami and a 2-point loss to hated Texas on the last play of the game. Both travesties unfolded before sellout crowds in Little Rock, and it was evident that fans and boosters were divided on whether Hatfield's throwback methodology would ever produce sustained success. The Hogs went 10-2 in 1988 and 1989, but two empty trips to the Cotton Bowl cemented Hatfield's fate and he made tracks for Clemson, a decision again influenced by Broyles' perceived lording over the program.
The 1992 season was the Razorbacks' first as a member of the Southeastern Conference, and the bold decision looked like an immediate gaffe when I-AA (now FCS) The Citadel marched into Fayetteville that September to knock the Razorbacks off in the opener. Hatfield's successor, Jack Crowe, was an immediate casualty the next afternoon. Arkansas bravely limped through the rest of that inaugural year with interim head coach Joe Kines, but Broyles thought he found someone suitable for the enhanced competition when he hired Danny Ford, who had guided Clemson to a national title a decade earlier. Ostensibly, Ford was the most proven commodity that Arkansas had ever hired to be its head coach.
Well, five years later (seeing a pattern?), Ford had long worn out his welcome. He seemed utterly disinterested in being the head coach after his 1995 upstarts made a surprising run to the SEC Championship Game, shepherding the 1996-97 squads to only eight total wins and a passel of one-sided losses, and notably forgetting the names of players during his painful excuse for a coach's TV show. A search committee was dispatched in the wake of Broyles' decision to fire Ford, and a curious, controversial outcome — the hiring of one-time jilted Hog quarterback Houston Nutt, author of one unremarkable season at Boise State — was the result. Nutt put an immediate charge into the program by getting some downtrodden upperclassmen to come back in 1998 with an enthusiastic approach, and it paid off ... for a while.
By 2002, Nutt was fighting for his job. The Hogs had a listless 6-6 campaign in 2000 that ended with a thud in the Las Vegas Bowl, then followed that by returning to a frigid Cotton Bowl in 2001, only to register barely any offense at all in losing to defending national champion Oklahoma. The entire 2002 season was an amalgam of the bizarre and blissful: There was the notorious arrest of defensive tackle Jermaine Brooks on weapon and drug charges in the midst of a mercurial regular season that wrapped with the Miracle on Markham, which sent the Hogs back to the SEC Championship Game for the first time in seven years. They parlayed that into a beat-down by Georgia and a Music City Bowl clunker against Minnesota, which amplified the questions about Nutt's acumen.
The 2007 season played out similarly, and as with Ford, a year ending in 7 was the long-delayed death knell for Nutt. The offseason debacle — in which Malzahn darted for a lower-tier coordinating job at Tulsa, Mitch Mustain transferred and Nutt caterwauled on the airwaves — overshadowed Herculean feats from the best backfield tandem in Razorback history, as even Darren McFadden and Felix Jones couldn't get the Hogs to do better than 8-4, 4-4 even with a stunning three-overtime upset of No. 1 LSU in the season finale. Nutt's reward for the team's underperformance was getting pushed out of the airplane with a golden parachute. He bolted for Ole Miss, and incoming Athletic Director Jeff Long punctuated another Lifetime Original miniseries of a season by hiring Bobby Petrino, who was so desperate to leave his new NFL job in Atlanta that he took a $2 million per annum pay cut just to get back in the college mix.
That brings us to 2012, in which Petrino and John L. Smith together said, "Hold my beer," and made all this other aforesaid folly seem downright mundane. The former fell off a motorcycle, lied about it and the young female passenger on it, and was scuttled by Long in April; the latter was lured back on an interim basis, forgot what team he coached, had visible synaptic misfires in front of members of the media, and "led" the team to a disastrous 4-8 year. That, in turn, had Long making the surprise move to coax Bielema from Wisconsin, and that half-decade played out comparatively tamely, if every bit as frustratingly mediocre on balance.
So there's your history lesson, Coach Morris. I hope like hell you're healthy, wealthy, accomplished and safe come 2022.