Chad Morris has established himself as one of the nation's top assistant coaches.
CLEMSON, S.C.—As the calendar flipped to December Sunday morning, college football’s “silly season” officially began.
One Saturday remains before postseason and BCS bowl selection, with a number of conference championships and a handful of regular-season games left.
But for a number of teams, the regular season is over, giving athletic directors a chance to evaluate the best moves for their underperforming programs.
Monday, the offseason coaching carousel pushed into gear, with Washington’s Steve Sarkisian leaving for Southern California and Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe resigning following 13 seasons at the Demon Deacons’ helm.
It should be no surprise that the speculation surrounding Clemson Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris began shortly after Grobe’s resignation. Tuesday morning, CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman, a respected college football insider, tweeted that he was “hearing” that Morris “would be a big player” in Wake’s search to replace Grobe.
Which begs the question: Would Morris leave Clemson for Wake Forest?
The odds are unlikely, at absolute best.
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While Morris, the nation’s highest-paid assistant coach at $1.3 million annually, will eventually jump from Clemson for a head coaching position, leaving for Wake Forest simply doesn’t seem like a smart move for his career.
In three seasons at Clemson, Morris has energized the Tigers’ overall fortunes with his hurry-up, no-huddle offense. Through 12 games this season, Clemson is 12th nationally in total offense (502 ypg), 12th in passing offense (329.3 ypg) and 12th in scoring offense (40.2 ppg).
Under Morris’ watch, senior starting quarterback Tajh Boyd has set 57 Clemson single-game, single-season and career records. He ranks first all time among ACC quarterbacks in passing touchdowns, first in touchdown responsibility (passing and rushing scores combined) and second in passing yardage.
He is one of the nation’s hottest coaching prospects: The Texas native interviewed with Texas Tech for its head coaching position last December and was also connected to the Auburn, N.C. State and South Florida openings.
After Texas Tech hired Kliff Kingsbury, Morris made it clear he wouldn’t leave Clemson for just any position.
“I think you’ve got to look at it, there’s a huge commitment to winning in Clemson. From my deal, my contract, I’m in a situation, it’s going to have to be the right fit before it can happen,” he said last December. “Just to say you’re a head coach, I have no desire to say I’m a head coach at wherever, I have no desire to do that. We’ve got a great situation here, we’re building something special and a great commitment to winning. That’s what’s happening.”
Wake Forest simply doesn’t seem to be that place for Morris.
Grobe had tremendous success by Wake’s standards: he won the program’s only ACC title in 2006, going 28-12 from 2006-08. But the program has made only one bowl since then, and Grobe actually finished his Wake run 77-82 overall.
Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman told USA Today’s Paul Myerberg that the Demon Deacons’ next coach must match three of four qualities: familiarity with the region, head coaching experience, knowledge of how to win in an academic-first program and “A head coach who’s had private school experience and great success.”
Morris knows the Carolinas and the ACC, but he has never been a collegiate head coach, much less a head coach at a private school. And while Clemson is no academic slouch, it can’t match the academic reputation of places like Wake Forest, Duke or Vanderbilt, among others.
Wake Forest paid Grobe well: his salary was $2.3 million annually. If the Demon Deacons were truly interested in Morris, they could make it worth his while to come.
But could Morris attract the caliber of athletes like Boyd, Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins that made his Clemson offenses hum? Grobe took a different philosophy, redshirting and developing lower-ranked players in order to eventually compete with ACC powers like Clemson and Florida State.
Wake Forest is graduating talented players like quarterback Tanner Price, receiver Michael Campanaro and defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock. And let’s not forget that Wake is in the same ACC Atlantic Division as Clemson, Florida State and, in 2014, Louisville.
Florida State is on track to play in the BCS national title game. Clemson spent most of this season in the Top 10 and is also on pace for a BCS game. And Louisville is a Top 20 team one season removed from a Sugar Bowl win over Florida.
Leapfrogging them and achieving consistent ACC success would be an incredibly difficult task.
Morris’ best bet would be a job akin to Texas Tech—in Texas, the Great Plains or Southwest.
He’ll find that fit eventually, perhaps even this winter. But Wake Forest isn’t it.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained firsthand.
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