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Andy Hodges

Clues to Hogs’ football to ponder over spring break

Chad Morris has said in spring press conferences it’s going to take time to build what he wants, but the guess is he is expecting more earlier than many others will predict.

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At roughly the halfway point of spring football, everybody wants early predictions.

“What do you think they’ll do?” I get asked daily, usually multiple times in a day.

Right now, well, I don’t know and I’m pretty sure nobody else does, either. That includes Chad Morris, by the way.

“I would be doing the entire program an injustice to be able to make an assumption only being here the short period of time I’ve been in,” Morris said at a press conference after a few spring practices.

Some took that as being negative. That is the Great Unwashed of the lunatic fringe of Razorback fans. Most call themselves realistic, but they are, quite simply, negative.

The guess here is Morris doesn’t waste a lot of time worrying what those folks think. He doesn’t appear to dwell on the negative much at all and doesn’t waste a lot of time thinking about it.

Morris, who is about as good as pivoting away from the question and getting his message across … regardless of the question.

Where you got the impression at times some previous coaches viewed everything in Fayetteville as uphill, Morris sees an opportunity.

Shoot, he doesn’t wait on anybody to ask the question he wants. He’ll just ask it himself, then proceed to answer it.

Lou Holtz brought a new energy to Arkansas football in 1977. Ken Hatfield did it in 1984. Houston Nutt did in 1998. Bobby Petrino kinda eased his way into it in 2008. Bret Bielema sort waddled into it in 2013.

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Morris appears to have a dose of Holtz’ energy mixed with Hatfield’s work ethic and Nutt’s enthusiasm. Note I said “appears’ because it’s still too early to make any definitive statements … let the guy coach a season or two.

“This program, this university, this state, they’re so ready for this,” he said at a spring press conference. “Once we get it going — and we’re going to get it going — that’s all we’ve ever done — is win.

“We’re going to get it going. Once you do, it’s going to take off.”

Bielema said some of the same things. Most of the time it sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than anybody else.

Morris has a confidence in what he’s doing I’ve seen before over the years. It’s not the in-your-face cocky approach. That doesn’t work that well, usually.

Bobby Bowden had it in the early days at Florida State. Jimmy Johnson had it when he came to the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. Pete Carroll had the same sound when he came to USC in 2001. Nick Saban had the same demeanor at Alabama in 2007.

“We want this to be popular,” he said. “To wear the Hog around, that’s popular. While it may not be as popular right now, I’m okay with that. Great. That’s okay. Because it will be. You better get on the bandwagon now.”

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All those guys above said virtually the same things when they took over situations that weren’t exactly ideal at the time.

How did they do? Well, they all struggled in their first seasons, but rebounded pretty well:

Bowden, Florida State: He won 75 percent of his games over a 34-year stretch, including 14 straight seasons with Top 5 finishes.

Johnson, Dallas Cowboys: His five-year total of 44-36 includes train wrecks in the first two seasons where he had maybe the worst talent ever assembled on a team in 1989. In his last three seasons, he was 75 percent of the games, including back-to-back Super Bowls.

Carroll, USC: Won 83 percent of his games over a nine-year period, including two national titles and lost a third to Vince Young and Texas. Take away the NCAA forfeits and he still won 81 percent of his games.

Saban, Alabama: In 11 seasons, he has built a team that wins 86 percent of the time, including five national titles and a runner-up finish once.

None of this is to even imply a prediction of that type of success for Morris at Arkansas.

But I get the idea Morris would look at that and say, “Why not?”

“Everything’s going to take some time,” Morris said. “So how are we going to do it? By being the absolute best freakin’ press conference we can have right here today. And that’s it.

“Some of you think that’s coach talk, but guys that have been with me forever, that’s just the way I am. It’s just about right now being where our feet are and maximizing this moment right now.

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“Being able to capture everything I do. … There’s some recruit out there watching right now and he either wants to be a part of something popular or he wants to go somewhere and make something popular.

“One of the two, that’s what we deal with in recruiting. You’re either, ‘Man, I want to go where it’s already popular,’ or ‘I want to be the reason why it becomes popular.’

“That’s our philosophy. We want you to want to be here. If I have to beg you to be here, then we have issues. I’m excited.”

The indication I got for what some may think is an optimistic prediction for the coming season came near the end of the press conference from Morris.

“We’re a long, long ways away from where we want to be and need to be, but that’s okay because we have several days before we have to get there,” he said.

I’ve heard almost the exact same comment from the coaches I listed above.

That is something to think about over this spring break week.

And it’s a sign of optimism because that sounds like a coach who thinks his team is going to be better than anyone thinks early.

But not as good as it’s going to be.

Eventually.

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