Inside Chad Morris’s home, in a lounge he describes as the “recruiting room,” there hangs on the wall a framed, decade-old story from Sports Illustrated detailing the impressive lineage of quarterbacks to have played for Morris during his days as a Texas high school coach. One of the players mentioned in the 2009 story never actually played for him. It’s his son Chandler, who at the time of publication was, as the piece notes, an advanced first-grader quarterbacking a 7-on-7 team of third-graders. Chad often thought Chandler was in line to be his next quarterback, but that was before he left the high school ranks for college ball the very next year.
Now, a decade later, his dad head coach at Arkansas, Chandler still found a way to get into that line. He announced Friday his commitment to his father’s program. He’ll be back with dad after all, almost 10 years exactly to his cameo in that story. “It’s pretty unique,” Chad says in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “It’s pretty cool.” This is not a father doing his son a favor. Chandler is a four-star rated prospect, is inside the 247Sports.com composite list of the top 350 recruits in the 2020 class and has offers from the likes of Clemson and Oklahoma.
Despite his size—he measured at 5'10", 172 pounds at the latest recruiting event this summer—he can sling it with the best of them, helping lead one of the country’s high school powerhouses to a state championship in his first season as a starter last year. He completed 63.9% of his passes, threw for 4,010 yards and 46 touchdowns (to six interceptions) and rushed for 647 more yards and 20 more scores, all the while accomplishing a first in the illustrious 90-year-old history of Dallas-based Highland Park High. The Scots, a program that claims to be the winningest in Texas prep football history, had never gone 16–0. “The ball comes out of his hand with the zip of nobody I’ve ever seen. That’s a long list of guys,” says Tristan Weber, a longtime assistant at Highland Park who coaches quarterbacks. The list of the players he’s seen pass through here include NFL first-round pick Matthew Stafford and John Stephen Jones, Chandler’s predecessor who led the Scots to back-to-back titles and is now playing at Arkansas.
Chandler will soon join him in Fayetteville, signaling the end of an unusual recruiting process that included, for one, his father accompanying him to campus visits at Arkansas’s intra-division rivals, Auburn and Texas A&M. The process also included his mother, Paula, at first being against the idea of her son playing for his father, and there was even a time when Chandler himself thought about publicly ruling out the Razorbacks as a potential destination. This was a unique, winding, year-long ordeal that began during a camp at Clemson last June, when an old friend spotted from across the field a kid he used to drive to elementary school. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, shocked by the talent he witnessed, raced over to Paula Morris.
“It was the first time in a really long time that Dabo had seen him throw,” Paula says. “You know Dabo, what you see is what you get. He said, ‘I’m calling Chad right now.’ He got on the phone right in the middle of camp.” The Swinneys and Morrises go back. During Chad’s four years as offensive coordinator under Swinney, the two families were neighbors, and Swinney would even drive his son and Chandler to school on Friday mornings. Chad had plenty of time to develop an impersonation of Swinney’s authentic Alabama drawl. He recounts that phone conversation last June imitating his former boss. “Chaaaaad! What?! This boy is going to look goooood wearing orange. These Tigers are about to make them Hogs have to work for Chandler,” a laughing Chad says retelling the story. “I said, ‘Dabo, don’t do that. He hasn’t even started a high school game yet.’ He said, ‘Nope. I’ve watched this kid grow up since he was in the third grade. I took him to school. I know what this kid’s got. We’re offering him. Them Hogs better go to work!’”
Clemson didn’t prove to be Arkansas’s biggest competition, a somewhat shocking development (after all, Chandler still communicates with ex-Clemson QB Deshaun Watson). Chandler says Oklahoma finished runner-up. In fact, Chandler’s scholarship offer from OU, a few games into his junior year last season, made those around the community finally believe all this recruiting attention wasn’t a result of his father. “People started saying, ‘Oh, maybe he really is good,’” Weber says. Chandler experienced frustrations in recruiting that others do not. Why would coaches spend hours recruiting the son of an SEC football coach? That’s Chad Morris’s son, they’d say. We don’t have a chance with him. Chandler’s frustrations boiled over in January. Despite a brilliant junior season, his recruiting slowed so much that he contemplated publicly declaring that he won’t be attending Arkansas. “I really think Chandler was anti-Arkansas, because he was like ‘That’s what everybody thinks I’m going to do!’” Paula remembers.
Then there was the pressure of potentially playing for his dad. Did he really want that? Chandler sought the advice of, not his father, but his coach. “He came to me in January,” Weber says. “Having his dad in the mix has been hard on him, but a blessing as well. I told him, ‘If you want to play for a coach who’s going to develop you… I’d put your dad top three in the nation of guys I’ve seen at any level of coaching the quarterback. It’s not like going to play for your dad is out of obligation. Going to play for your dad is because you want to be an elite player.’” They made a pros and cons list. Chandler prayed about, and the next day, to Paula’s surprise, he told his mother he wanted to commit to Arkansas. “I think he felt uneasy hearing the words come out of his mouth, ‘I don’t want to play for my dad,’” Weber says. “Deep down, this is always what he wanted.”
He told his father a few days later, but only in the last month was Chad sure of his son’s pledge. This process hasn’t only been tough on Chandler. Chad removed himself from most of Chandler’s recruiting, delivering a message to his staff, namely quarterback coach and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, last year, “Ya’ll be the recruiters. I’ve got to be the dad.” For the most part, he was. The exception came after Chandler won the state title and claimed the MVP trophy. In that moment, during the postgame celebration, dad became recruiter, whispering to his son, “Only thing that would make this an even better moment is if I was able to coach you and win a championship at another level.”
For Chad, the recruiting process taught him a large lesson. College coaches call teenagers and their parents far too often, he admits. He’ll forever be more conscious of prospects’ and their parents’ time. That includes on visits to campus. He took Chandler on various trips to Oklahoma, Auburn, Texas A&M and Clemson. Like normal parents, those schools took him on campus tours and explained the academic program, but when it came time to sit down with coaches, things were different for Chad and Chandler. “All the spill, so to speak or the recruiting pitch,” Chad says, “is usually pretty much out the window when I’m sitting across the table.” Chandler didn’t take visits everywhere. In fact, Chad admittedly placed parameters on his son’s recruitment that were non-negotiable. “Being in this business, I said, ‘Here’s where you will not go play,’” Chad says. “I gave the more, ‘You’re not going here. I don’t care how many offers you get from this school, you’re not going to these certain places because they don’t align with the culture we’re about.’” Chad politely declined to reveal those schools in an interview with SI.
Chad’s interview is the rare instance of a coach speaking publicly about an unsigned prospect, normally an NCAA violation if you’re dad isn’t, you know, the coach. Chad is able to speak freely about a kid he’s watched play football for almost his entire life, ever since that day a 3-year-old Chandler, on the beach during a family vacation in Destin, began tossing a nerf football—with his left hand. Chad put a stop to that quickly, placing the football in his son’s right hand. Chandler says he’s a natural lefty. He golfs and shoots a basketball left handed, but he throws a football righty. The game always came easy to Chandler. A kindergartener, Chandler won the first youth football tournament he played in. Afterward, he crawled into his dad’s truck and told him that this was the best day of his life. “I’ll never forget that,” Chad says.
He was always around the game, too, so close to all those championship-winning high school programs his dad captained. He and a friend used to watch his father’s games from the end zone, on the grass or a folding chair, and they’d sometimes escape from Paula’s supervision to sneak into the locker room and “get into Chad’s candy stash,” she says. While other first-graders were filling in coloring books, Chandler competed in 7-on-7 tournaments and rehearsed footwork drills with dad in the backyard. He’d sit in on quarterback film session when Chad’s career advanced to the college level, first at Tulsa in 2010 and then onto Clemson in 2011 before returning to the family’s homestate in 2015 as head coach at SMU. It’s not all football with these two. They hunt wild hogs (wooo pig!) on the family ranch in east Texas, and a few times a year, they’re down in the Florida Keys fishing. Chandler is a natural at fishing, Chad says, just like his quarterback skills. That arm of his is from Chad, a high school quarterback himself, and that speed of his—Chandler can run a 4.6-second 40-yard dash—is from Paula, a college volleyball player.
Early on during the recruiting process, Paula admits to being against her son playing for her husband. She wanted Chandler to find the place right for him—not the place where his father worked. He found both. “It’s about knowing what I’m looking for—a family atmosphere and an offense that fits me,” Chandler says. “Am I going to be happy on a regular day going to class? Am I going to like the campus? It’s about more than just football.” So, as it turns out, the whole family will be in Fayetteville this time next year. Paula and Chandler hung back in Dallas so her son could finish his high school career at Highland Park, but Mackenzie, Chandler’s older sister, is beginning graduate school courses at Arkansas. Chad, meanwhile, is entering Year 2 with the Razorbacks, with a new quarterback on the way, of course, and, yes, even he “has to go earn the job,” Chad says.
So, a decade after that initial Sports Illustrated story, Chad and Chandler are back in a story together again—this time, not only as father and son, but as coach and quarterback.