The Petit Jean Razorback Club nestled in Conway County is one of the state’s most zealous and active groups of Hog backers. It’s a rite of spring for the Sacred Heart Catholic Church gymnasium to host a Monday night spaghetti supper — and it is accordingly a rite of spring for the attendees to eat way too damn much of the spicy sausage and pasta and consider crash-dieting the rest of the week thereafter — and it’s always a special event when the Hogs’ head football coach gets to fire up a meaningful, and rather well-heeled, pocket of the fan base.

Chad Morris got his first literal and figurative taste of the event on Monday night in Morrilton, and was brief and pointed in his remarks to the packed house. Coachspeak is to be expected in these contexts, so nothing Morris said was particularly earth-shattering. The onetime Texas high school coaching wunderkind has an appropriate air of confidence about him, and dispenses just the right amount of platitudes without any needless theatrics or overstatements. You may recall that this has been a bit of an issue for Razorback coaches in the past (cough, Houston Nutt, cough), overpromising in these barnstorming events, then underdelivering.

Morris is, thankfully, more measured in his words. On Monday night, he did roll out one rather clever and nuanced bit of P.R. by playing off the state’s motto and saying that his staff’s “new vision” was “football in its natural state.” Sure, that could be construed as a bit off-kilter, given that Morris favors a style that is hardly conventional. But Morris also recognized that in order for the program to get out of its persistent doldrums, it’s not simply a matter of rolling out a newfangled offense with a shiny new accelerator.

“Great players make it happen, and great players want to play with other great players,” Morris said. If the observation didn’t seem terribly astute on the surface, Morris delved below that and pointed out that the flurry of Hog commitments for the upcoming season and beyond is geared toward improving team speed, enhancing defensive depth, and providing current skill players with a little bit of heat from incoming talent that won’t hesitate to try to play their way onto the field at the expense of the elders.

Advertisement

The seeming financial albatross of the most recent stadium expansion — the north end of the stadium is being “bowled in” and additional high-end club seats are being added where the Broyles Athletic Complex once was situated — was also a centerpiece of Morris’ discussion. He’s clearly excited about the possibility of crowds exceeding 80,000 flocking into the new stadium and making life hell on opponents. But without being too overt about it, he also acknowledged that the fickle nature of Razorback fans puts him in the position of having to win over some of those who may have grown resigned to middling results at best under predecessor Bret Bielema, and who are still feeling the sting of the Hogs losing 11 of their last 16 games, many of which were winnable until late-game collapses set in.

“I know how bad you want this program back,” Morris said. “We all gotta lock arms and get it done together. And we will not let you down as a staff — we know your passion for the Hogs and we feel it.”

Morris and his staff are coming off a “Junior Weekend” for soon-to-be rising high school senior prospects, and by all accounts, it was one of the bigger recruiting weekends the program has hosted in quite some time. One highly promising defensive tackle prospect, Trevis Hopper of Memphis, offered a firm commitment to the program during the weekend, shaking off overtures from numerous SEC and Power-5 programs, so Morris’ blueprint is taking shape well so far. If he’s able to flesh out the 2018 class over the next few weeks and get his two-back, three-receiver offense geared up in the spring, the excitement and excellence he is pledging to bring to the program would appear to be not as far off as we might’ve all anticipated months ago when Bielema’s team floundered to a 4-8, 1-7 finish.