Once in a great while, the genesis of a column comes out of the blue.
For example, an in-home visit with an ailing friend/former co-worker in Little Rock led to an interesting interview with a transplanted Arkansan who recognized the coaching potential of a high school quarterback in a small town an hour east of Dallas.
A couple of folks who left sports journalism for successful careers in the real world were also visiting former sportswriter Jim Bailey when the rambling conversation turned to Arkansas’s new head football coach.
Barely into a positive assessment of Chad Morris, somebody mentioned the son of longtime Magnolia-based sportswriter Harold Jameson coached Morris three decades ago. I crossed paths with Jameson through the years, but didn’t know he had a son, much less a son in coaching, and Jameson is not in my contacts.
From the living room, Bailey’s wife retrieved a single sheet of lined, slightly tattered paper filled with phone numbers written in pencil. Some were for cell phones; others were decades-old landlines belonging to coaches that trusted Bailey.
Halfway down the page, she found the 870 area code number for Jameson, a classmate of Bailey’s at Southern Arkansas University. Contacted later that day, Jameson enthusiastically provided contact info for son Jay.
Confidently, Jay promised Morris would be innovative and involved on the sideline — shortcomings of Bret Bielema, according to some critics of Morris’s predecessor. Jameson had first-hand knowledge of Morris’s creativity early on and says the caring is obvious to anyone who watched SMU under Morris.
“Chad will be excited,” Jameson said. “He’ll be a good motivator. He’ll be very positive but will also get onto someone when needed. He’s passionate about his football team.”
An SAU grad, Jameson arrived in Edgewood, Texas — population less than 1,500 then and now — in 1984 and went to work helping with quarterbacks and running backs. Morris was a sophomore.
“I could tell from day one he was special,” Jameson said. “He was well beyond his years, even back then.”
Unlike most high school kids, Morris was a total student of the game, Jameson said.
Faithfully watching film of Edgewood and its opponents, usually after school or on Saturdays, piqued Morris’s curiosity.
“He asked more questions in practice than anyone, about our opponent that week, blocking schemes, what he could audible to, etc.,” Jameson said
In turn, Morris “was always coming up with offensive plays and schemes that were way ahead of anybody else …,” he said.
For instance, during his senior year, Morris and his teammates often stayed after practice to hone a guard-around with his friend/guard Chris Mattingly in a prominent role. In the final home game, with Edgewood leading comfortably in the fourth quarter, Morris checked out of the dive play sent in from the sideline and called the trick play. Morris did not complain when his infuriated head coach benched him for several plays.
To this day, Morris and Mattingly go back and forth about the play, Mattingly contending he would have scored if Morris had pitched the ball instead of keeping for about 30 yards.
“He was always working on plays like that so to see him become so good as an offensive coordinator and head coach is no surprise,” Jameson said.
Morris, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, Duke’s David Cutcliffe, Washington State’s Mike Leach, and SMU’s Sonny Dykes are the only head coaches at FBS schools who did not play college football. Although an excellent passer, Morris threw sparingly in Edgewood’s Power I, Jameson said.
“If Chad would’ve been in the spread back then … he would’ve put up tremendous numbers and been a college recruit,” he said.
Instead, Morris enrolled at Texas A&M where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
With that background, no wonder Morris was invited to his high school campus last October “to speak with students about growing up in a small town, his dream to coach football, and how to NOT let circumstances define who you are.”
Sports Columnist Harry King can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org