Here’s hoping Coach Morris avoids the ‘Sophomore Slump’
The won-loss record for Arkansas Razorback football coaches in their second year usually shows progress over their first year with rare exceptions.
For second year Head Coach Chad Morris, it would be hard not to improve on his first year record of two wins and 10 losses. He inherited a mess and had a completely different coaching system than the man he replaced, Bret Bielema.
Here’s to hoping that Morris’ second year is more indicative of the majority of his predecessors.
If you go back to the birth of American football – the turn of the 20th century – and the genesis of Cardinal-Razorback football, you get some solace from the university’s first football coach, John Futrall. Known then as the Arkansas Industrial Cardinals, Futrall’s squad finished 2-1 his first year in 1894. Granted those two wins were against Fort Smith High School, we’ll take a 2-1 record and chalk it up to the birth of a sport.
In Futrall’s second season in 1895, he finished 1-0, an undefeated season. So if we’re just looking at Year 1 to Year 2 in terms of winning percentage, it was an improvement.
Hugo Bezdek, the coach who gifted the University of Arkansas its modern-day mascot started 5-4 in his first season of 1908. But the inspirational play of his second year team – the ones he dubbed the “Razorback Hogs” – finished 7-0 in 1909.
For the purpose of this post, however, we will reside in the University of Arkansas Razorbacks’ modern day era known as A.F. (After Frank). Frank Broyles really ushered in Arkansas as a national football powerhouse, so examining the records of Broyles and those who followed Broyles is where we’ll pick up.
Broyles had a rough first season in 1958 as the Hogs finished 4-6. But clearly, Year 2 saw notable improvement as Broyles guided the UA to a 9-2 season, tied for first in the Southwest Conference and a 14-7 victory over Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl.
Lou Holtz followed Broyles, but he didn’t really have much of a chance to improve his Year 1 record of 11-1 in Year 2. Despite the Hogs being a pre-season No. 1 due to the returning players from the team that trounced Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl, Holtz’s Year 2 team posted a 9-2-1 record and it was deemed disappointing. My, how times have changed.
Ken Hatfield took the reins as the head coach in 1984 and finished his first season at 7-4-1. In Year 2, Hatfield posted a 10-2 record, one of three 10-2 records he posted in his six years at the helm.
Jack Crowe, who followed Hatfield, saw improvement from Year 1 with a 3-8 record to Year 2 with a 6-6 record. We’ll never know how Year 3 would have turned out for him as he was unceremoniously dumped after losing to The Citadel by a score of 10-3 in an embarrassing loss on Opening Day 1992.
Danny Ford’s first year campaign led to a 6-4-1 record, and the following year, he regressed with a 4-7 win-loss record. Houston Nutt finished his first year with a 9-3 record (after an 8-0 start), but finished his second year as head coach with an 8-4 record. We can forgive this small step backward from Year 1 to Year 2 because there was the 27-6 thrashing of Texas in the Cotton Bowl at the end of that second season.
The last two Razorback football coaches made sizable improvements from Year 1 to Year 2 and it’s here that we hope to see Coach Morris mimic or outperform them. Of course, we’d take a Coach Broyles Year 1 to Year 2 improved record, too.
Bobby Petrino started 5-7 with the Razorbacks, his first losing season as a college coach. In Year 2, Petrino improved to 8-5 and the next two seasons they became a Top 10 team before crashing (literally) back down to Earth after the, ahem, motorcycle incident.
His successor, Bret Bielema, took over a program that finished 3-9 in his first season that brought his Big 10 coaching style to Fayetteville. Bielema and the Hogs improved to 7-6 in his second season clinched by two back-to-back shutouts against Ole Miss and LSU and another bowl game beatdown of Texas 31-7.
Can Morris better his record of 2-10 from Year 1? It seems an obvious “yes” and history would suggest the odds are in his favor. With new talent, a more mature regiment in place, and the expectations of an entire state of fans in the balance, we’re kind of counting on it.