Despite the repeated motto in Death Valley under coach Dabo Swinney, not everyone was “all in” when offensive coordinator Chad Morris was first hired.
He was one year removed from coaching high school football in Texas. He was bringing in a new offensive philosophy and new scheme. And his collegiate coaching experience consisted of one season at Tulsa.
“There were a lot of questions from him coaching high school and Tulsa, Conference USA,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “It was like, ‘Well, this is the ACC. We’re known for defense.’ … We did have questions coming into the season if it was going to work against teams like Virginia Tech and top-notch defenses in the conference.”
“Oh, man, that’s my guy right there,” Boyd said with a laugh. “Pretty much anything he says is golden.”
And so is Morris’ new contract.
After a successful season which was punctuated with the school’s first ACC title since 1991, Morris has made a rapid ascension from high school football coach to one of the nation’s most sought-after coordinators. The Sunday morning after Clemson beat Virginia Tech for the ACC title -- on Morris’ birthday -- Morris was called into Swinney’s office to negotiate a new contract. He is now one of the highest-paid assistants in the country. His offense has been the difference in the Tigers’ championship run, and it will have to be again next week to match a prolific West Virginia offense when Clemson makes its first appearance in the Discover Orange Bowl in 30 years.
“It’s been like someone stomping on the accelerator,” Morris said. "It’s been a blur. There have been a lot of miles, a lot of ups and a lot of downs. Everyone wants to make that it’s all been a bed of roses and it hasn’t. There are a lot of things you have to learn and adapt to along the way.”
Surprise: With a first-year starting quarterback in Boyd, Clemson learned and adapted quickly enough to start out the season 8-0. The Tigers enter the Orange Bowl having already set school season records for passing yards, total offense and points scored. Clemson has improved its total offense by over 100 yards per game since 2010 and has improved from 88th in the nation to 29th. Clemson has also improved from 78th to 21st in passing offense. Clemson was 10th in the ACC in scoring last year and is second this year with 33.6 points per game.
“I wasn’t envisioning the success we’d have this quick,” Morris said. “I thought we’d be maybe a year away from really executing at the level we execute now. I know we had three games of stubbing our toe, but I felt like those three games would come early in the year, and we’d learn and grow from it, and slowly pick it up. But to see the guys how they came out and execute at the pace we were executing, it caught me off-guard.”
One person who obviously had no reservations about the hire was Swinney.
“If I felt like it was a gamble, I wouldn’t have hired him,” Swinney said. “I hired him because I was certain that that’s what was best for the guys on the team, the guys I had recruited coming in here, for Clemson and for me. He was a guy I really liked and I thought it was a pretty easy marriage between our systems and what we were doing. I liked that a freshman was an old player to him, coaching these guys in high school for so many years. I really felt that was good because I knew we were going to have to get a lot of young guys ready to play. He was exactly what I was looking for and it’s been great.”
The next challenge will be to keep it up on the ACC’s biggest stage.