LUBBOCK, Texas -- Few assistants in college football have soared up the coaching ladder faster than Texas Tech offensive coordinator Eric Morris.
The 28-year-old Morris, who was a key receiver on Mike Leach’s 11-win team at Texas Tech in 2008, finished his playing career with 184 receptions. After coaching stints at Houston under Kevin Sumlin and Washington State under Leach, Morris returned to his alma mater last year to be Kliff Kingsbury’s inside receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator. This offseason after Sonny Cumbie bolted for a job at TCU, Kingsbury (who is the primary playcaller) promoted Morris to offensive coordinator and coach of the entire receiving corps.
Morris took time to chat with ESPN.com on a range of topics, including the similarities and differences between Kingsbury and Leach, how Kingsbury has grown as a coach over his first year and the benefits and challenges of Texas Tech having such a young staff:
You’ve coached with Kliff, you’ve coached with Leach, how would you compare and contrast the two?
Morris: You know, I think coach Leach is, for lack of a better term, really set in his ways, which has really been a positive thing. He really believes in what he does. You’re not adding and trying to game plan every week. You just have this certain amount of set plays and you get really good at them and that’s what you do, and the quarterback has to trust them. Whereas Kliff likes to cater a little bit more to the athletes he has. He likes to sit in there with the whiteboard and think of things, different formations, motions, but he still keeps the quarterbacks’ reads pretty much similar for the most part. Kliff does a great job finding, catering to the athletes on his team, finding a way to get them the ball in space. Those are two things, but they’re really similar as far as running the organization day-to-day. Mike is a really late guy, he’ll stay up all hours of the night. Kliff is a really early guy, he’ll be up here at 4 a.m. pretty much every single morning. That’s a little bit of a difference. Kliff’s dad with his military background and coaching background, what surprised me so far, [is the] discipline and the way he runs a tight ship with the players. And they really respect that. But Coach Leach did the same thing.
Where has Kliff really found his stride as a coach? Where has he improved over the last year?
Morris: He’s always been really good with the players. The players love him, he relates really well to them. Him sitting in a team meeting is like cake to him. The kids really understand where he’s coming from. He uses young terminology, which they appreciate. I would say outside of that, learning how to deal with the media with the instant success with people in and out. With interviews, he’s night and day better from last year speaking in public. He does a great job handling all the girls that want to take photos with him, that want to take selfies with him. He definitely has a lot of patience, he’s not the most patient guy I’ve ever known, but he’s learned how to have patience.
So he’s gotten better dealing with the donors and the dinners and those things?
Morris: Night and day. When we go speak at recruiting dinners or with a lot of our donors, he’s a lot more relaxed, comfortable, himself up there. And just comfortable in his own skin and not trying to impress all these guys. Just being himself, which is good.
This has been written about before, but with five Texas Tech alums on the coaching staff (Kingsbury, Morris, Trey Haverty, Mike Smith and Kevin Curtis), what benefit does that give you guys?
Morris: Yeah, absolutely. It means a little more to us to put on the Double T and represent that. We’ve put in so many hours, blood, sweat, tears in the uniform. So that symbol and putting on that uniform means more to us, because we are so much more vested in it. One, I think it helps as far as recruiting, people see that, the energy, the passion we have for this place. And two, I think it helps with our current players. It’s funny we’ll be in an academic meeting, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I have Dr. Timmons,’ and I’ll go, ‘I had Dr. Timmons six years ago in the same anatomy class.’ We can relate to them. We passed all the classes. We know what to do and what not to do around town, on campus, with our academic staff. We can just relate on a different level.
Because most of you all on this staff are relatively young, how do you balance connecting to the kids with still being authority figures to them?
Morris: The worst thing ever is if you mistake our kindness for weakness. It’s definitely a case where we have to pull on the reins a little bit more at times. And Coach does an incredible job of really teaching these guys about how to be respectful to women, to people that are trying to help this program, to donors, to people that serve us food at the training table and things of that nature. And if they don’t, there’s punishment for it. He’s done an awesome job of not letting things go, even though they have excuses. If they mess up, there’s going to be a cost to pay. That’s one thing they know, and you can ask any player right now, if they’re not going to class, if they’re not doing the right things, then there’s going to be a price to pay.
What’s one thing about Kliff that’s interesting that people don’t know about him?
Morris: Well, he’s a health freak. He eats extremely healthy. I lived with him for a couple years when we were at Houston and usually you’d hear the cereal bowl get filled at 3:45 a.m. He’d eat cereal every morning, then go work out. And then protein and all of his shakes and supplements that he takes. Then snacks nuts and little snacks throughout the day. Then you’d go to lunch and it’s always grilled chicken, some kind of salad, something like that. He works hard at it and he’s pretty disciplined. That’s really impressive to me, how he stays on the straight and narrow with that.
I think his way of relieving stress is working out. But it has been funny. Because Coach Leach used to always call me late to ask questions about the program. And this semester, Kliff has started to do that. You can tell he’s up late at night, thinking about the program. And so I’m getting more phone calls at night again asking hypothetical questions and recruiting questions, ‘What do you think we need to do here? Do you think I was too hard on them? Do you think I should have called that play?' It’s definitely on his mind 24/7, he’s definitely infatuated about making this place really good. I think still there’s a doubt in people’s mind and there’s a lot of people we lost to last year that Kliff -- I don’t think he’ll ever stop until he gets to the top of this thing. And so losing always pushes him. He hates to lose, and that drives him every single day, to see these kids be successful and win a lot of football games at Texas Tech.