SMU's is an interesting job for a college football coach.
In Dallas, the Mustangs are located on some of the country’s most fertile recruiting terrain. Texas produces about 14 percent of the country’s blue-chip recruits, and SMU has a deep (if severely scarred) football history upon which to draw.
On the other hand, Texas has four programs in the Big 12, one in the SEC and another, Houston, that shares the American with the Mustangs but could soon level up. The Mustangs are, at best, the state’s seventh-best-positioned FBS program. (Texas has 12, more than any other state).
And they’ve decided to build by doing nothing but staying home, as SMU head coach Chad Morris explained to SB Nation's Bill Connelly and Steven Godfrey in an interview this week at AAC media days.
You can listen to that below (from 2:04) or click here.
In Morris' first two signing classes at SMU since taking over after 2014, the Mustangs have signed 47 players. Every single one of them has had a Texas address. That’s all they’re recruiting for 2017, too. Morris came to the college ranks via almost two decades coaching high schoolers in the state, so it’s a natural fit, and it’s now his whole recruiting strategy.
"The only chance we got is to win with our Texas high school coaches," Morris told Godfrey and Connelly at AAC media days this week. "Well, I’m one of them. Coached ball with ‘em for 18 years. Knowing those guys, having their help, it’s a big part of our success in our recruiting."
Morris comes from East Texas, and that's part of SMU's focus, along with Houston, Austin and the Mustangs' primary recruiting stronghold, the Dallas-Fort Worth area. And virtually every signee is Texan.
"We're laying market," he said. "We're the only Division I program in our state that can say that, so a Texas-tough mentality."
Morris came to SMU after a stint as Dabo Swinney’s offensive coordinator at Clemson, overseeing one of the country’s most dangerous units. The program he inherited had just gone 1-11, leaving Morris a serious rebuilding job.
"I didn’t take over a team that had six draft picks, nine draft picks or two draft picks," he said. "I didn’t do that. I took over a team that was at the bottom of college football. I knew that coming in. I knew that it was gonna take some time. It was gonna take some resiliency. It was gonna take a consistent approach. But I also knew this: that I won everywhere I’ve ever been, and our staff has won."
That hasn’t happened just yet at SMU. The Mustangs inched forward from 1-11 to 2-10 in Morris’ first year, their only wins coming against North Texas and Tulane. Their losses included one to FCS power James Madison and a 63-0 dropkicking against Memphis.
But things are getting better. SMU might not do better than 4-8 this year, but the Mustangs ought to at least be a rip-roaring good time. And as they grow, Morris said he’s aiming to take after his old program at Clemson.
More on the Mustangs
"Taking that, obviously, just the relentless recruiting that we did at Clemson, the passion that constantly grows and the ability to improve your facilities," Morris said. "If you wanna be a big-time program, that’s what you have to do."
SMU is indeed upgrading its facilities and happy to let power leagues know it. But Morris, for the interim, will keep working on this project in the American.
Interestingly, all of this almost didn’t happen. When Morris was in his first two years of coaching in the mid-1990s, he nearly left the profession for law enforcement. He took exams for the DEA and FBI, and he thought about following his father into firefighting.
"I was doing a lot of things to try to see if this was really what my calling is," he said.
Ultimately, players helped convince Morris to stick in coaching.
"I was waiting on my call to go to Quantico, Va.," he said. "Went through the background check, the whole bit. I remember having all this happen and players coming to me and going, ‘Coach, you can’t leave us. You can’t leave us right now.’"
SMU starts its season with a game against North Texas on Sept. 3.