Student to face teacher when Clemson-Auburn kickoff

Gus Malzahn taught Clemson's Offensive Cordinator Chad Morris, but the Teacher always knows more than the young Grasshopper.

Gus Malzahn feels like Dabo Swinney owes him something this weekend.

It’s the least the Clemson head coach can do for Malzahn, seeing as how he served as the chief talent scout for Swinney’s new offensive coordinator, Chad Morris.

Swinney said Malzahn texted him Monday telling him that reward should amount to spotting him a touchdown this weekend.

“Before the national championship game, (Swinney) called me about four or five times during that week. We definitely talked about Chad,” Malzahn said. “(Swinney’s) a great guy.”

Morris, in his first year with the Tigers, and Malzahn — though they’ll be on opposite sidelines this weekend — have been close collaborators since 2003, when both were but high school coaches.

They’ve both done quite well for themselves since then.

“Some of the best coaches in the country are your high school coaches,” Morris said. “I think this just gives them hope. I think that’s neat for any high school coach that is going to be watching this game this coming Saturday. I think that’s really a tribute to the high school coaches in the country.”

Stephenville, Texas wasn’t a very hospitable place for Morris in the fall of 2003.

Morris had just finished his first season with the Stephenville High Yellow Jackets in 6-4 fashion, with the school missing the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons.

He had a tough act to follow in Art Briles, who left Stephenville to become Texas Tech’s running back coach and was — in 2003 — just wrapping up his first year as Houston’s head coach.

Morris, with such a pedigree of success to uphold, was on a tight leash.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of Christmas parties and things I was invited to,” Morris said.

Mixing the offense that helped him to four straight state title game appearances with Elysian Fields High and Bay City High with Briles’ system at Stephenville would work eventually, Morris thought, but he didn’t know how long it would take.

Or how forgiving the Stephenville faithful would be while he found his footing.

“I knew something was out there on the cutting edge. There had to be something out there,” Morris said. “And it was just a fact of the way offenses were being run in 2003, you saw the game of football was changing.”

Changing because of guys like Malzahn, whose Springdale High team was torching defenses about 450 miles northeast of Morris and Stephenville, befuddling opposing teams with a no-huddle, up-tempo attack.

This, Morris thought, is a guy I’ve got to talk to. Malzahn was decidedly less eager.

Morris flew up to see Malzahn on back-to-back weekends to see Springdale play in the playoffs.

He flew up again in January and spent four days with Malzahn.

Only then was the Springdale coach sure of Morris’ intent.

“He saw that, this is a guy that is wanting to expand and wanting to learn,” Morris said. “Gus felt welcome. I felt honored that he would even open up for me.”

Since then a friendship has sprouted up between the two coaches, one that followed Morris through four more years of 43-6 ball at Stephenville, back-to-back, undefeated state championship seasons at Austin’s Lake Travis High, and a year as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator, arriving a season after Malzahn left for Auburn.

Malzahn, in fact, went to bat for Morris when he left for Auburn, telling then-Golden Hurricane coach Todd Graham — now at Pittsburgh — he needed to hire his mentee.

“Coach Graham didn’t do it. He said, ‘No,’” Morris said. “And they go through a 5-7 year and the next year Coach Graham comes calling. And I turned him down three times. But Coach Graham assured me, obviously No. 1, I could run the offense the way I wanted to run it. And two, that I would make a bigger difference in these players’ lives.

“So that’s kind of the way this thing started.”

Morris’ Golden Hurricane attack was the only one to rank in the top 15 in the FBS in rushing and passing offense last year, setting him up to join Swinney’s staff in January.

And setting him on a collision course with Malzahn.

“Chad’s a good friend of mine, and I’m just very supportive of him,” Malzahn said. “The fact we’re coaching against each other — he’s a great competitor and a great coach — but I didn’t really look as far as playing against each other.”

So the two offenses that take the field at Frank Howard Field on Saturday will have a number of similarities, and both defenses will have a fairly good idea of what’s coming from seeing it in practice every day.

Tigers coach Gene Chizik said Malzahn can be a valuable resource in gameplanning for the Clemson offense.

And Morris can probably do likewise for Swinney.

“Gus is an unbelievable coach. He’s obviously going to be a head coach someday,” Morris said. “I don’t know if Gus plays cards or not. But I know if he did play cards, he’d be a heck of a poker player because like I said, he doesn’t show his hand very much.”

Morris feels there are enough wrinkles in the two coaches’ offenses to keep things interesting.

“You can’t go out and be Gus Malzahn,” Morris said. “You have to be yourself. You have to be Chad Morris. And that’s why you have to put your own stamp on things.”

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