It was a warm day in March 2011.
Morris had just been hired to fix the mess that was Clemson's lifeless offense.
As he made his way from the West End Zone towards the practice fields, he was nearly 30 minutes ahead of everyone else. Toting a Red Bull energy drink and a smile, it was obvious things were about to change for the Tigers' football program. Less than an hour later he could be heard yelling his trademark, "Tempo! Tempo! Tempo!"
There were plenty of questions at the time. Could a play-caller, just one year removed from high school football, really be that effective at the college level? Would his offense work in the ACC after just one season at Tulsa?
All of those would be answered, of course.
Morris helped direct Clemson to three straight 10-plus win seasons, including a conference championship in his very first year. He also beat teams like LSU, Georgia, FSU, Auburn and Ohio State and was undefeated against Virginia Tech, when the Hokies were actually good.
As most know by now, four years after the first time he coached this offense and with nearly every major offensive school record smashed, Morris finally got the call he had been waiting for this past weekend- to become a head coach closer to home.
A Texas native, it always felt like he would end up somewhere close to the Lone Star state and that turned out to be the case when he accepted the job at SMU shortly after the Tigers beat South Carolina last Saturday.
Talking with a member of the media that covers Clemson for the first time since accepting the position, Morris said he's excited about the future in Dallas, but it was also much tougher than he expected to say goodbye to the program he helped rebuild.
"People probably think it's been a whirlwind in the last week, and honestly, it has," Morris said. "But it's been an emotional week as well. I'm an emotional guy. With how our season ended in Clemson we truly saved the best performance for last in beating the Gamecocks. Everything was sort of building to that moment. You could feel it.
"But it was tough saying our goodbyes when we pulled out of Clemson on Sunday for the last time. We have a lot of memories there in Clemson and we'll always be Tiger fans. Talking to all of the players and telling them what was happening was not an easy thing to do. And I talked to all of them. If it wasn't face to face it was by phone so that was tough."
One of the toughest conversations he had was with his star quarterback, Deshaun Watson.
Morris started recruiting Watson more than three years ago and was actually the first coach to offer him a scholarship. The two developed a very close relationship throughout the recruiting process, talking usually every day. Watson committed to Morris early in his high school career and never wavered with his pledge.
As you can imagine, that made it that much more difficult to tell him he was leaving.
"It was tough," Morris said. "We spent so much time recruiting that young man and the relationship we developed with him. He was actually one of the first people I talked to (about SMU) in-depth before basically anybody. He kind of knew. I know deep down he knew. He's like family because of how long we recruited him. For him to handle it the way he did. He told me he understood and that he loved me and told him I love you. We will always have a relationship - that will never change.
"But knowing he's staying in the same system - which is the best in the country - I have peace with it and so does he. I'm stepping out of my comfort zone and he's staying in his there. So I'm at peace with it. But yes- it was tough. It was tough. With him it was special."
The Morris years will be remembered for a lot of things by Clemson fans, including 50-point games and scoring barrages unlike anything Clemson has ever seen. The incredible wins referenced above that helped put Clemson football back on the map certainly spring to mind as well. But for the man himself, when asked what was his most memorable moment in Tigertown, the answer he revealed was somewhat surprising.
"That's easy," he said. "There are so many great memories, but I thought the win Saturday was the climax of my four years there. Without a doubt. That includes the Orange Bowl. That includes the Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over LSU. All the come-from-behind wins. But it was that one Saturday. You could sense it Saturday during Tiger Walk. It wasn't a hatred. But it was more of a 'It's time.' We saved our best game of the year offensively even with all the injuries.
"To me- from a win standpoint that was it."
Morris has already hit the recruiting trail in Dallas - in more ways than one. The process of hiring a staff and visiting local high schools was literally taking place as he answered questions for this interview. From Clemson, he will take a pair of graduate assistants in former Clemson offensive lineman Dustin Fry and Joe Craddock. Fry will coach the offensive line at SMU and Craddock will be the offensive coordinator.
But Morris insists he will still call plays.
"Yes I will call the plays but I'm excited to have a young energetic staff here," he said. "We are also bringing in Justin Stepp from Appalachian State. He GA'd for me at Clemson. These guys are all just looking for the chance. In any profession, that's all you can really ask for so I'm excited to give these guys an opportunity and they are just chomping at the bit to get going here like I am."
Defensively, he wants to run a 4-2-5 scheme at SMU. Not surprisingly, he wants to be aggressive on that side of the ball - just like he was the past four seasons with Clemson's offense.
He also says he'll be keeping track of the Tigers in the coming years from afar.
"We will be Tiger fans for life for sure," he said. "We had a great run there at Clemson. My wife Paula and my daughter and my son and daughter loved every minute of it. We are excited about our future here at SMU, but will never forget our time there and what it meant to us. Go Tigers!"
Tempo! Tempo! Tempo!
It won't be much longer until the SMU fan base understands what those words echoed nearly four years ago in Clemson will mean to their program going forward.
The Chad Morris Interview
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