When Terry Gambill announced his retirement on March 16, one of the text messages he received that evening came from Chad Morris.
It was that same night when Morris, last seen perusing the sidelines as Auburn’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said he began pondering the idea of making a return to coaching at the high school level.
“Terry and I are friends and I actually texted him that night and wished him the best,” Morris said. “I sent him a text and it was about 10 o’clock that night and I looked over at my wife — we were sitting on the couch — and I said, ‘Hey, Allen High School.’
“… I asked her if she would have a problem if something happened. I was just throwing it out there and seeing what Paula would think. She grinned ear to ear … and she absolutely loved being back in the high school ranks and being part of a great program and a great community.”
Morris was announced as Allen’s next head football coach on Wednesday — a process that materialized rather quickly, he said on Thursday when addressing the media from Allen ISD’s administrative building.
Morris’ move to Allen marks his first high school coaching job since 2009 when he led Lake Travis to back-to-back UIL state championships. From there, Morris carved out an expansive decade on the collegiate circuit — holding offensive coordinator posts at Tulsa (2010) and Clemson (2011-14) before taking on head-coaching duties at SMU (2015-17) and Arkansas (2018-19).
Although it meant leaving his high school roots in the rearview mirror for the time being, Morris said he took note of the specter of Allen — an athletics program that has grown to resonate on a national scale over the past decade.
“I can say that having recruited all over the southeast and pretty much all over the country, when you mention Allen High School, everyone knows about Allen High School,” Morris said. “The tremendous success not just in football but all sports and academics and the culture that’s here is what intrigued me about getting back into high school and returning to my roots.”
The perks at Allen are well-documented — from the state’s largest enrollment (6,959 students) to its top-notch facilities and tradition-rich pedigree in athletics, plus a fanbase to match that fervor.
At the same time, the past few weeks have been a state of flux in AISD athletics. Just as Gambill closed the book on a 36-year coaching career last month, it was just two days on March 18 later that longtime AISD athletic director Steve Williams announced his retirement. Williams will remain in his current post through the remainder of the school year.
Morris said he understood that change in any circumstance can be difficult — a message he conveyed on Wednesday when addressing his players for the first time.
“I was very transparent. I was open with them,” Morris said. “Any time there’s change, it can be hard. Change involves uncertainty and I know with the last few weeks they’ve been dealing with uncertainty as to what’s next. I just assured them that they’re going to get everything I’ve got. We’re going to give every ounce of our energy into being an Allen Eagle and being together and building on the expectations to win.”
It’s a change from the scenery Morris had come to know over the past decade. In December, Morris was among the firings at Auburn following the dismissal of Gus Malzahn and said on Thursday that he wasn’t sure what would be next in his career. He entertained the idea of going to the NFL for analytical work or finding another college gig, but some reflection on a chance to be closer to his family — his son, Chandler, plays football at TCU and his daughter, Mackenzie, works as a recruiting operations coordinator with North Texas' football program — contributed to his decision to return to the Metroplex as well.
“I love being around kids and love the college atmosphere,” he said, “but the memories and ability to impact lives at the high school level and our family, with Mackenzie and Chandler, as a coach’s kid they have the tendency to suffer and get pushed aside. This gives Paula and I a chance to be closer to our kids and be part of a great program. That was the swinging pendulum out of the whole thing.”
As Morris returns to his roots — prior to winning two championships at Lake Travis, Morris coached at Eustace, Elysian Woods, Bay City (winning state in 2000) and Stephenville — one thing his background has prepared him for is dealing with lofty expectations.
He understands plenty where that bar rests at Allen. The Eagles have won five UIL state championships since 2008 and are in the midst of an 83-game regular-season winning streak — a run that traces back to October 2012 and stands, according to TexasHighSchoolFootballHistory.com, as the longest in state history.
“I seem to follow those types of pressures. It is what it is and that’s a great thing,” Morris said. “It’s an honor to be part of such a great program. Every program that is as tradition rich and as storied as the Allen Eagles, every one of those programs always has pressure that comes with it and that’s part of this business. I embrace it.”
The Eagles won a state championship in 2017 under Gambill and qualified for the state semifinals on two other occasions. The last two years have been a departure from that level of postseason success with Allen exiting in the area round in 2019 (a 60-59 loss to Rockwall) and last year in the regional semifinals (a 49-45 loss to Euless Trinity).
Morris said getting the Eagles back to contention will require building on the culture established by names like Gambill and Tom Westerberg, plus an attention to detail.
“I think you just focus on the day-to-day work and what we can do today to be the best we can be in the development of young men, and not just as football players, plus building on the culture that has been established,” Morris said. “… Winning a state championship and a national championship, there’s a fine line there and the margin of error is very thin. It’s all about the little things, and that’s going to be our focus. Everything counts.”