New UIW football coach Eric Morris has no illusions about the challenge he faces as he takes control of the struggling Cardinals' program.
Morris is only 32, but he's been in his profession long enough to know that there are no shortcuts to success. As Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has noted time and again, you can't skip steps.
Morris, the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech the past five seasons, left no doubt Tuesday that he's ready to take on the monumental task of making UIW competitive in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA.
"The journey my staff and I are about to embark on will be a process," Morris said. "Not only will we have to develop a new culture, but we will have to have the discipline to sustain this culture. Our staff will conduct themselves with enthusiasm each and every day. We will attack each day with positivity. Energy is contagious and I promise I'll bring that to our program each and every day."
Morris was hired Dec. 30, but the news conference to introduce him to the UIW community was pushed back until after the holiday break.
"The most common question I've gotten since taking this job is, 'Why Incarnate Word?' And the answer to that is simple -- leadership. Dr. Thomas Evans, Dr. Jurenovich, Dr. Brian Wickstrom, they all have an unbelievable vision of where they want this football program to go."
Evans is president of the university and Jurenovich is vice president for enrollment management and student services. Wickstrom has been the school's athletic director since last September and headed the search committee that targeted Morris as the Cardinals' third head coach.
"He is a perfect fit for us," Wickstrom said. "We've done a lot of due diligence just because Dr. Evans and I knew the hire we were going to make had to be a hire that would change the trajectory of where we've been as a football program. And Eric Morris is the guy that's going to get it done."
Morris succeeds Larry Kennan, who went 20-46 in six seasons. The Cardinals were 12-30 in the Southland Conference during that span.
Kennan was fired in late November after UIW finished 1-10 overall and 1-7 in the SLC. The Cardinals finished 3-8 and 3-6 in 2016. UIW had two winning seasons under Kennan, finishing 6-5 in 2013 and 2015.
Morris was the last member of Kliff Kingsbury's original coaching staff at Tech. He is the third head football coach in the history of UIW, which kicked off its first season in 2009 as an NCAA Division II independent.
"My phone has not stopped buzzing since I took this job last week," Morris said. "The outpouring of support has been so special to my family and I. I've received numerous phone calls and text messages from former players of UIW, from former alumni. I want them to know right now that our doors will be open, and I want them to come visit us as much as possible."
Morris directed one of the most prolific offenses in the country during his five-season tenure at Tech, with the Red Raiders ranking among the top 20 teams in total offense and top 10 in passing offense. Tech averaged more than 30 points per game during Morris’ tenure and set the single-season school record with 45.1 points a game in 2015.
The Red Raiders went to three bowls while Morris was on the Tech coaching staff. The Red Raiders lost to South Florida 38-34 in the Birmingham Bowl last month, finishing 6-7. Tech ranked 10th nationally in passing offense (333.7) and 16th in total offense (474.6). They led the country in total offense (566.6) last year, when they passed for 463 yards a game.
Morris led off with former Tech coach Mike Leach, now at Washington State, when he listed coaches who have influenced his career.
"I'm forever indebted to him," said Morris, who played for Leach at Tech. "He gave me my only scholarship offer and he gave me my very first full-time (coaching) position, so I'm very appreciative for what Coach Leach has done for me in my career."
Morris also thanked Kingsbury and college coaches Kevin Sumlin, Lincoln Riley, Seth Littrell and Mike Jinks for their help.
"All these men have had a big impact on my life," Morris said. "Not only have they taught me how to be a better coach, they've also taught me to become a better husband, a better father, and a better man, and that means the world to me."Morris is still putting together his coaching staff and evaluating the assistants on Kennan's staff.
With Morris still in the process of hiring coaches, UIW is woefully behind in recruiting with National Signing Day less than a month away. Morris said he would like to have a signing class of 10 to 15 players this year. High school seniors can start signing letters of intent on Wednesday, February 7.
"Luckily, I have a bunch of good relationships with kids in the state of Texas already, with high school coaches in the state of Texas," Morris said. "I think we've compiled a list of 234 athletes that are written on the chalkboard in the football office right now. When our staff gets here, hopefully by this weekend and later into next week, we'll sit down and we'll watch them all together."
"We'll come up with a plan to go out recruiting the next three weeks. It's more important that we find the right people, not just anybody. We'll be slow in that process. We'll be thorough. We'll investigate through the high school coaches what kind of character these kids have, what kind grades they make and what kind of athletes they are."
The son of a high school coach, Morris played quarterback for his father at Shallowater High School in Shallowater, a small town about 10 miles northwest of Lubbock.
"I guess you could say that coaching is in my blood," Morris said. "As a family, we've always followed three guidelines, and we call them the three F's in my family. It's faith, family and football. I don't think I could have picked a better institution in America to help me grow in those three areas."
The Eric Morris File
Born: Oct. 26, 1985, in Littlefield, Texas
High school: Graduated from Shallowater in 2004
College: Graduated from Texas Tech with degree in Communications Studies in 2008
Playing career: Played quarterback for his father at Shallowater and recorded 2,852 yards of total offense, rushed for 24 touchdowns and passed for 22 TDs . . . Morris was a wide receiver at Texas Tech for four seasons (2005-08), finishing his career with 184 receptions for 1,965 yards and 19 TDs. He was also the Red Raiders' primary punt returner in his last two seasons.
Honors: Academic All-Big 12 first team, 2007; All-Big 12 second team as punt returner, 2008.
Coaching career: University of Houston quality control assistant, 2010; UH graduate assistant (wide receivers), 2011; Washington State assistant coach (inside receivers), 2012; Texas Tech co-offensive coordinator (inside receivers), 2013; Tech offensive coordinator, 2004-17.
Family: He and wife, Maggie, have a son, Jake.