The Baylor Bears won't play their first game under Guy Morriss until Aug. 30 against Alabama-Birmingham, but the Bears' new head football coach is adamant when he says that success in the fall will depend on what happens this spring.
Morriss' entire nine-man coaching staff followed him to Baylor from the University of Kentucky. They will get their first official look at the 2003 Bears on March 19 when the team hits the field for spring practice. The drills will culminate in a spring game on April 12.
Since his hiring last December, Morriss and his assistants have hit the ground running -- signing their first recruiting class, evaluating returning players, meeting with Baylor alumni and fans throughout the state and preparing to implement a new offense and defense for the Bears.
"There's a lot of teaching going on and, at the same time, we're going to teach them how we want them to practice in the fall," Morriss said. "We're a high-speed, high-effort, high-energy kind of staff. From what I understand, that's going to be a little bit of a shock to these kids, so they're going to have to learn what to expect from us."
Under Morriss' tutelage, the Bears will play an aggressive, wide-open style of football on both sides of the ball.
"The balance in our offense in an ideal world would be 60 percent passing and 40 percent running, but it depends on our talent," Morriss said at his introductory news conference. "Defensively, we play an eight-man front. We are not a soft 'sit back and read' coverage and watch them just move the sticks down the field on us. It's a more aggressive style, and I think recruits like playing that kind of game."
Even spring practice is aggressive, with a practice environment run as close to game speed as possible, Morriss said.
"This spring, we're practicing exclusively good on good. Our ones practice against our ones, our twos against our twos. That's where you create that game-type atmosphere," he said. "You have to tailor that a little in the fall because you don't want to get people hurt, but we were really good last fall at Kentucky, and we practiced in shorts and shoulder pads the whole year."
Although he demands great effort from his Baylor players -- "You won't see us dragging around the football field" -- Morriss considers the wise use of practice time a key to his team's success.
"Kids want to win and they'll do pretty much anything you ask them to as long as they begin to realize there's some benefit to all this sweating and hitting," he said. "An hour and 50 minutes is about as long as we go, but while we're going that hour and 50 minutes, we're moving. There are no wasted drills. Everything we do is directly correlated to what we're going to ask them to do on the field this fall."
At spring practice, the welcome mat is out for Baylor fans, who can witness for themselves the native Texan's coaching style. As he did at Kentucky, Morriss advocates an "open-door, open-practice" policy for Baylor students, alumni and fans.
"They need to feel like this is their football team, and it's a program we want them to be proud of," he said. "Baylor has some tremendous tradition here, and we need to enrich that, put that pride back into it. One of the ways you do that is to make people welcome to come back and enjoy watching practice, talking with our coaches and meeting our players."
Although Morriss spent six successful years at Kentucky, he said the opportunity to return to his Texas roots beckoned him to Baylor and the Big 12 Conference.
"It's a chance for me to come back to Texas," Morriss said in an interview on the "Inside Baylor Sports" television show. "I like the smaller atmosphere of Baylor University. I went to a private school as well, and there's no reason Baylor can't be successful."
Fogleman is director of media relations in the Baylor Office of Public Relations.