The Hogs head football coach discusses the prospect of coaching turnover a couple weeks ahead of the Belk Bowl
One of the reasons Bret Bielema chose to leave Wisconsin for Arkansas was to get a bigger budget for his assistant coaches. In theory, this would allow him to hang onto top assistants for longer.
So far, after four regular seasons, the Arkansas coach hasn’t quite seen the continuity he wanted. After one season, his defensive coordinator (Chris Ash) and defensive line coach (Charlie Partridge). After 2014, the RB and linebacker coaches (Joel Thomas and Randy Shannon) left for jobs elsewhere. And last off season it was his ace offensive line coach, Sam Pittman, running backs coach again (this time Jemal Singleton) and the defensive backs guy, Clay Jennings.
For whom will the revolving door revolve this off-season? It’s not a question of “if” but “who.” On Thursday, he essentially admitted to sports talk host Bo Mattingly there will be some staff turnover after the Razorbacks’ upcoming December 29 Belk Bowl, which the Hogs are a 7-point underdog to Virginia Tech. Read more about online sportbook betting at Betphoenix.ag.
“It’s a part of the world today,” Bielema said of coaching changes. “The way the markets are, the way people have money now, whether you want changes or don’t want changes, they’re kind of inevitable. It’s part of college football these years.”
Given how erratically the offensive line and defense as a whole played this year, it will be interesting to see what happens with o-line coach Kurt Anderson and d-coordinator Robb Smith, who has gone from savior to goat in the past three seasons.
Bielema discussed more on Sportstalk with Bo Mattingly. Here are some choice excerpts:
In the front end, the first thing you can do to develop this is get the right guys to develop. I remember after I sat my first year, especially after the first Spring, we had signed a class I felt fairly strong about, the guys we got involved in. Maybe we had been recruiting them previously, or we got here and took over recruitment, but one of the things I was severely disappointed in as we signed a number of junior college players that really just after a short amount of time I could tell they weren’t going to help us. There would guys that had been previously recruited, and just really didn’t fit the mold for what we’re looking for. We went out and got some guys. There’s been some things that’s been good, but there was a number of guys in that class that just didn’t pan out…
I figured from that point forward if we take the junior college player, I want it to be someone that we’ve pretty much done all of our research on, I’ve known for a long time, and know exactly what we’re getting.
On why he seems to be recruiting, on the whole, better offensive players than defensive players:
I think the numbers are smaller. I really do. The number of size and quality and quantity of, especially the defensive line, are a little bit harder to find. I think in general we probably undersigned a little too much at the linebacker position when we first got here. If I had to do it all over again, I probably would’ve signed a lot more of that body type or been a little bit more detailed in that process. Defensive line wise, I’ve had some guys that unfortunately just haven’t performed up to the level that we wanted. Some guys that unfortunately got injured. Tevin Beanum has had some struggles and hasn’t fully develop, and get where we needed to be. There’s been a number of guys I feel we were right there closing in on them, just weren’t able to close off the deal in recruiting. It’s been a part we’ve been really trying to stress and analyze last year.
I think for the most part too, our offensive guys have had a few surprises along the way. AJ [Derby] being a classic example. First we’ve got to take a look at what we’re doing. Obviously, personnel’s another conversation, but you’ve got to make sure we’re putting our players in a position to have success. I think the one part that I’ve learned through coaching defensive football is when guys are lined up, and they’re secure in what they’re seeing, what they’re reading, and what they’re believing, they have a tendency to play a lot faster, play a lot more tough, a lot more toughness, a lot more efficiency. I think that part has to be real, what we’re asking them to do, and then the second part of it is once we ask them to do it, can they physically do it.
On the increasing pace and scoring of college football:
It’s one thing to line up and say, “We’re going to do this, this, and this,” but if they can’t do it or do it with consistency against good competition. You’ve got to rework what you’re asking them to do. The numbers are staggering when you look at the world of college football. I was with a couple of coaches a couple weeks ago in New York, some head coaches that had defensive backgrounds, and we all commented about how much of a different game it is now with RPOs and some of the rules that govern college football. It’s amazing statistically how much the numbers have changed overall. You’re always going to have a couple defenses that are above and beyond really normal standards and put up some really special numbers, but for the most part within all conferences, the numbers are staggeringly higher.
On tinkering with the three-four defense.
I think the part that I’m gonna try to get into after the bowl game is just putting our players that we’ve recruited as well as the addition of new players in a position to have success. One, I think it’s just life in the SEC. I do think we’re a little bit more up and down here than we’ve ever been in my career actually, and to be quite honest since we’ve come here we’ve always had a steady progression forward and never really taken any steps back. I think this year we did beat three teams ranked in the top 20: TCU, Florida, and Ole Miss, but on the same account we lost to a couple teams ranked and obviously one that wasn’t. That is something we can’t allow to happen.
I think the part I really felt good about going to that Missouri game, sitting there and feeling good about it until you get to the eighth win at the end of the year, you’ve had steady improvement for three years … Not that we aren’t there now, but to be a 7-1 team, now try to get to 8 in the bowl game, and keep moving down the right path. It does hit close to home. I know everybody … Because Arkansas is the show of the state, and there’s no pro teams, we get a lot of opinions and a lot of ideas thrown our way. I know this, we’re in so much better place now than we were four years ago, especially with the players we’ve got coming back; regardless of what happens during the outer season with staff and the growth of our program. I know we’re on the path to where we need to be. That part’s exciting. I think our schedule lays our really cool for us in the year ahead, and I know our guys will be excited to get back on track.