Ash will lead Hogs defense

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema completed his first coaching staff with the hiring of wide receivers coach Michael Smith.
Photo by The Associated Press
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema completed his first coaching staff with the hiring of wide receivers coach Michael Smith.

— Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema announced Wisconsin co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash on Tuesday as his first official assistant coach hire with the Razorbacks.

Ash will be the Razorbacks’ defensive coordinator, a post he has shared the past two seasons with Charlie Partridge at Wisconsin under Bielema. Ash also was in charge of defensive backs at Wisconsin, a position he has coached the past 11 years.

Speaking on a teleconference Tuesday night, Ash said his specific position responsibilities had not been determined but that he would be calling the defense and would be very hands on with the defensive backs because that is his area of expertise.

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Ash, who will turn 39 on Dec. 24, said he was committed to remaining on the Wisconsin staff through the Badgers’ Rose Bowl game Jan. 1 against Stanford.

He cited the lure of coaching against SEC competition as a strong motivating factor for his move, much as Bielema has the past week.

“Absolutely. It’s the best conference in college football,” Ash said.

An Iowa native and graduate of Drake University, Ash has never stepped foot in Fayetteville, and he did not interview for the coordinator job with Bielema.

“It was just kind of a deal where if he [Bielema] was going to take another job or have an opportunity to go somewhere, I was fortunate enough to be extended an opportunity to go with him,” Ash said. “That’s just the kind of relationship we have.

“There was no face-to-face meeting. There was no interview. My interview was my time working with him.”

Bielema did not take part in the teleconference but said in a news release announcing Ash’s hiring that he had gained “great respect” for Ash during their time together at Wisconsin.

“I’ve followed his career for a long time, and his knowledge of the way we run our program and specifically the defense will be valuable for us moving forward in our transition,” Bielema said in the statement. “Chris helped us improve drastically in our pass defense at Wisconsin, where his defenses consistently ranked in the top 25 nationally in all the major categories.”

Wisconsin’s defense ranked third in the NCAA in 2012 with a three-and-out percentage of 41.72 percent. The Badgers were 13th in the NCAA in total defense (320.9 yards per game) and tied for 19th in scoring defense (19.1 points per game).

Wisconsin was 13th nationally in scoring defense in Ash’s first season as coordinator in 2011, allowing an average of 19 points per game, and was 15th in total defense (316.4 ypg).

Ash should be in position for a substantial salary raise. According to media reports in Madison, Wis., he made $265,000 last year, an increase from his salary of $211,600 in 2011, based on a USA Today salary survey.

Arkansas officials did not release Ash’s salary Tuesday, but Ash indicated he would receive a multi-year contract.

Arkansas paid both its coordinators — Paul Haynes on defense and Paul Petrino on offense — $475,000 last season, with $50,000 of their salaries coming from the Razorback Foundation.

Ash, who said he has recruited extensively in Florida and Texas during his career, touched briefly on his philosophy, saying his system was a flexible one based on a 4-3 alignment.

“We’re going to get our guys to play as hard as they can possibly play, as fast as they can possibly play, and we’re going to have them play with unbelievable fundamentals,” Ash said. “You win games by being able to run to the football, being able to get off blocks and being able to tackle.

“If we can do those three things and do them consistently, we’re going to have a chance for great success.”

Sports, Pages 19 on 12/12/2012