Hogs coach won’t tinker with staff

By: Nate Allen
Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema before the start of a game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. on Nov. 29, 2013.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema before the start of a game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. on Nov. 29, 2013.

FAYETTEVILLE - Upon suffering a losing season, head football coaches tend to assert that the buck stops with them.

Then they start firing assistants.

Apparently that won’t be Bret Bielema’s tact. Arkansas’ first-year coach says he intends to hold all staff cards even after a 3-9 season that included ignominious school records of nine consecutive losses and an 0-8 SEC mark, the Razorbacks’ first SEC winless campaign since joining the league in 1992.

Barring any of his assistants taking a head coaching or coordinator’s post or leaving of their own volition, Bielema has said he wants his 2013 staff of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, offensive line coach Sam Pittman, running backs coach Joel Thomas, receivers coach Michael Smith, tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr., defensive coordinator Chris Ash, linebackers coach Randy Shannon, defensive line coach Charlie Partridge and cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson to remain for 2014.

Reader poll

What grade would you give Bret Bielema in his first year at Arkansas?

  • A 4% 87 votes
  • B 22% 394 votes
  • C 42% 744 votes
  • D 20% 353 votes
  • F 9% 173 votes

1751 total votes.

“I hope we don’t have any staff changes because I really like this group,” Bielema said. “I really like what they bring to the table.”

What all bring is an appetite to do what the Razorbacks need most, South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier said after his Gamecocks routed the Razorbacks 52-7 on Oct. 12 in Fayetteville.

“Bret and his guys will need to recruit their way out of it,” Spurrier said.

The Razorbacks were in a hurry-up mode when it came to recruiting in 2013. Bielema didn’t arrive in Arkansas from Wisconsin until December 2012, and it took until January to complete his staff with signing day looming in February.

The Arkansas staff signed a freshman class it relied on heavily right away. That signified both the merits of the class signed and the holes Bielema inherited after a senior-laden 2012 team fell from 11-2 under Bobby Petrino in 2011 to 4-8 under John L. Smith, the 2012 interim coach.

Playing 15 freshmen, nine true freshmen and six previously redshirted in last Friday’s 31-27 season finale against 15th-ranked LSU does lend experience for some of those players who took their lumps in 2013.

“It’s one of those things you have got to take some negatives and turn into positives,” Bielema said. “Obviously it’s a tough league, a difficult league, but the experience those guys get was invaluable.

We will get to where we will need to be. We have to add a great recruiting class.”

The surest path to recruiting a great class, Bielema assumes, isn’t through massive change for change’s sake but retaining this staff that is fast approaching a full year of nurturing relationships to recruit for 2014 and beyond.

Still, Bielema will have extensive staff reviews on all the what ifs during 2013, especially with that 49-yard touchdown pass in Baton Rouge that allowed LSU to overcome Arkansas in the game’s final 1:15 still painfully raw.

“It is inexcusable there to give up a pass play at the end of the game that gave them the go-ahead touchdown,” Bielema said. “I mean, it’s just inexcusable. Some things we have to work on as coaches is to make sure we are getting our points across and obviously execute it out on the field.”

Sports, Pages 16 on 12/04/2013