Bargain hunting isn’t way to win in SEC

By: Wally Hall
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Wisconsin defensive coordinators Charlie Partridge, left, and Chris Ash answer questions during a news conference in Los Angeles on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Photo by The Associated Press
Wisconsin defensive coordinators Charlie Partridge, left, and Chris Ash answer questions during a news conference in Los Angeles on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

— It seems the initial reaction to Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema’s staff, and the final salaries were just announced Tuesday, has been very favorable.

No one appears to be concerned about a 15-percent increase in the assistant coaches’ salaries, and shouldn’t be.

First, the University of Arkansas was a little behind in that area, but most of the nation is just now starting to correct a longtime slight.

While head coaches’ salaries jumped into the millions and the length of their contracts was enough to ensure financial security for a long time, assistant coaches’ contracts remained one year and for far less than what the head coaches were making.

Slowly that has changed, especially in the SEC, where some coordinators make $1million per year, and Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long was smart enough to realize that Bielema was determined to hire a great staff.

This staff is possibly the best since Frank Broyles - who had a great eye for young, talented coaches - was roaming the sidelines in Fayetteville. In those days, head coaches hired them young, worked them hard and gave them a good recommendation to become a head coach.

Today, coaches work more than ever because recruiting,evaluation and preparation are all part of their jobs.

If television packages allow head coaches to be guaranteed millions for five years, assistants deserve at least a two year deal. Soon the industry standard will be three or four years, with some good money, too.

On paper, it appears Bielema may not have been able to assemble a better staff, and Long was willing to tote the note to give him every advantage to win.

Which is not going to happen overnight. If Bielema had been able to hire Bear Bryant, Darrell Royal, Jimmy Johnson and Broyles, it would still take some time.

Fans are going to need to be very patient for a couple of years as this staff tries to restock the shelves with more talent.

There is no doubt Bielema looked for assistants who approach recruiting the way he does, with a passion.

He also hired true teachers of the game.

It seemed like every time a new hire was announced, the first thought was that it was a home run.

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has gone from a Spread offense to a Pro style, he has three years of experience in the NFL, he loves having a featured back and he has the reputation of a great recruiter.

In fact, most of them have that reputation.

Chris Ash, the defensive coordinator, and Bielema have been on the same page for years about their defensive philosophy, so he brings knowledge, enthusiasm and a certain comfort zone that every coach needs.

All you have to know about Charlie Partridge, the assistant head coach who is also in charge of the defensive line and linebackers, is that Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez tried to keep him before he hired a head coach.

No one made more of a ripple among the fans than Randy Shannon, the former head coach of the Miami Hurricane who spent last season as the linebackers coach at TCU.

Michael Smith recruited Texas, with success, when he was at Kansas State.

Sam Pittman brings 27 years of successful experience coaching the offensive line.

Taver Johnson, who took a small cut in pay, goes back to coaching cornerbacks, something that he loves.

Joel Thomas’ recruiting area when he was at Purdue was Texas.

Barry Lunney Jr. brings a tie to the Arkansas Razorbacks and a ton of offensive knowledge.

As for new strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert, Alvarez tried to impede his leaving, too. Herbert is widely known for his 88-day summer plan of nutrition and training that transforms athletes into bigger and faster players.

One of the reasons Bielema was willing to leave Wisconsin was to hire the staff he wanted, and to keep them with the right salaries.

Long recognized that and made it happen.

Sports, Pages 19 on 01/24/2013