Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Schiano: Hogs on right path
Former Rutgers University and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head football coach Greg Schiano speaks to the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 at Mermaids restaurant in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Greg Schiano feels his former pupil Robb Smith's pain.
Smith's first game as defensive coordinator at Arkansas comes next Saturday against an Auburn team that led the nation with 328 rushing yards per game, averaged 286 rushing yards against SEC opponents and reached the BCS championship game last season.
"You're talking about something I don't know has ever been done before: 286 yards in Southeastern Conference play, as an average? That's unheard of to me," Schiano said Wednesday at the season-opening meeting of the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club. "When Smitty told me that, I was blown away."
Schiano, the former head coach at Rutgers (2001-2011) and in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012-2013), made no predictions for how Smith's Arkansas unit would fare against the defending SEC champions, but he offered his view on the program's direction.
"I take great pride in the way Robb's doing it," Schiano said. "You're going to see a product on the field defensively that you haven't seen here in a while. They're going to run to the football. They're going to take the ball away really, really well."
Schiano has some insider knowledge when it comes to his praise.
Coach Bret Bielema invited Schiano, an analyst with the NFL Network, inside the meeting rooms, on the practice field and in video study with the Razorbacks on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I spent the last 36 hours with the team and the coaches and the staff meetings," Schiano said. "I see all good signs. I just think when you look at that program, I know it's coming. ... It will come. The beauty of it is, once that thing tips back to where it's supposed to be and Arkansas football is where it's supposed to be, Bret's building it the way that it's going to last.
"The question isn't are we going to be good this year. It's just how good are we going to be this year."
Smith, a quality control and defensive graduate assistant at Iowa when Bielema was an assistant coach there in the late 1990s and early 2000s, had spent seven years at Division I-AA Maine, rising to defensive coordinator in 2006-2008, when Schiano gave him his first big break by bringing him aboard at Rutgers.
"I don't know that I've ever been around a more detailed and precise person in terms of schematics," Smith said of Schiano. "When you have a chance to work with somebody like that, you kind of learn how to do that on a daily basis.
"That's been the biggest thing I've taken from him. Plus, he's a great person. He's had a lot of influence on me."
Smith said having Schiano around the Fred Smith Football Center has been a great study in quality control and in checks and balances with Arkansas' approach.
"It's great to have an extra set of eyes on things," Smith said.
Schiano said Bielema's program-building approach -- after a 3-9 debut in 2013 made the Razorbacks 7-17 the past two seasons -- and Smith's defensive plans are going to take a little time.
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"We took over a program that was a lot further off than the University of Arkansas, believe me," Schiano said. "You guys have great tradition and you have some really good players, but it's going to take just a little bit."
Schiano thought enough of Smith to hire him as linebackers coach with Tampa Bay for 2013, and Smith's efforts were praised by Buccaneers players.
"Everywhere he's been, he's been very productive," Schiano said. "So he'll do a great job here. He's just got to get his system taught. They'll play hard, though. I guarantee you from day one you'll see a defense that runs to the football."
Schiano said he watched video of Auburn's BCS national championship game loss to Florida State on Tuesday night.
"They've got guys running down the middle of the field scot-free, wide open, and it's not because Florida State's not good. They are good," he said. "But they get you."
Schiano said the biggest key for Arkansas will be preventing pass plays from beating it over the top.
"You have to play with more precision than they execute with," he said. "They hurry up, and they're moving, moving, moving. They're just counting on you making a mistake."
Schiano predicted Arkansas can give Auburn a tight game if it doesn't give up huge pass plays and plays with discipline, but he clammed up when asked how he would defend the Tigers.
"I've been in meetings the last 36 hours. Anything I say can and will be used against me," he said. "So you're going to have to wait. Next Saturday you're going to see.
"I've got faith in the Razorback defense."
Sports on 08/21/2014