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.
Bielema settles on Smith as defensive coordinator
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema speaks during a National Signing Day ceremony Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, at the university's football complex.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema ended his search for a defensive coordinator right where some analysts projected it began.
Bielema named Robb Smith, whose name surfaced immediately after Chris Ash’s departure for Ohio State on Jan. 14, as the Razorbacks’ defensive coordinator Saturday, 25 days after his search began.
Smith, 38, will become the Razorbacks’ fourth defensive coordinator in four seasons, following Willy Robinson, Paul Haynes and Ash.
Bielema first came across Smith in 1999, when Bielema was linebackers coach at his alma mater Iowa and Smith was hired as a 24-year-oldgraduate assistant by the Hawkeyes.
“I’ve been able to watch Robb Smith grow in the profession, and I know he’ll bring in an attacking defensive philosophy that is built specifically to stop offenses in the SEC,” Bielema said in a university release. “Robb has been promoted time and time again at every place he’s been.”
Bielema made the move three days after national signing day, when he announced that linebackers coach Randy Shannon, a logical candidate for taking over as coordinator, would be promoted to senior associate head coach with an accompanying salary increase.
A native of Pittsburgh, Smith spent the 2013 season as linebackers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under Greg Schiano, the former Rutgers coach who was fired after the season. Smith spent four years at Rutgers, including the 2012 season as defensive coordinator.
Dave Wannstedt, who was familiar with Smith’s work under Schiano at Rutgers, was with both men as Tampa Bay’s special teams coordinator last season.
“I know from talking to the linebackers here at the Bucs, they really felt this year he made their production go up,” Wannstedt said. “In the NFL, and I think any players, they judge coaches by are you going to teach me something to make me a better player.
“Robb came here and did a great job. The linebackers were probably the strength of our defense last year. I know with his personality he’s going to be a great recruiter. If I was putting together a staff tomorrow, I would want him on my staff, and that would be the highest recommendation I could give somebody.”
Wannstedt said he spoke with Bielema a couple of weeks ago and offered a strong recommendation in support of Smith, and he texted his support for Smith to Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long, who hired Wannstedt as Pitt’s head coach in 2005.
Rutgers ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense at 14.2 points per game in Smith’s season as defensive coordinator. Rutgers defeated Arkansas 35-26 in Fayetteville that season.
Rutgers was also sixth nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (95.2), 10th in total defense (311.6) and tied for third in rushing touchdowns allowed (6).
“The qualities he has and I think he’ll bring to the University of Arkansas are, No. 1, he’s very intelligent,” Wannstedt said. “Great defensive coordinators, it’s not just a matter of knowing what offenses do, you have to understand your defense and the weaknesses and strengths of that.
“I think Robb understands how people try to attack him. He gets the X’s and O’s and he’s always anticipating what might happen. I think that’s what kind of separates defensive coordinators.”
Sports, Pages 23 on 02/09/2014