Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Old colleagues reunite
Arkansas football defensive coordinator and secondary coach Robb Smith (right) listens at a press conference Monday morning Feb. 10, 2014 at the Fred W. Smith Football Center. Head football coach Bret Bielema (left) answers a question.
FAYETTEVILLE The hires are getting easier for Bret Bielema.
Arkansas' second-year head football coach said there is a notable difference hiring assistant coaches now than when he was promoted to the head coaching position at Wisconsin prior to the 2006 season. That was the case, Bielema said, when he reached out to Robb Smith about the Razorbacks' vacant defensive coordinator position.
"I got a head coaching job at such a young age that when I hired my first staff I was the second-youngest on my staff," Bielema said. "When you're in that situation you're hiring people you've heard about, but you might not know them.
"As I've gotten older I've met more people in the profession. I met Robb 15 years ago as a quality control coach when he came in with Kirk Ferentz and his staff at Iowa. We've worked in the same room, we learned a new defense together and grew up under a system we both strongly believe in."
Bielema and Smith spent three seasons together on the Hawkeyes' staff with Bielema coaching linebackers and Smith serving as a graduate assistant. Both left following the 2001 season for different schools - Bielema for Kansas State and Smith for Maine - but have remained in contact.
Smith, who spent last season coaching linebackers for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was officially introduced Monday as Arkansas' fourth defensive coordinator in as many years. He replaces Chris Ash, who left last month for a similar position at Ohio State.
Bielema said he twice considered Smith for positions at Wisconsin and again in 2012 after he was hired at Arkansas.
"When I first got the job here and I was unsure whether Chris would join me, Robb and I had several discussions," Bielema said. "He was in a transition process as well between deciding to stay at Rutgers or going into the NFL. When Chris first made me aware of his opportunity at Ohio State and his decision process, I reached out to Robb immediately as well as a few select other guys.
"We had constant communication all the way up to signing day and made the contract final Saturday."
The coordinator position is Smith's second on the college level. He spent the 2012 season as defensive coordinator at Rutgers, where he spent four seasons overall as an assistant coach. Smith also was a seven-year assistant at Maine.
It was reported last month Smith was a candidate to return to Rutgers as defensive coordinator. The Scarlet Knights ranked in the top 10 nationally in rush defense, scoring defense and total defense during Smith's lone season as coordinator.
Without giving specifics, Bielema said Smith had "other options" but chose to come to Arkansas. Bielema said at least four other candidates interviewed for the Razorbacks' coordinator position, but said those names won't be revealed.
"As head coaches, if you want information out there, you let it out there," Bielema said. "Guys want to leak certain things out there and do it. As a head coach I've never been in that racket. I kept things very tight and there are people who I interviewed who will never have their name out there because they asked me not to."
Bielema said he and Smith share a lot of the same defensive philosophies and "speak the same language" from their days together at Iowa.
"We're going to bring an aggressive philosophy," Smith said. "Bret and I have had a lot of discussions. There are a multitude of offenses right now and they make you work a lot, and dictate the flow of the game. We want to be able to do that defensively."
Smith said he and Razorbacks linebackers coach Randy Shannon met at a coaching convention prior to his being named coordinator on Saturday. Bielema said last week he spoke with Shannon during the process to hire a coordinator.
Shannon, a Broyles Award winner as defensive coordinator at Miami, was promoted to associate senior head coach last week.
"Randy and I share some of the same visions of defense," Smith said. "He worked with Coach (Dave) Wannstedt, a person who has been very helpful to me in this process.
"We were kind of able to speak the same language. We have a lot of the same goals and same visions, and I'm happy to work with him to play championship defense."