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.
Shannon, new coordinator audibled before hiring
Randy Shannon, Arkansas assistant coach and linebackers coach, speaks to members of the media during a National Signing Day ceremony Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, at the university's football complex.
FAYETTEVILLE - Part of Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema’s vetting process for Robb Smith, Arkansas’ new defensive coordinator, included a face-to-face discussion between Smith and linebackers coach Randy Shannon.
The Shannon-Smith meeting, initiated by Bielema when all three men were at a Miami hotel during the recruiting period was critical to Smith’s hiring Saturday to replace Chris Ash.
Bielema said Smith and Shannon left the meeting feeling good about everything.
“So, I am so excited now,” Bielema said.
Smith said he and Shannon both believe in elements from the mid-to-late 1990s era of Chicago Bears defense.
“So we were kind of able to speak the same language,” Smith said. “We have a lot of the same goals and a lot of the same visions. And I’m excited to work with him and play championship defense.”
Bielema said he met with Shannon, a former linebacker, defensive coordinator and head coach for the University of Miami, soon after Ash’s Jan. 14 departure to let Shannon know he was goingto hire a defensive coordinator from outside the program and put forth his plan to elevate Shannon into the senior associate head coach’s position.
Smith, 38, spent four years as a defensive coordinator - three at Maine (2006-2008) and one at Rutgers (2012) - coached linebackers for the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2013 and met Bielema when he served as a graduate assistant on Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz ‘s 1999 staff.
“I had a chance to come here as an opponent a couple of years back, and it left a lasting impression,” Smith said, referring to the 2012 Arkansas-Rutgers game in Fayetteville. “There was a great environment, the fans were great and this was a special place.
Smith signed a two-year letter of agreement on Saturday that will pay him $500,000 per year, $50,000 less than his predecessor Ash received. Smith also has a non-compete clause that forbids him from taking a job with any other SEC school and a buyout of $150,000 between now and Feb. 15, 2016, that would apply unless he takes a head coaching job of any type or a defensive coordinator’s job in the NFL. The buyout drops to $100,00 on Feb. 16, 2016.
“Bret has told me a lot of fabulous things about the university and the chance to be back at a special place like this is a phenomenal opportunity.”
Smith said it was important for him to match visions with Shannon, who is highly regarded in the profession, during their Miami meeting.
“We kind of grabbed a cup of coffee and we talked football,” Smith said. “I don’t want to speak for Randy, but he was very comfortable in that setting talking football.
“And I know that’s really my biggest comfort level, talking football. We sat for a couple of hours, and it seemed like it was 15 minutes because the time flew. We really found we were on the same page on a lot of things and shared the same vision. I thought it went very smoothly.”
Smith is Arkansas’ fourth defensive coordinator in four seasons, and he takes over a unit ranked No. 76 nationally and No. 9 in the SEC last year in total defense, allowing 413.4 yards per game.
Smith said he’ll operate out of a base 4-3 and will be aggressive.
“Before you can get into pressuring and doing things of that nature, you’ve got to be able to play a great base and that’s where we’ll start. But as we get better at that and become more comfortable with that, like Bret’s talked about before, we want to dictate to offenses, not let them always dictate to us. And one way to do that is to pressure.”
Smith, a three-year letterman at strong safety at Allegheny (Pa.) College, will work with the secondary, Bielema said, sharing responsibilities with Taver Johnson in coaching the corners, safeties and nickel backs.
Last year, Johnson coached cornerbacks and Ash handled the safeties.
“I wanted to bring that room together,” Bielema said of having all the defensive backs in one meeting room. “As the season progressed last year, the one thing I really wanted to make sure, and you’ve heard me and Robb now say it several times, communication needs to be cleaner, and I think it’s more important for us to have a secondary that’s together, a group of linebackers that’s together, a D-line that’s together.”
Smith said he has coached from both the sideline and the press box and that his game-day spot at Arkansas has yet to be determined.
Bielema said he got insight on Smith’s defensive style from Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman, who was an assistant at North Carolina when the Tar Heels defeated Rutgers 17-13 in 2010 and 24-22 in 2011.
“Sam right away made the reference that probably in his tenure that Rutgers was one of the most difficult preparations for them offensively because of the pressures, the misdirection and the complexity of their defense that they went against,” Bielema said.
Robb Smith glance POSITION Defensive coordinator AGE 38 (Birthdate May 10, 1975) HOMETOWN Pittsburgh FAMILY Wife Amy; sons Charlie and Jack COLLEGE Allegheny College, bachelor’s degree in economics (1997); Iowa, master’s in communications (2002) COACHING HISTORY Iowa quality control and defensive graduate assistant (1999-2001); Maine defensive backs (2002-2004), special teams and linebackers (2005), and assistant head coach and defensive coordinator (2006-2008); Rutgers special teams coordinator (2009-2011) and outside linebackers (2009), cornerbacks (2010), linebackers (2011) and defensive coordinator/secondary (2012); Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebackers (2013)
Sports, Pages 13 on 02/11/2014