Staff responsibilities should be coach’s call

By: Nate Allen
Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Bret Bielema speaks prior to an event in Little Rock on Feb. 6.
Bret Bielema speaks prior to an event in Little Rock on Feb. 6.

FAYETTEVILLE - Many Arkansas Razorbacks fans were enamored of Randy Shannon before they had cause for a clue that Bret Bielema would become Arkansas’ head football coach.

So while introducing Robb Smith as Arkansas’ new defensive coordinator at Monday’s news conference, Bielema wisely took great pains to note the recent title addition of senior associate head coach and the additional responsibilities that Shannon has added to his job as linebackers coach. Bielema went to even greater pains to note that he arranged for Smith and Shannon to meet face to face at length before Smith was officially hired.

Getting the seal of approval on the new defensive coordinator from a linebackers coach isn’t a typical situation. But Randy Shannon on any staff without head coach or defensive coordinator as his title can seem untypical given his experience in both roles at the University of Miami. It seems especially untypical at Arkansas, given that Razorbacks fans clamored for Shannon as a coordinator while Bielema was still at Wisconsin.

Even though Arkansas went 10-2 in the regular season in 2011 and was Cotton Bowl bound, Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino was dissatisfied with his defense and dismissed defensive coordinator Willy Robinson before the bowl practices began.

Rumors abounded that Shannon, then out of coaching during his first year removed from Miami, was Petrino’s choice as defensive coordinator. It seemed like practically every unidentified black male getting off a plane at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport or spotted in a Northwest Arkansas hotel was Randy Shannon, according to the rumor mill.

A similar Northwest Arkansas phenomenon developed with deplaning unidentified blond males after Petrino was fired and it became obvious that interim coach John L. Smith’s term obviously wouldn’t be extended. They were frequently, and of course incorrectly, identified as Jon Gruden.

Gruden, nationally known as ESPN’s commentator on Monday Night Football, probably even more than for having previously coached a Super Bowl champion at Tampa Bay, has been erroneously spotted more often than Elvis. It seems Gruden’s name and alleged Gruden sightings surface for about every head coaching vacancy, college or pro.

Whether real or imagined, the Petrino-Shannon association proved equally unfulfilled as would Arkansas-Gruden.

So Arkansas fans acted happily amazed that Bielema, who arrived with Chris Ash, his Wisconsin defensive coordinator, hired Shannon as linebackers coach for 2013.

Now with Ash gone to Ohio State, some grumble amazement that Shannon isn’t Arkansas’ new defensive coordinator Bielema and Shannon go back to a friendship even as they competed as young assistants recruiting in Florida. Bielema and Smith go back to coaching together at Iowa under Kirk Ferentz.

Bielema respects them both and obviously believes both best fit the roles that he has cast them in on this staff. If Bielema, Smith and Shannon all respect that - and all have had awhile to digest it - what administration, fans and media may think shouldn’t matter.

Arkansas boosters should long have learned from the fallout that followed the Danny Ford and Houston Nutt regimes that even if not always the popular choice, the head coach’s decision regarding his staff and staff assignments should be up only to the head coach.

Sports, Pages 14 on 02/12/2014