8 UA football assistants fired; Chavis in running

By: Matt Jones , Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis talks with Texas A&M linebacker Keeath Magee II (56) before the start of an NCAA college football game against Auburn on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
Photo by Associated Press
Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis talks with Texas A&M linebacker Keeath Magee II (56) before the start of an NCAA college football game against Auburn on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The contracts for eight of the nine full-time football assistant coaches at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville were terminated last week, based on documents obtained through an open-record request filed by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Barry Lunney Jr., a former Arkansas quarterback and the tight ends coach for Bret Bielema the past five seasons, was the only full-time assistant coach who was not terminated. Lunney has been on the road recruiting for the Razorbacks since head Coach Chad Morris' hiring last week, although it has not been announced officially whether he will be retained on the new staff.

Bobby Allen, the UA's director of high school and pro relations under Bielema, also was recruiting last weekend.

Morris has not announced any assistant coaches who will be on his staff, though several SMU assistants and staff members attended his introductory news conference and some have visited prospects for the Razorbacks.

John Chavis, a defensive coordinator in the SEC the past 23 years, is a candidate for the vacant defensive coordinator position, industry sources indicated Monday.

Chavis, 61, is a former nose tackle at Tennessee who spent the past three seasons as defensive coordinator at Texas A&M. The Aggies rank No. 60 in total defense this season while allowing 388.7 yards per game after finishing No. 51 in 2015 with 380 yards allowed per game and No. 90 in 2016 with 441.8 yards allowed per game.

Chavis was the defensive coordinator at LSU from 2009-2014 and worked 20 years on the defensive staff at Tennessee from 1989-2008, the last 14 of those as defensive coordinator.

Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik, speaking on the Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly radio show Monday afternoon, said he was not a candidate for the defensive coordinator job. Chizik, now an analyst on ESPN and the SEC Network, led Auburn to the 2010 national championship during a four-year run with the Tigers. He last worked on the field as defensive coordinator at North Carolina from 2015-2016.

"I'm staying put with what I'm doing," Chizik said. "I'm enjoying ESPN and the SEC Network, so that's where I want to be right now."

Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, offensive line coach Dustin Fry, receivers coach Justin Stepp, recruiting coordinator Mark Smith and director of football operations Randy Ross have changed their social media profiles to reflect positions with the Razorbacks.

Lunney, a Fort Smith native, and receivers coach Michael Smith were the only assistant coaches to work all five years at Arkansas with Bielema, who was fired Nov. 24.

Coordinators Dan Enos and Paul Rhoads, and position coaches Kurt Anderson, Reggie Mitchell, Smith, John Scott, Vernon Hargreaves and Chad Walker were informed of their termination in letters dated Dec. 7 and Dec. 8. Strength coach Ben Herbert also was relieved of his duties in a letter dated Dec. 8. Julie Cromer Peoples, who ran point in the head coaching search, wrote the termination letters.

In the letters, the coaches were instructed to return all university-issued property -- including cellphones, computers and vehicles -- by the end of business Monday.

All of the fired assistant coaches were hired by Bielema, who was fired for convenience after the Razorbacks went 4-8 overall and 1-7 in SEC games this season.

The university promises to pay each of the assistants up to six months' salary, pending mitigation, in the event a head coach is fired, according to standard language located in each of their offer letters.

The fired coordinators and position coaches had combined annual salaries of $3.595 million, meaning the university could owe up to $1,797,500 in buyout payments, a figure that would be offset by future earnings.

Bielema also has a hefty buyout. A third-party agreement with the Razorback Foundation, which refuses to release the document, set Bielema's buyout at more than $11 million, according to a source close to the program. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in October reported the buyout as $5.9 million, based on a legal analysis of Bielema's contract with the university.

Because their contracts were terminated by the university, all assistant coaches are no longer subject to noncompete clauses.

Rhoads is the only one of the fired assistants known to have found employment elsewhere. The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday he would become the defensive backs coach at UCLA, but no official announcement of the hiring has been made.

Several UA assistants took to Twitter last week to post what read as farewell messages to Arkansas fans and players, but university spokesmen would not confirm any staff changes when emailed Friday.

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