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. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hogs' new D-Line coach brings look, demeanor to staff
FAYETTEVILLE Jermial Ashley played his college ball as an All-Big 12 defensive end at Kansas with measurements of 6-5, 260 pounds.
He’s not far off those dimensions now as the new defensive line coach at the University of Arkansas. Which means he’s basically the prototype-sized defensive end for a four-down front.
Second-year Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman did his research on Ashley before hiring him away from Tulsa. He thinks the Fort Worth native will be a super recruiter and will command attention in his meeting room.
“I think he’ll bring players in here, and I know that he’ll have their attention because he’s a really good football coach, and he’s a very dominant figure,” Pittman said. “He’s a big guy, very imposing type guy.”
Ashley, a two-time All-Big 12 selection in 2004-05, laughed when his 6-5, 260-pound playing weight was brought up by a reporter.
Position Arkansas DL coach
Birthdate Jan. 28, 1983 (38)
Hometown Fort Worth, Texas
High School Keller Fossil Ridge
Junior College Tyler (Texas) Junior College
Previous jobs Oklahoma State grad assistant (2010-12); Trinity Valley (Texas) CC defensive line (2013-14); Tulsa defensive line (2015-2020)
“Yeah, that was probably about 15 years ago,” Ashley said. “I’ve had a couple of meals since then. I wish I was at 260 again.”
Pittman understands the Razorbacks must generate a better pass rush after ranking 12th in the SEC and 109th nationally with 1.4 sacks per game.
Not only did Arkansas not get the quarterback down often enough, the Razorbacks had too many segments of games in which quarterbacks like Kellen Mond, Kyle Trask and Mac Jones hardly felt any heat and seldom had their timing disrupted.
The Razorbacks are losing three key cogs from the front in team captain Jonathan Marshall and Xavier Kelly and end Julius Coates, who entered the transfer portal last week.
Still, Ashley will inherit returning talent. Starters at defensive end Eric Gregory, the team sack leader, and Zach Williams, are bolstered by Dorian Gerald, Mataio Soli and others. Gerald and Soli have been sidetracked or slowed by injuries each of the last two years.
At tackle, the Razorbacks have returning starter Isaiah Nichols, while Taurean Carter and Marcus Miller logged decent playing time.
Ashley hopes to heighten the aggressiveness levels on his crew.
“First and foremost as a D-lineman, regardless of conference, I think you should have a demanding physical and aggressive type demeanor as you play,” Ashley said.
Ashley also talked about the attributes of a top pass rusher.
“I think the number one thing that it takes to be a great pass rusher is understanding, and that is more along the lines of understanding the goals you’re trying to accomplish,” Ashley said. “Understanding how to attack the person you’re going against, understanding that person’s weaknesses and how to take advantage of them.
“That’s the biggest thing when it comes to a pass rusher, just knowing how to attack the person you’re lined up against.”
Pittman did not have a previous relationship with Ashley, but he did not go lightly on researching his background.
“Obviously you saw what Tulsa did as a team, and a lot of that correlates to the defensive line, the way they played,” Pittman said, referencing Tulsa’s status as the nation’s No. 19 total defense and No. 43 run defense.
“I watched tape after tape after tape, trying to find our new D-line coach. I love the way his kids played. I heard some outstanding things about him when I called and asked different folks about him.”
Pittman consulted veterans he knew in the business regarding Ashley, and he also talked to Cody Kennedy, the Razorbacks’ new tight ends coach, whose offensive front at Tulane went up against Ashley’s three-man front at Tulsa.
“I watched the [Tulane-Tulsa] game and he said they were well-coached,” Pittman said. “The thing about the [Tulsa] defense is they fly around. They play hard, and obviously Jermial has had some draft picks that he’s coached as well. I thought he could really help us in recruiting.”
Ashley’s background, including as a junior college coach at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, will give Arkansas recruiting help in three important areas: Texas preps, the Texas junior college ranks and eastern Oklahoma, which has provided Arkansas a steady diet of talent.
“Obviously he’ll have Oklahoma connections and Dallas connections for us in recruiting,” Pittman said.
“When I was at the junior college I was obviously all over Texas,” Ashley said. “At Tulsa, I had parts of Louisiana. I’ve had the junior colleges all over the country and a heavy emphasis in Texas. So Houston, San Antonio, the Metroplex, central Texas, I’ve kind of been all over.”
Ashley said the draw to Arkansas was in joining a staff led by Pittman and also featuring defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who added Ashley and linebackers coach Michael Scherer to the front seven, while he and protege Sam Carter work with the defensive backs.
“First and foremost, the opportunity with Coach Odom and Coach Pittman,” Ashley said. “The people that I knew that really had a relationship with those guys spoke very highly of them and had nothing but great things to say about them. … In this profession, when you can surround yourself with great men and great people, I think you’re putting yourself at an advantage for success.”
Ashley said he considered Odom a very sharp, brilliant individual and a great man.
“In my time with him, he loves to develop the people around him, the coaches and the players,” he said. “That is one of the things that I an extremely excited about, just the opportunity to help myself progress in this profession.”
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