FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema knew he had something potentially special with Paul Rhoads not long after hiring him as defensive backs coach in February 2016.
Rhoads — the former Iowa State head coach who was a successful defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh and Auburn — replaced Robb Smith as the Razorbacks’ defensive coordinator in January. He has been tasked with installing a new 3-4 base defense and overhauling a unit that was terrible for much of last season.
“I knew I had a coordinator-in-waiting,” Bielema said Monday during an SEC football coaches teleconference. “I knew if I had a transition on the defensive side of the ball, I had a guy I could promote immediately.”
And that is precisely what Bielema did shortly after parting ways with Smith in early January.
Bielema also fired defensive line coach Rory Segrest after the 2016 season.
The only defensive assistant coach to return in 2017 was linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves, who had his role more narrowly defined. He now coaches inside linebackers.
Chad Walker was hired to coach outside linebackers, while John Scott Jr. jumped on board as the Hogs’ new defensive line coach.
Rhoads spent the spring installing the new defense and Bielema is hoping the defensive changes pay off in 2017.
“We had 15 productive practices,” Bielema said Monday. “I thought the transition we had on our staff was very very good.”