FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Paul Rhoads still isn’t quite over the way his one head coaching opportunity ended a little more than a year ago. That fact adds to the excitement over his recent promotion to Arkansas defensive coordinator.
“I’ve never put timetables on anything that I’ve wanted to accomplish, career- and goal-oriented,” Rhoads said Saturday, when he was formally introduced to the media as the Hogs’ new defensive coordinator. “Do I want to be a head coach again? Absolutely I do. I don’t like the way I finished up that opportunity that I was given.
“You have to do incredibly good at the job that you’re at if you’re going to get an opportunity at the next job. That will be our focus here with this.”
Rhoads — who was fired after 7 seasons as Iowa State’s head coach in November 2015 — spent the 2016 season as Arkansas’ defensive backs coach. That job, with less responsibility, gave him a fresh perspective and the opportunity for more one-on-one work with players, but also left him feeling “empty to a certain extent,” he said Saturday.
Prior to his Iowa State tenure, Rhoads was a highly-respected defensive coordinator at both Pittsburgh and Auburn.
Bielema said Saturday that even back when he was interviewing Rhoads for the defensive backs coach position, he felt like he had his future defensive coordinator should Robb Smith ever leave.
Then in 2016, Arkansas’ defense was dreadful throughout most of the season. The Hogs finished ranked 75th in the country in total defense and 94th in rushing defense.
Those facts, in Bielema’s eyes, necessitated a change. Smith left the Hogs earlier this month and became Minnesota’s defensive coordinator, and Bielema quickly promoted Rhoads.
Rhoads’ time as Iowa State’s head coach began strong. He led the Cyclones to bowl eligibility in three of his first four seasons there and scored some huge upsets, including a 2011 win over No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State that ultimately kept the Cowboys out of the national championship game.
But things never progressed from there. Iowa State went 8-28 over Rhoads’ final 3 seasons.
As defensive coordinator, Rhoads will oversee Arkansas’ transition to a 3-4 base scheme. This will be his first coordinator job since he ran Auburn’s defense in 2008.
The decision to promote Rhoads means that both of Bielema’s coordinators are former head coaches. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos was Central Michigan’s head coach from 2010-14.
“You just have a perspective on things that is … you can’t imagine what it is,” Bielema said when asked about the value of having former head coaches in those positions. “The accountability factor for every person on your football team, but also the accountability factor for every staff member, for the university. The things that you carry on your shoulders.”
That’s a place Rhoads would like to be again at some point in his career. At 49 years old, he certainly has lots of time left in his career to earn another head coaching gig.
But that journey now depends on the job he does rebuilding the Arkansas defense.