Bret Bielema had to get rid of someone. That someone is Robb Smith.
Hogs for Breakfast — this morning piece every weekday — was the only press piece who called for the exit. Part of it was because I smelled it coming. That doesn’t mean, however, I wish any ill will toward Smith. And, frankly, some of the comments I’ve seen thrown his direction are troubling.
Smith still is, technically, Arkansas’ defensive coordinator. But he’s been linked to two separate jobs over the last few days. One was to run Wake Forest’s defense. The other, and the one it seems he’ll take, is to be defensive coordinator at Minnesota.
By the way, Minnesota finished the season with a better record than Arkansas, plays in a tougher conference (at least this season the Big 10 was better than the SEC) and the Golden Gophers won their bowl game. When it comes to fruition — which it will, barring some kind of odd setback — Smith doesn’t seem to be in much worse shape than from whence he came.
That’s because he isn’t a bad coach. It was just time for a change at Arkansas. Bielema’s team couldn’t have the sort of season it had and then have everyone get off scot-free. Too many things went awry, sideways or downright poorly. More often than not, those things were defensive in nature. Whether it was the 50-plus points allowed to Auburn or the second-half collapses against Texas A&M, Missouri and Virginia Tech, someone was getting the boot.
Now, technically, Smith isn’t fired. He’s not even out of a job yet. But he’s gone, for all intents and purposes. Just not fired. Whoever else is next to exit won’t be fired, either, probably. Bielema is too nice a guy to just cut someone out of a job if he’s not getting accomplished what he should. The head coach has fired assistants before, but it won’t be off this team.
Really, though, good for Smith as he deserves another whirl. And Minnesota works well for him as it reunites him with P.J. Fleck, with whom he worked with at Rutgers and in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Lots of things to clean up with the Minnesota program off the field and the Gophers aren’t really a power on it. But there are worse places to land off an SEC coordinator job.
Good for Arkansas, too. Smith wasn’t necessarily the problem. It was also clear things weren’t going to get better with him on the staff, either. At least, not markedly better. Whether it was his schemes (somewhat), the players (somewhat), relationships in the room (somewhat) or anything else, things just were going the wrong direction. Too much had gotten foul; Smith was the unfortunate (fortunate, perhaps) casualty.
Wish him nothing but the best.
As Bielema is prone to saying, “Next man up.”
Arkansas’ ‘gotta-win’ not a ‘must-win’ game
Arkansas basketball is back on the court already, hosting Mississippi State Tuesday at Bud Walton Arena for an 8 p.m. tip.
Some people thought that Tennessee last week on the road in Knoxville was a “must-win” game for the Hogs. Nope. This one, however, just might be. Or as close as “must-win” in the front half of conference schedule games can come. This is how the SEC basketball standings currently, uh, stand.
Arkansas’ 1-2 record in conference play isn’t the fret. The Razorbacks’ two losses have come to the two best teams in the SEC. Arkansas might just be the third-best team. Don’t sweat where Arkansas sits.
Sweat the teams all around. Arkansas won’t play Kentucky again this regular season. A visit to Florida remains later in the season, but in between, not a lot of NCAA Tournament-type teams are on the Razorbacks’ slate. That means Arkansas needs as many wins as possible. Nonconference victories against Houston, Texas and Texas-Arlington aren’t going to, alone, carry Arkansas into the NCAA Tournament.
So, it’s absolutely paramount Arkansas beats the teams such as Mississippi State when they visit Bud Walton Arena. Too many slip-ups in such games and the tournament chances will fall like a rock. Good news is Arkansas is better than the Bulldogs. Bad news is that doesn’t always mean a lot.
Count on an Arkansas win Tuesday. Don’t count on it being easy.
- The Diamond Hogs 2017 roster is rounding into shape. Arkansas has 44 players on its baseball roster. The NCAA limit is 35. Odds are to get to that number, players will redshirt. Players who were part of the team last season but not this season include 1B/OF Austin Catron (previously reported), OF Darien Simms (previously reported), OF Jack Benninghoff, MI Blake Wiggins and LHP Ty Harris. Clarity will come to who is part of the 35-man roster closer to Opening Day, which is Feb. 17 against Miami (Ohio).
- Former Arkansas track star Veronica Campbell-Brown was named to the SEC Women’s Legend Class of 2017. Campbell-Brown was a three-time All-American at Arkansas in the early 2000s and is a three-time Olympic gold medalist.
- Speaking of track and field, both Arkansas’ current men’s and women’s teams enter outdoor season highly ranked. The preseason rankings have the women’s team pegged as the No. 2 team in the nation a year after winning the national outdoor title. Those same rankings, on the men’s side, have the Razorbacks at No. 4.
- Former Arkansas football coach Danny Ford will enter the College Football Hall of Fame, it was announced Monday. Ford won a national championship at Clemson in 1981 and also led Arkansas to its first SEC West crown in 1995. Induction is Dec. 5, 2017.
- Jason Kersey caught up with new Arkansas running back Maleek Williams, who worked hard to make it to campus early. He should still be in high school. Great stuff here.
- Here is a closer look at all 10 — yeah, 10, a crazy high number — early enrollees as part of Arkansas’ 2016 recruiting class, put together by our Trent Shadid.
S-E-C, S-E-C? Or #NeverBama?
Easy question. Monday night, were you all about SEC pride and preferring an Alabama win in the national championship or did you cast conference love aside because you can’t root for the Tide?