My how things change in a weekend. Entering Friday, Arkansas football still had Robb Smith hanging on as defensive coordinator. The worst-kept secret was Smith’s impending exit to Minnesota; it took about a week after initial reporting for it to become reality.
Now, three full days later, the search is officially on for Smith’s replacement.
Every single day someone asks me, “Who is it going to be?” Normally, I throw out a name based on sources and what they’re hearing. But this year, it’s different.
Oh, I still have names and ideas. I even have favorites. In 11 years of doing this professionally, I more or less know how coaches tend to work in these such hires. Arkansas, this year, however, is a different animal. It’s unlike any I’ve been around.
The defense was just so, so bad in 2016. Relationships in the room were frayed on top of that. Coach Bret Bielema had to do something, and not just because of the difficulties on field. Too many goings on behind the scenes. Smith was the casualty.
Questions aren’t exactly ceasing there. Smith might not be the only one to go. Bielema is notorious for not outright “firing” his assistants. Relationships weren’t so bad he would this time around, either. But someone still is on staff who didn’t see eye to eye with Smith. Does that coach stay? Or does he leave because of an underperforming unit, too?
Which brings us back to the initial question posited: Who replaces Smith? The answer isn’t simple and may alter depending on what happens to other jobs on the staff. Paul Rhoads remains the most likely candidate for the DC job. Charlie Partridge is out there, too, an old friend of Bielema’s and a former colleague. Jerry Montgomery is a possibility. All kinds of names. How it plays out, though, no telling.
Count on it being sooner rather than later, though. Bielema has known Smith was leaving for a while and he’s too smart to sit on his hands and wait until it became official to move. Dominoes are officially rolling.
Don’t expect the defense to just get better in a snap
Whoever comes in to replace Smith will have some work to do.
Arkansas finished the season with the 94th-ranked rushing defense in the country. The Hogs were 74th in total defense and 85th in scoring. The 2017 Razorbacks will also have lost their best potential NFLer (Deatrich Wise Jr.), a four-year starter (Brooks Ellis) and the best cover corner on the roster (Jared Collins).
The defense isn’t exactly bereft of talent, despite what some Smith apologists would have had you believe. There were NFLers on the team in 2016. There are NFLers on the team in 2017.
Dre Greenlaw, Ryan Pulley and McTelvin Agim are not bad places to start at linebacker, cornerback and defensive line. A small problem may be finding high-end players around them. Guys such as Randy Ramsey, Henre’ Toliver and Tevin Beanum have shown they can be SEC starters — and in the cases of the first two, above-average players — but a lot remains unknown.
Whatever happens, these five-best returners will have to carry a bulk of the load:
5. Kevin Richardson, cornerback/safety
4. Toliver, cornerback
3. Agim, defensive lineman
2. Pulley, cornerback
1. Greenlaw, linebacker
#ProHogs could win the Super Bowl
Three former Arkansas football players — coincidentally, all three running backs — saw their pro seasons come to an end over the weekend.
Alex Collins, the Seattle running back who left Arkansas just this past year, had 2 carries for 14 yards in the Seahawks’ loss to Atlanta on Saturday. Collins stands to be the team’s No. 2 running back next season, as of right now.
Another former Hogs running back, Darren McFadden, went down with the Cowboys on Sunday when a last-second field goal from Green Bay sent the team with the best record out early. McFadden only played in four games this season because of injury and he’s getting up in age. He could still be a backup in the league for a few more years.
Finally, Chiefs running back/return man Knile Davis didn’t see any action for the Chiefs in their loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Three ex-Arkansas players still have a shot to win the thing. Trey Flowers had 7 tackles for New England, which will play Cobi Hamilton (1 catch for 4 yards against Kansas City) and the Steelers in the AFC title game next weekend. And Brett Goode, the Packers’ long snapper, will get Atlanta in the NFC Championship next Sunday.
- Just how bad did things get under Smith this past season? Our Jason Kersey takes a deeper look at the Arkansas defensive struggles.
- Arkansas 2017 wide receiver recruit Maleek Barkley isn’t going anywhere. There was some question about his #loyalty to the Razorbacks, but he’s no Malik Monk as he showed this weekend.
- So, Arkansas basketball may have bounced back against Mizzou over the weekend, but the win didn’t help matters. The Razorbacks RPI actually dropped after the game, 247’s Andrew Hutchinson writes.
Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas
I’m not from Arkansas and despite my living here for six years of my life now, I was unaware there was a thing people did where they eat raccoon.
It’s not, like, something they do often. But once a year, for a couple generations now, politicians and locals meet up in Gillett, Ark., to have some of the finest raccoon meat in the country.
The event is a tradition with a unique history. And, what I like about it, it’s filled with Democrats and Republicans sharing good times. A good piece here by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on it.