Reports have begun circulating that Arkansas and defensive coordinator Robb Smith will soon part ways.
The Razorbacks defense has steadily declined since finishing the 2014 season, Smith’s first with the program, No. 10 nationally in yards allowed per game. Arkansas finished the 2016 season 75th nationally in total defense. The Hogs were particularly poor against the run, giving up an FBS-worst 39 rushing touchdowns.
If Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is soon in search of a new defensive coordinator, here are three potential candidates who could fill the vacancy:
Rhoads is easily the most obvious candidate. A well-respected voice on the Hogs staff, he spent 2016 as defensive backs coach. He has nine seasons of experience as a defensive coordinator at Pitt and Auburn. He also guided Iowa State to three bowl appearances in seven seasons (2009-15) as the Cyclones’ head coach.
As Auburn’s defensive coordinator in 2008, Rhoads’ only season as a coordinator in the SEC, he oversaw a unit that finished 14th nationally in points allowed. He also has worked with several different defensive schemes and spent time assisting heavily with special teams throughout his career.
That wealth of experience shows he’s more than qualified and makes it unlikely he’ll remain simply a position coach for long. If Bielema wants to keep him around, a promotion likely will have to be in order sooner rather than later.
Could a reunion be in order for Bielema and his former defensive coordinator? It certainly makes sense for both parties. Partridge needs a job, and Bielema needs someone he trusts to rebuild the Hogs defense.
Partridge was fired last month after three straight 3-9 seasons as head coach at Florida Atlantic. Prior to that, he served as Bielema’s defensive coordinator at Wisconsin (2011-12) and as Bielema’s defensive line coach at Arkansas (2013). The Badgers defense finished in the top 20 nationally in both seasons with Partridge serving as Bielema’s coordinator.
A Florida native, Partridge also has been known as an exceptional recruiter in his home state. While at Arkansas, he served as the primary recruiter for 4-star running back Alex Collins out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the 2013 class.
The 37-year-old Central Florida defensive coordinator is a fast-rising name in the coaching world who likely will have a plethora of prominent job opportunities soon coming his way.
Chinander was one of 40 nominees for the 2016 Broyles Award, given annually to the top FBS assistant. In his first season at UCF, the Knights defense rose from 114th nationally in 2015 to 39th in 2016, allowing 94 fewer yards per game.
With Arkansas still potentially looking to shift primarily into a 3-4 defense next season, Chinander could be a perfect fit. It’s the same scheme he’s implemented at UCF and worked in at previous stops, including the 2013 season with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Maybe most interestingly is Bielema likely already has somewhat of a relationship with Chinander. They both played at Iowa, and Bielema was linebackers coach for the Hawkeyes during four of Chinander’s five years (1998-2002) at the school.