Keep it simple seemed to be the motto for Robb Smith as he builds yet another defensive system for an Arkansas defense that has seen constant change over the last three seasons.
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema sat side by side with Smith, his new defensive coordinator and secondary coach, at a media opportunity Monday morning in the football offices. It took a couple of tries by Bielema and Smith to explain what they have in mind by a new simple system.
The only unanswered question Monday came when Bielema revealed that Smith would coach safeties and cornerbacks. Taver Johnson coached corners for the Hogs last year and is still on staff. Bielema said Johnson's duties "are a work in progress," but did note that it could be that he's in charge of the nickel back and helps with corners, a related spot.
Among the things hammered out in the media opportunity, Smith will operate out of a base front of 4-3 and use "quarter coverage" in the secondary. He could operate out of the press box, but is accustomed to being on the sideline. Bielema said he interviewed four others that could have been "legitimate" options had Smith declined.
Smith follows Chris Ash, now at Ohio State. Ash followed a one-year stint by Paul Haynes, now head coach at Kent State. That was after Willy Robinson served four years as Arkansas DC. Smith knows there has been a lot of change as far as defensive philosophy, terminology, scheme and technique.
And, Smith also knows that some of the candidates for playing time on defense might not be on campus now. Bielema and Smith both addressed that Monday morning after Bielema went over tape of the latest UA signing class.
"We watched recruiting film yesterday," Bielema said. "I wanted him to see that."
"I feel the same way as Bret, we are going to play the best football players," Smith said of the idea of freshmen help for the defense.
"Right now, I'm still in a kind of evaluation process to figure out what people's strengths and what people's weaknesses are. But a lot of that philosophy in getting freshmen ready to play, we've got to be very simple with what we do and we have to be precise. A lot of the things Bret talked about with languages and communication so that the system is in place so that they learn it and give themselves to compete for a chance to play."
Some things, Bielema said, won't change. Specifically, he said the numbering system to identify offensive personnel will stay the same. But Smith said other things could change.
"We want to have a systematic approach," Smith said. "It's all about communication on defense, and where things are already in place, where the communication fits the system, I'll change my verbage. If there's a scenario that maybe we can make it fit a little bit better systematically, we'll change.
"But we're going to try to keep it as consistent as possible for the players from this point forward, make it easier and simpler for them to learn."
It's going to be simple and aggressive.
"You know, the biggest thing I think is just get everybody on the same page," Smith said "Speak the same language, No. 1. Bring a philosophy, an aggressive philosophy to our defense. Bret and I have had a lot of discussions.
"Offenses, there's a lot of multitude of offenses out there right now. And they make you work a lot. And they dictate the game. we want to do that defensively. And the best way to do that is no. 1, we want to swarm to the football. No. 2, we want to be physical at all levels of our defense. Whether you're a corner, a safety, a linebacker. And those things don't take much talent. That's just an attitude.
"That's the first thing we're going to bring. Schematically, we'll get into other things because you've got to do certain things to stop certain offenses. But at the end of the day we'll be simple and get the ball rolling in the right direction."
Bielema said Smith joined him in Miami during a recruiting visit in the middle of January when linebackers coach Randy Shannon had a chance for a sit down with the new defensive coordinator candidate. Did Smith feel like Shannon was interviewing him for the job?
"I didn't," Smith said. "We kind of grabbed a cup of coffee and we talked football. I don't want to speak for Randy, but he was very comfortable in that setting talking football. And I know that's really my biggest comfort level talking football. We sat for a couple of hours and it seemed like it was 15 minutes because the time flew.
"We really found we were on the same page on a lot of things and shared the same vision. I thought it went very smoothly."
The whole idea of working with Shannon excited Smith. They have a common bond, a connection with Dave Wannstedt. You can stretch that to an Arkansas tie since Wannstedt played for Jimmy Johnson, a UA grad, at Pitt, then coached with him at Oklahoma State, Miami and with the Dallas Cowboys. Shannon played under Johnson at Dallas, then started his coaching career under Pat Jones, under Wannstedt with the Miami Dolphins.
"I'm excited about that," Smith said. "Really, at the end of the day, Randy and I share some of the same visions of defense. I know he worked with Coach Wannstedt, a coach that's been very helpful to me in this process and that defense at Chicago is kind of transformed into what I've been accustomed to at Rutgers and at Tampa Bay. Randy has a background at that, too, so we were kind of able to speak the same language. We have a lot of the same goals and a lot of the same visions. And I'm excited to work with him and play championship defense."
Bielema said staying on the same page is important.
"I will be able to help out there a little bit, and Randy as well and Taver," Bielema said. "One thing I said a year ago is let's not change anything we as coaches can learn instead of trying to make our players learn.
"So, here's a simple thing. The world under is a way to ... It's a type of defense. It's how we first learned from it. When I first learned it, it was under defense, but it was also a lot like Eagle defense. And I know this means nothing to you, but Eagle defense became Under defense, Under defense then became Tight defense.
"It's three different words, but here's how Smitty and I think ... We like the word tight, which means it's going to be the exact same thing as kids know under, but tight is very quick, concise verbage that you can get done in a short amount of time. So, we'll go on the air of whatever allows us to speak a language that our players can understand in a very short time frame. It has to have meaning, and it has to have a direction.
"That's where we'll go. But, for instance, our lead coverage a year ago was a coverage called eight, which is basically a pure quarters concept that allowed our corners and safeties to play quarters coverage, played a little bit of off. Smitty and I are huge, Robb and I are both believers in quarter-quarter-half, which we call Cover 6.
"It's just going to help our players play a little bit more aggressive, play with a little bit more of their attitude. Up front, I think the other part that coach Smith and I are very excited about is the aggressive style Rory (Segrest, new defensive line coach) brings.
"I haven't had a press conference on Rory, but the one thing that really jumped out. Rory, when I started out with a list of resumes, wasn't necessarily at the top, but after I interviewed him and I talked to people, he kept rising and rising. When I came to make a decision, he was the first and only man I offered the job to because it's all about getting across the line of scrimmage and being aggressive and letting our guys play in a manner I think the SEC plays with. Nothing against what we were doing; it just allows us to play a little bit better."
What was Bielema thinking in the progression of interviews for his defensive coordinator job?
"I didn't talk to a lot of people about this process," he said. "I felt it was a big hire for me as a head coach; I wanted to keep the circle tight. I didn't let a lot of people in.
"I interviewed a lot of people that didn't want their names getting out there. I think it's very entertaining for me to watch speculation and thoughts and processes go through, because as head coaches, if you want information out there, you let it out there. Guys that want to leak names out there or want to say certain things, you do it.
"As a head coach, I've just never been in that racket, so I kept everything very, very tight. Talked to several people that will never have their names released because I told them that and felt it was important. But one of the first people I talked to Robb about, who didn't really even know our connection ... I talked to Sam Pittman because North Carolina played Rutgers several times.
"Sam right away made the reference that probably in his tenure that Rutgers was one of the most difficult preparations for them offensively because of the pressures, the misdirection and the complexity of their defense that they went against. So, I thought that was a pretty nice feather in his cap."
With the defensive coordinator post open during recruiting, what were the questions from players and parents in the living room?
"That's a great question," Bielema said. "It never came up. There was one kid who played safety. His dad asked a question, and it wasn't really even a pressing issue to the young man, but the dad asked the question who is going to be his safeties coach?
"I said, 'Well, I can guarantee this, as good as the last one is, the next one is going to be better. I can assure you this, your son comes and plays at Arkansas and we have the success we're going to have, the chances of him having that same safeties coach for the next four years is probably very, very small.'
"The world of college football athletics has changed. Transition happens quite a bit, whether it's right or wrong -- if you've got good coaches. It's not like I'm firing these people. So, it never came up at any other time. Not even mentioned, not asked about, not spoken about to any of the young men, especially the young men, not anybody we were in the final process with. I think that part was probably overblown on the outside world looking in. I think a little bit because of the track record that we've had. We hire good coaches, we bring them in and we have success and they move."
Bielema knows there has been a lot of change on defense for the Arkansas players.
"It has," Bielema said. "I think that's the part that I realized after a year how much, in my opinion, we could've helped our kids out as well as helped our staff out.
"We had two defensive coaches come from Wisconsin. We had randy coming from a variety of backgrounds. And taver who had been here. I thought we could blend it together and we did at a certain level. But I do think an overriding issues is just making sure we're all speaking the same language.
"We are trying to make it a little bit more concise, a little more detailed, a little simpler for our guys. I think Robb, one common person we both shared, was a guy by the name of Norm Parker who, really as a mentor, passed about a month ago. But a guy that really taught us to speak simplicity in the world of college football as good as anybody.
"I don't want to overstep Robb, but we talked a lot yesterday just about even just how to set a front. There's a million different ways you can set it. And we tried to, when I first came here, we tried to put it in a package you could call one call and set the front to every situation. I don't know if that's the case.
"I think you've got to believe in something and build around it. that's kind of the guidance that I know Robb and I both shared and that's what we'll take."
Robb Smith: Keep it Simple
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