State of the Hogs: DC History

Who is the best defensive coordinator in Arkansas history? There's a lot to cover, including the likes of Jim Mackenzie, Charley Coffey and Monte Kiffin.

Most everyone knows the play caller, or offensive coordinator. Throughout the history of Arkansas football, there has been gnashing of teeth on all kinds of plays that were called or weren't called.

What about the pass interception Bill Montgomery threw in the second half of the 1969 Texas game? Who called that play? Frank Broyles could have ordered a Bill McClard field goal and what surely would have been a 17-8 Arkansas lead.

But no one second guesses the oh-so-many defensive calls throughout that game, a blitz here or a safe cover there. It's the nature of football. Most remember the offensive play calls, but not the defensive calls.

Who even remembers the defensive coordinators? Who can tell me who was better Jimmy Johnson or Charley Coffey? Joe Lee Dunn or Joe Kines? Did Keith Burns make the calls or Bobby Allen? They were co-defensive coordinators in title. How about John Thompson or Allen? Or, who was making the defensive calls in the Cotton Bowl against Missouri, Reggie Herring or Louis Campbell?

Would you take Dave Wommack over Miles Aldridge? How about Bob Cope over Don Lindsey? Who is the best of all-time at Arkansas, Monte Kiffin or Jim Mackenzie? Maybe Charley Coffey.

Mackenzie was listed as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator under Broyles in 1964-65. He was a great one. He followed Broyles from Missouri. Coffey may be the most under valued Arkansas DC. He had those great units in 1968-69 when Arkansas left the monster to a 4-3 front that was as multiple as any today.

Coffey's fronts could jump to a 3-4 or a 5-2 in a step. And, like Mackenzie's defenses, Coffey demanded a great first step at all positions. Mackenzie, Coffey and Kiffin were fundamentally sound.

Have you thrown your hands up by now? Enough of these questions about coaches not on your radar?

I give you points if you know that Fred Goldsmith was Kenny Hatfield's defensive coordinator. And, extra points if you are aware that Willy Robinson once was defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers or knew that Mackenzie left the Arkansas staff to become head coach at Oklahoma. More points are awarded if you knew that Mackenzie died in the spring after his first season at OU, at the age of 37.

The defensive coordinators are often the most colorful characters on the football staff. I remember seeing Kiffin carried off the field at Lincoln after Oklahoma beat the Cornhuskers on a play just before the gun. He wasn't carried off the field in celebration. He couldn't walk. He keeled over as if he'd been shot.

Herring was interesting. He was the guy who put "loafers" in pink practice jerseys, until cancer survivors protested that it was a highly respected color, not something to be used as punishment. Reggie got it quickly and relented.

Herring provided my favorite post-game quote. It was after Southern Cal humiliated the Hogs, 70-17, in Los Angeles in 2005. Sitting on a curb under the stands in the LA Coliseum afterwards, Reggie said, "Some day when I'm on the back of a garbage truck, it's going to be written on the side of the truck with an arrow pointing at me, 'This is the guy who gave up 70 to USC.' I deserve that."

There was the time that Burns had the Arkansas defense meet the Alabama bus at the south end of Razorback Stadium on the Friday walk through. Burns had his troops challenge the Crimson Tide, then dance back to the Broyles Center. That one worked out, but some of the other Burns motivational tricks didn't.

Burns was blitz happy, to a fault. So was Lindsey. Joe Lee Dunn was a blitz king, too. He liked to present a moving target to the offensive line, as in no one in a three-point stance. When it worked, it was beautiful to watch. But often it left a running back dancing to the end zone.

As Danny Ford told me once, with Joe Lee's defense, the band was going to play. It might be the other team's band just as much.

Joe Kines had some colorful quotes and a style short on blitzes. He'd play base and make you like it – if he had enough players. But he was always sound.

Kines was a treat at Razorback Club barbecues. I remember the first time I heard him, at the Saline County Club. He told the Benton group, "The SEC is blood thirsty. Don't sit in the front row unless you wear a rain coat. In the SEC, they slit your throat and drink your blood."

All of this is an introduction to another new defensive coordinator at Arkansas, Bret Bielema's new man, Robb Smith. He follows Chris Ash, yet another one-year wonder as Arkansas defensive coordinator.

Ash followed Paul Haynes, who had the Cottom Bowl after the 2011 season, and the 2012 campaign under John L. Smith. Then, there was Willy Robinson, another great quote machine. There were dozens of great lines from Smith during his four years as Bobby Petrino's defensive coordinator.

"He hits like he could be a cookie duster," said Robinson, himself a treat after practice.

Robinson was not afraid to yell back at Petrino when the head coach was upset when a safety was lined up wrong, confusing a quarterback educated to look for a certain step. Robinson would respond from 50 yards away, "Coach, I didn't put him there. He put himself there!"

When Robinson found out I was a fly fisherman, he said, "I went for trout in the California mountains. I set out yo-yos. You know what a yo-yo is? Maybe you call them limb lines in Arkansas?"

Then, Robinson explained that he'd take a flask of whiskey and a pistol strapped to his hip on his trout trips.

"When you take a nap after you empty the flask, you may have a snake next to you when you wake up," Robinson said. "I like it to be a .45."

Okay, a defensive coordinator with a flask and a .45 sounds about right. Kiffin was a dandy, but I'd hate to think of him with either after seeing him leave the field in Lincoln.

Kiffin dueled verbally with Lou Holtz during scrimmages. He enjoyed stuffing some of Lou's best offenses. But mostly they were on separate fields at Arkansas. Lou took the stadium. Kiffin took his troops south of the stadium.

What will be Smith be like at Arkansas? One of the early scouting reports from Tampa is that he's an incredibly nice guy. Ash was that, too, as was Haynes. Neither was colorful.

I do give Ash credit for being straight forward. He told me last May after finishing his spring evaluation that the Hogs had some defensive players that would play anywhere in the country. He said others wouldn't play anywhere.

Trying to explain why Daunte Carr was listed first at middle linebacker to start fall camp, Ash said, "There is really no one else." I got it.

One of the things we know about Smith, he's likely to be on the sideline on game day. He didn't promise that, but he said that's where he's "accustomed" to setting up shop.

There's so much to learn about Smith. Bielema dominated his defensive coordinator's first group media session. I understood because Bielema felt there were some questions that needed to be answered before turning things over to Smith.

Bielema provided a hint of their close relationship when he said he was worried that Smith's wife Amy was upset with him because things dragged a little in the hiring process. Bielema said, "I've known her longer than Robb has." I didn't get to ask a follow-up question, but thought of a couple.

I'm told that Smith can coach by someone who watched him at Tampa. A reporter who covered him at Rutgers said he's as good on game day as he is on the practice field, exceptional at both. He's a teacher and a tactician. He knows special teams and has tricks that help in blocking punts and field goals.

There is good waiting for Smith at Arkansas. The defensive talent, especially at safety, is improving and there are fewer experienced quarterbacks on the Arkansas schedule, something Ash noted in January of 2013 when he began to break down opposition tape. He saw top flight quarterbacks every week. Smith gets a break with the graduation of the likes of Johnny Manziel, A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger.

As I've learned, it's a lot easier to blitz the rookies than the veterans. Smith did admit that he tended to call more blitzes when facing a young quarterback.

The good ones understand that. Now, if you've been paying attention, give me the short list of good ones who have served as defensive coordinator at Arkansas.

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