Arkansas football head coach Bret Bielema announced Thursday the hiring of Clay Jennings as defensive backs coach. Jennings, who earned a reputation as TCU's ace recruiter, brings 16 years of coaching in the secondary and more than a decade at schools in the state of Texas to the position.
"I'm thrilled to add Clay Jennings to our staff as his experience blends well with our defensive coaches' philosophy and terminology," Coach Bielema said. "He was an instrumental part of a defensive unit at TCU known for giving an opposing offense a variety of looks while keeping schemes simple for their own players. In addition, his knowledge of the recruiting landscape in Texas will be a great benefit to our program."
Jennings replaces Taver Johnson, who left Arkansas to coach cornerbacks at Purdue. Robb Smith was named defensive coordinator last week. Bielema said Smith would coach the entire secondary. It would appear that Jennings will help Smith with the cornerbacks. He joins Randy Shannon, UA linebackers coach, whom he worked with for one year at TCU.
Jennings has coached in Arkansas, at Southern Arkansas under Steve Roberts for one season. He's known Robb Smith since they were both in Iowa together. Jennings was at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and Smith was a GA at Iowa. They met at the coaching convention and have kept up with each other.
Obviously, Jennings knows Shannon well. Shannon was complimentary to Bielema when his name came up. Bielema mentioned that tonight at the White County Razorback Club in Searcy. Bielema said he's coached against Jennings and always has been respectful of his ability to coach and recruit.
Jennings will help Smith with corners and safeties. That appealed to him in making the move. Bielema told him if he wanted to be a defensive coordinator, he'd have to have more than cornerback experience.
"Coach Bielema was emphatic that if I wanted to be a coordinator, that guys with just cornerback background don't get those jobs," Jennings said. "I want to be close to what's going on with the safeties, learn the run game fits.
"I know that working with Coach Smith will be great in that way. Coach Smith is going to have his hands on all aspects of the defense."
Jennings knows he brings Texas recruiting to the table. He's worked in the Dallas Metroplex most of his coaching career and also has relationships in Southeast Texas.
"I was born and raised in Waco, played at North Texas University and I'm well versed in the coaches in those areas," Jennings said. "I can't wait to recruit the kids in those areas to Arkansas. I've been recruiting Texas since my third job, at SAU in Magnolia, in 2000.
"I have always had great respect for Arkansas. I knew high school teammates and players I played against who came here. They always said good things.
"I love this area. It's close to Texas. I've always had the University of Arkansas on my radar."
Jennings said he had not studied the roster, but does know some of the players.
"I recruited Tevin Mitchel and Will Hines," he said. "So I know them. Will is from my hometown. But I don't know the roster yet."
Jennings said his third full-time job was in Magnolia at SAU.
"I worked with John Bland, who played here at Arkansas," Jennings said. "We talked a lot about Arkansas so I knew all about it here."
There is a series with TCU in two years. Jennings knows some of his many recruits will be on the other sideline.
"The one thing I need to say, TCU gave me a great opportunity," he said. "I grew up as a man there under Coach (Gary) Patterson. TCU helped me become a better man. I know in two years there are some guys that were in the last two classes that I had a hand in recruiting. But I can promise you my blood is pumping red. Woo Pig Sooie!"
Jennings joined the TCU football staff as cornerbacks coach in January 2008. In his first three seasons with the Horned Frogs, TCU led the nation in total defense. From 2008-10, TCU became just the third program in NCAA history to lead the nation in total defense in three consecutive seasons.
In 2012, Jennings coached Jason Verrett to All-America honors in addition to being the San Antonio Express-News Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Verrett was also tabbed by CollegeFootballNews.com as the nation's top cornerback. He topped the Big 12 in interceptions (six) and passes defended (22) while being the only player nationally to rank in the top 10 in both categories. Verrett and Greg McCoy, a 2012 draft pick of the Chicago Bears, earned All-Mountain West honors in 2011. Jason Teague was a 2010 second-team All-MWC selection.
Both Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders were first-team All-MWC picks in 2009. Priest was ranked as the nation's sixth-best cornerback, while Sanders was tabbed by Sporting News as the MWC's hardest hitter. The duo also received all-conference accolades in 2008.
Jennings, who has coached six NFL defensive backs, came to the Horned Frogs after serving as the cornerbacks coach at Baylor in 2007.
Jennings worked two seasons (2005-06) as safeties coach at Houston. He helped the Cougars to back-to-back bowl appearances and the 2006 Conference USA championship. In 2006, Cougars' free safety Will Gulley earned Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year honors while Brandon Brinkley was named to the league's all-freshman squad.
In his first season at Houston, Jennings saw Rocky Schwartz earn Conference USA third-team all-conference honors and Kenneth Fontennette be named an honorable-mention Freshman All-American by Sporting News.
Prior to his two-year stint at Houston, Jennings spent two seasons (2003-04) as the defensive backs coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, where he helped the Ragin' Cajuns to a No. 11 national ranking in pass defense. At Louisiana- Lafayette, Jennings tutored NFL players Antwain Spann (New England Patriots), C.C. Brown (Houston Texans) and Michael Adams (Arizona Cardinals).
Jennings also worked two years (2001-02) as secondary coach and recruiting coordinator at Sam Houston State. He helped the Bearkats to a share of the 2001 Southland Conference championship and the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs. At SHSU, Jennings coached All-American and Buck Buchanan Award finalist Keith Davis, who just completed his fifth season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Jennings also coached the secondary at Southern Arkansas (2000), Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa (1999) and Morehouse College in Atlanta (1998). At SAU, Jennings mentored Jordan Babineaux of the Seattle Seahawks. At Morningside, Jennings coached first-team All-American Matt Walker.
A four-year letterwinner (1992-95) as a defensive lineman and special teams standout at North Texas, Jennings was a member of the Mean Green's 1994 Southland Conference championship team and the school's first NCAA Division I-A squad in 1995. He began his coaching career as a student assistant (1996) and then graduate assistant (1997) at North Texas before moving on to Morehouse.
Jennings is a 1992 graduate of Waco's La Vega High School and a 1996 North Texas alumnus (Bachelors of Science in kinesiology). Jennings and his wife, Belinda, have two children: son Kirby and daughter Kenzie.
Feb. 2014 Arkansas (Defensive Backs)
2008-Feb. 2014 TCU (Cornerbacks)
2007 Baylor (Cornerbacks)
2005-06 Houston (Safeties)
2003-04 Louisiana-Lafayette (Secondary)
2001-02 Sam Houston State (Secondary/Recruiting Coordinator)
2000 Southern Arkansas (Secondary)
1999 Morningside (Secondary)
1998 Morehouse (Secondary)
1997 North Texas (Graduate Assistant)
1996 North Texas (Student Assistant)
Jennings Hired by Bielema
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