Greg Schiano recalls the “tipping point” moment for his Rutgers program. It came in year five. It will come at Arkansas, too, in Bret Bielema's process of rebuilding in the Ozarks. He knows because Bielema is staying within his vision.
Schiano told the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club that defense would return with new coordinator Robb Smith calling the shots for the Razorbacks. He knows after spending 36 hours with his former assistant at Rutgers and the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Smith said after practice Tuesday that he hoped that Schiano “would recognize” his scheme when he arrived for the visit in the meeting room and to watch one practice. Schiano said Wednesday after finishing at the TD club – and declining a speaker's fee – that it was easy to see the details that Smith had installed after arriving last winter.
“I saw it,” Schiano said. “It's going to take a little time for everything to come together, but it's going to be relentless effort and that doesn't just happen by accident. As they get more precise, it will get better and better. They will have 11 running to the ball in a wave, not seven, or five.
"I watch a lot of tape and you see defenses that you say, 'Wow!' when you plug in the tape. They are going to have great defense here, something they haven't had in awhile."
“You are going to see takeaways. I'm a big believer that great defenses make their own luck. I think they have some very good young players here, too, some who are just freshmen.
“Everyone is on the same page. They buy in. The players have a clear vision of what is expected and that's the most important thing.”
Interestingly, Smith said after practice Tuesday when asked to compare Schiano, his old boss, with Bielema, it came down to vision.
“They do some things different, some things the same, but the one common denominator all the way through is that they have a vision, a plan and they don't deviate,” Smith said. “That's so important.”
Schiano spoke about the vision during his presentation to the TD club, then to the media afterwards.
“I really don't think scheme matters so much,” Schiano said. “Offense, defense, it isn't about scheme. It's about sticking to your vision, the plan. If you stick to your plan, the players will get better and better. If you don't stick to it, the players know it first and then you are going to have problems.
“I think Bret has his plan. It's recruiting, it's development, it's a focus on academics. I've been at 12 places since last spring, college and NFL and they are doing it as well as anyone right here. The signs are here in what I've seen in the last 36 hours.
“You can't get distracted by what is going on around you, what is being said. No one can eat you. Just stay to the plan and Bret will do that.”
Schiano accepted the TD club appearance and time with the media for the first time since being let go at Tampa last winter.
“I just have stayed away from the media,” he said. “I have had chances, but I just didn't want to do it. I was coming to see Robb in camp anyway and he told me about the TD club. I believe in what this club is doing, promoting football, so I thought it important to do the club.
“Our game needs support right now. People are attacking football from all angles and I think it's just a wonderful game. It teaches so many important lessons. My sons are playing football. I think it's important to do these type clubs and give back to the game. So I wanted to do it. I am pleased to be speaking to you.”
And, he did it for free, just like he volunteered at his son's high school workouts. What he's doing is as simple as making sure stances are correct and some of the simple things that are missed by some junior varsity coaches.
“But I am so proud that my son is playing for this particular high school coach,” he said. “Last spring, they had a practice and prom was that night. He called a team meeting to instruct the players on how you treat your date at prom. I loved that. My high school coach did the same thing for me.”
It's the kind of thing that he knows Bielema, Smith and other coaches on the Arkansas staff are going to do “because I know them as people. They will be mentors to them. They are doing things right here. They are going to win, too. How quickly, I'm not sure, but there will come a tipping point and it's going to happen.”
Schiano was asked about how to defend the spread, something Smith must do in 10 days at Auburn. Schiano said he's seen the plan, but he wouldn't discuss it.
“I know that the father of the Auburn running back coach is here today,” Schiano said, noting he met Harold Horton before the lunch. “I did tell (Arkansas coaches) that nothing they showed me would be shared today. I do know that they have a good plan.”
Schiano said he likes the Arkansas personnel, but said he wouldn't talk about specific players. He said he's particularly impressed by many of the freshmen, noting several that will be great players before they are done in college.
“I like the defensive front,” he said. “I see speed and quickness, exactly what you need to play the style that we played at Rutgers and what they will play here. I learned that from Dave Wannstedt and he learned it from Jimmy Johnson. It's the way they played at Arkansas years ago when Jimmy was here.
“It's a style that gets you up the field. I don't believe in a nose tackle standing straight up and trying to hold his ground against two blockers. I believe in moving, playing with quickness and getting aggressive in the front. It's a run and hit style, maybe a little different than what they played at Miami, but definitely more up-the-field.
“I think it's a style that is fun to coach and I think it's fun to play. I think the players like what Robb is doing here right now.”
Ultimately, Schiano did talk about defending the spread, particularly Auburn's variation under Gus Malzahn.
“I know Gus is a local guy and he's a very good coach,” he said. “But when you say spread, it can mean a lot of different things, but for some like Gus it definitely doesn't mean pass. He averaged 286 yards rushing against SEC teams – and that's not against any directional teams. Smitty told me that and that's just unheard of against SEC competition.
“Part of it is deception, formation. Part of it is ball movement by the quarterback. Part of it is the quarterback runs. When the quarterback runs, you change the math. It's not 11 on 10, it's 11 on 11 and that's much harder to defend.
“What it requires is discipline. And, you must run to the football. Then, the last thing, you cannot allow the three big passes over the top. You avoid those big passes over the top, it's going to be a close game.
“I've been in meetings the last 36 hours. I have faith in Robb's defense.”
Schiano hired Smith at Rutgers after hearing almost his entire staff speak for his work at Maine.
“I was going to hire him anyway, but I got him in for the interview and got him on the board and he blew me away,” Schiano said. “Funny thing, he got snowed in and one day turned into three. He had one set of clothes. By the second day, we put him to work and he was breaking down defenses.
“I had been told he was a detail guy, but I saw it almost immediately. That's what Bret has, a great detail guy. I think he is one of the bright young coaches in our game. That's why I say it's not Xs and Os, it's about attention to detail. He's got that.”
Schiano was already planning another trip back to see Smith, his family and the rest of the Arkansas coaches.
“I am going to come to a game,” he said. “I'll look at the schedule and pick one. I am excited to be here and I want to come back. Trust me, I'm a Razorback fan now.”
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