Bret Bielema didn't have to go deep into his list to complete his staff with Jemal Singleton as running backs coach and special teams coordinator. The Air Force product was at the top after Troy Calhoun made a recommendation a couple of weeks ago.
Bielema, third-year Arkansas coach, had been delayed during the process of replacing Joel Thomas because of a Nike coaches trip last week. But the hiring was completed in just two days after Singleton came to campus Monday with his wife. Singleton spent the last four years at Oklahoma State, and before that was on Calhoun's staff at Air Force.
Bielema and Calhoun have been friends since serving on the coaches rules committee. They were together a couple of weeks ago when Calhoun gave him Singleton's name.
"He said, 'I got your guy,' and he mentioned Jemal," Bielema said. "I got his bio and was impressed. I had 23 guys interested and I put him at the top of the list and it was an easy decision when I got him in here Monday."
Singleton followed Bielema to the interview room on Thursday. He said he'd been on campus a couple of times during his days as the media officer while assigned to the air base in Jacksonville during his military commitment after graduating from the Air Force in 1999.
"There was a guy serving with me who had a cousin playing for Boise State and we came to watch him play Arkansas," Singleton said. "I went to another game, too. I learned about the Razorbacks. You saw it every where you went, on every street. That's the way it is here.
"I grew up in Texas, as did my wife. We both noticed that it was all Razorbacks here. In Texas, it's split up between a lot of schools. It's the main thing here."
Singleton said his lure to the Arkansas job was from many directions. He shares the same vision of program with Bielema, especially academics. He liked the idea that Arkansas had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers returning in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, players he noticed on Texas Tech tape when OSU prepared for the Red Raiders. And, there was the attraction to coaching in the SEC.
"You don't say it when you aren't here, but everyone knows it," Singleton said. "It's the best conference in the country. It's an attraction to coach in this league."
Singleton said Bielema's reputation is also among the reasons he came to Arkansas.
"I did talk to Coach Calhoun," he said. "We did discuss Coach Bielema and it was part of why I'm here."
Singleton spent time with the offensive staff as part of the interview process earlier this week, something Bielema did with the hiring of offensive coordinator Dan Enos six weeks ago. It's part of the reason Bielema thinks the new offensive staff has meshed so well.
"I think it's a lot like what we had last year with a new defensive coordinator in Robb Smith," Bielema said. "It's gone a lot like that transition went."
The offense has to complete the transition in the next two weeks ahead of the start of spring football practice, beginning the Monday before spring break, on March 16.
"We have to get our terminology together," Bielema said. "I think it's going well. Dan saw a lot of similarity in what we were doing. He has learned our terminology and a lot of the things we were using are similar to what he used as far as the Hogeneese (language). You see their formations from the Central Michigan tape and it was the same as ours, called similar things."
Singleton told Bielema that it should be an easy transition since he'd worked some in a pro system that Calhoun brought from the Houston Texans.
"He said it's not rocket science," Bielema said of Singleton's thoughts. "He said he did take a class on rocket science at Air Force and it was definitely not that hard. Jemal is very bright and very engaging. He's suited to multiple offensive systems."
It's clear that Singleton can communicate. He can coach, too. His O-State running backs fumbled just once last year, on a quarterback handoff and that was recovered. And, he reminded that his communication comes as the media officer during his time at the air base in Jacksonville.
"I probably sent you guys some news releases then," Singleton said.
Singleton has some ties to former Arkansas assistants. He is friends with both Tim Horton and Dean Campbell, both recent UA staffers. He got a "welcome to the SEC" text from Horton.
The new running backs coach said the formula for ball security is constant attention to detail.
"It will be stressed," he said. "We had great numbers (at OSU), but there are no guarantees. You have to focus on it.
"In the history of football, you can remember moments when a fumble was the difference in the outcome. There were probably instances where it determined games here last year. It all starts with taking care of the football."
Bielema covered a myriad of topics in his visit with the media, including discipline. Defensive end Tevin Beanum has lost his rights to drive his car after a DUI arrest this week and will complete counseling and some extra conditioning. Wide receiver JoJo Robinson has been disciplined for violation of team rules, most likely related to academics.
"JoJo was removed from the team last week," Bielema said. "He's responded in a positive way and he'll be back with us on Monday. I just saw the academic report and there is another player who missed a class and he'll be (suspended)."
Beanum's discipline was determined after Bielema called his mother.
"The good news is that I couldn't remember our protocol because it's been two years since we've had a problem," Bielema said. "That's the positive. The other positive is that no one was injured. I talked to our team about that and it provided a teaching moment. I told them everything is earned."
Bielema said there are a few players limited for spring practice because of off-season surgeries. Dan Skipper had a broken thumb fixed in the offseason. Davyon McKinney and Daytrieon Dean had shoulder surgery and will be limited in the spring. Randy Ramsey has a sore hamstring.
As far as the offseason program, Bielema said there are many highlights. The regimen hasn't changed. The Hogs are in week six of an eight-week program under Ben Herbert' strength team.
"It's always going to be an eight-week program," Bielema said. "As long as you know me and as long as I'm here, it's always going to be eight weeks. Eight weeks is the same as the June and July workout period.
"Everybody … I go back to high school. I went from a 138-pound middle weight to a 185-pound light weight. light heavy I guess, in one summer. And it made a huge impact on me. I was using a pair of JC Penny weights in the back of a chicken barn, you know, but you have huge gains in the summer. And the same thing applied when I went to college. I remember going from 192 to 232 in the course of a summer, naturally, with no help other than just hard work and doing things the right way.
"So what we do is, we take two summers. We work in the … from the middle of January we take eight weeks, just like we'll take June and July for eight weeks. That's a very important thing. You can see guys literally change to go two different ways.
"Sebastian Tretola has lost 46 pounds since he came here. He's out there running around like a freak show. HIm and Denver Kirkland both. Dan's a little bit limited … Denver Kirkland and Sebastian Tretola look like they're supposed to look, and they're running very well.
"Hunter Henry weighs 260 pounds and looks great. (Jonathan Williams) has bulked himself back up. He's looking really, really good.
"Jeremy Sprinkle is close to 250 pounds. He weighed 208 pounds when we came here. He looks very, very efficient in what he's doing. BA has continued to grow and looks really good. Those guys are all trying to step up their leadership roles.
"On the defensive side of the ball, a couple of guys jumped out at me today, especially Jamichal Winston has changed his body structure. Deatrich Wise looks really, really good. Hjalte Froholdt and Jermiah Ledbetter I'd be very surprised if they don't help us in a hurry. Bijhon Jackson continues to lose weight. I think he's down to 332 range. He looks really, really good. Brooks looks like he might have lost a little bit of weight, but tuned it up.
"In the back end, Henre Toliver has put on weight again, and some of those other guys have begun to thicken up a little bit. I'm excited. Those guys always make those gains. Herb does an extraordinary job in the weight room, and the proof in the pudding will be the next two or three weeks."
Bielema: Singleton Top of List
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