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State of the Hogs: Paul Rhoads Home Run Hire for Arkansas Secondary

Paul Rhoads is a great hire for the Arkansas secondary. The former Iowa State coach has a reputation as a great recruiter and motivator.

The open criticism of Bart Pohlman went on for weeks as he unveiled his personal wish lists of the top candidates to take over as Arkansas head coach in the months John L. Smith served on an interim basis. Then Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads was always on that list.

Pohlman is the producer for SportsTalkWithBo and is always ready with some clever content. There were some on Pohlman's list that made no sense. They were not going to leave their jobs to come to Arkansas. And, I think there was some joking about Jon Gruden leaving his Monday Night Football analyst spot. Yeah, right.

But when Arkansas coach Bret Bielema announced on Wednesday that Rhoads had been hired as his new secondary coach, I had to give Pohlman a call. The Hogs finally have Pohlman's man.

Now, mind you, Pohlman was talking head coach, not defensive backfield assistant. I see Rhoads as an out-of-this-world hire for this position. I just didn't see him as the perfect hire as Arkansas head coach or thought he would leave Iowa State, just 20 minutes from where he grew up in Ankenny, Iowa.

Pohlman told me this morning that he feels vindicated. Not so fast, Bart. We are talking the difference between a Sugar Bowl and the Outback Bowl. Head coach and secondary coach are not the same thing. But I get Bart's feelings. He took some heat for talking up Rhoads week after week.

I had recalled that Bart had Rhoads, fired at Iowa State after last season, as his number one candidate at one point. So my memory is bad. Bart pulled out the paperwork from a folder in his desk just to make sure.

"I still have them all," he said. "He was fifth on my first list. He got as high as third and was 11th on the last list. When he was third, he was only behind Chris Petersen and Gary Patterson."

Bart remembers his reasons and they really were valid. I saw value in Rhoads all along, but there needs to be some fun in the daily grind of doing radio with Bo Mattingly and Bart's list provided rich talking points.

"The reason for having him on the list was because I saw that Gene Chizik did poorly at Iowa State, but won a national title at Auburn," Pohlman said. "And, I thought Rhoads was way better than Chizik. He got some big wins at Iowa State."

One of the biggest was when the Cyclones knocked off No. 2 Oklahoma State.

"I recall an interview with Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy that I heard," Pohlman said. "He said Iowa State should give him a 20-year contract because he was a smart football coach.

"I knew he was a good coach, just never had a lot to work with. He went to three bowl games and I doubt Iowa State had been to very many."

I don't argue any of those points about Rhoads. His reputation is that he's a great recruiter, excellent teacher and understands how to relate to players. He's coached against the spread offenses that dominate the Big 12 and should be a good fit for what ails the Arkansas secondary.

I like his coaching tree. He was a graduate assistant under John Cooper at Ohio State, a solid defensive teacher of secondary play. I watched Cooper teach young coaches how to coach safeties and corners at Tulsa as a young reporter.

I'll never forget going to an interview with Cooper a little early. I was directed to meet him on the field. It was about two weeks before spring drills. Cooper had his new secondary coach teaching drills. It was Lovie Smith. Cooper was instructing on how he wanted the fundamentals taught.  If Rhoads started with Cooper, he learned the best secondary fundamentals.

I called Cooper on Wednesday to get a feel for Rhoads from someone I really know and trust, plus I just like touching base again with old coaches.

"I am surprised Bret could get Paul," Cooper said. "I say that because I believed someone would hire him as a head coach. He's that good.

"First, I will tell you that there is not a better person around than Paul Rhoads. Yes, he's a great coach. He is a great secondary coach, but he's a great person, too."

Cooper played and started his coaching career at Iowa State. He was inducted in the ISU Sports Hall of Fame recently and spent time with Rhoads.

"He had me talk to his team," Cooper said. "I watched practice and he took me to his home to spend time with his family. He's just a great family man.

"I know from watching his teams practice what kind of coach Bret has hired. If I was hiring a secondary coach and Paul Rhoads was available, I'd be doing cart wheels. It's a home run hire.

"He can recruit, he can relate to players and it's a great hire. I heard the news this morning. I said, 'Are you kidding me? Bret hired Paul?' I just told someone here, that's a great hire. Paul Rhoads can flat out coach."

Rhoads also served as defensive coordinator for Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh and Tommy Tuberville at Auburn. This means he's got Arkansas ties. Those two were mentored by Jimmy Johnson, the former Arkansas player and defensive coordinator. Isn't amazing how the coaching trees always line up in some way with Frank Broyles?

The son of a Hall of Fame high school coach in Iowa, Rhoads recorded some great victories at Iowa State, including a road win at No. 22 Texas. There was an overtime victory over No. 2 Oklahoma State. There was also a victory at No. 19 Texas Tech. His career was also marked by near misses against heavyweights.

Of course, the highlight of his Iowa State time might have been in his first season when there was a victory at Nebraska, the Cyclones' first in Lincoln since 1977. That game is famous for a recorded post-game speech in the locker room with players that went viral on the Internet. Singing players doused him with water bottles as Rhoads told them about his pride in their play while fighting back tears.

I'm sure that it is that speech that stayed in the back of Bart Pohlman's mind to lead to his inclusion on his list of possible Arkansas head coaches. It's must viewing for Arkansas fans now that Paul Rhoads is now on the Arkansas staff. As they say, Bret Bielema knocked it out of the park with the hire. Bart Pohlman is telling everyone that he saw it coming a long time ago. Yeah, right.


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