Arkansas Beware

FAYETTEVILLE -- Reggie Herring confidently characterized himself as a "bottom line guy" during his first day as the Razorbacks' defensive coordinator.

So it's no surprise the 45-year-old quickly dropped a bottom-line ultimatum for his new players Sunday afternoon.

"Defensive players at Arkansas beware," Herring said. "Beware that they will be challenged more than they've ever been challenged in their life. There's pressure that will be put on them on a day-to-day basis.

"The heat in the kitchen, so to speak, will be turned up on this university. It will be turned up tremendously."

Herring was officially introduced by the Razorbacks on Sunday, five days after coach Houston Nutt's decision to fire defensive coordinator Dave Wommack. Herring, who turned a struggling North Carolina State defense into the nation's top unit last season (221.4 yards a game), will try to put his mark on an Arkansas unit that ranked 75th in the nation (397.2 yards) last season.

Nutt said Herring has agreed to a three-year deal, but declined to elaborate on the terms of the contract. A source close to the situation said Herring will earn about $225,000 annually, making him one of the highest-paid coordinators in the country.

But Herring didn't leave the Wolfpack after one season for a hefty pay raise. His motivation for taking the job was the chance to work with his long-time friend.

"There's probably only two people to get me to leave (North Carolina State) after six months and that's God and Houston," Herring joked. "I'm here because of him and the chance to coach with him. We've been putting it off for a long time."

Herring and Nutt were roommates when they began their careers at Oklahoma State in 1981 and worked together for four seasons. Nutt tried to hire Herring three other times, but the timing was never right.

Nutt didn't think Herring would leave North Carolina State after spending only six months there. But he was surprised when Herring left the door open last week and Nutt admitted he went "full boar" to get the deal completed Saturday.

"We understand the challenges and we know how far we've got to go, but I tell you what, there's fixing to be a lot of effort," Nutt said Sunday. "It's big when you lose a good man to be able to follow up with a guy that's very, very good.

"It just so happens that he had the No. 1 defense in America."

In addition to its No.1 ranking in total defense, North Carolina State was second in pass defense (119 yards) and 25th in scoring defense (19.8 points) in 2004. It was a dramatic difference from 2003, when the Wolfpack ranked 89th in total (421 yards), 81st in scoring (29.6 points) and 116th in pass defense (284 yards).

Arkansas, which struggled in almost every statistical category in 2003, is a similar challenge for Herring. The Hogs were 52nd in the nation in scoring defense (24.5 points), 82nd against the run (180.3 yards) and 65th in pass defense (216.9 yards).

But the passionate coach is confident the Razorbacks can improve next season.

"If we've got any guy on defense right now that thinks he's working hard, he hasn't worked enough," Herring said. "If he thinks he plays full speed, he's not playing fast enough. That's how we're going to improve this defense.

"If they think they're playing hard, they're not playing hard enough. If they think they're a tough guy, they're not tough enough. When you get past the X's and O's and all the guru stuff, you're dealing with people and they have to be passionate. They have to play with tenacity and they've got to be ready to sacrifice."

Linebacker Pierre Brown attended Sunday's press conference and said his first impressions of Herring are an intense guy that will make Arkansas better. Defensive end Marcus Harrison became familiar with Herring earlier this season, when he watched North Carolina State play Florida State and remembered the Seminoles "didn't want no more" of the Wolfpack.

"I'm going to tell everybody they better buckle up," Harrison said. "Because he's the real deal."

Herring described his system as "calculated aggression" and said his goal is to "put fear into the heart of every offense we face." Arkansas will operate under a 4-3 scheme on every down, but Herring said the Hogs will keep opponents guessing by blitzing, dropping into zone defenses or stepping up into eight-man fronts.

"We will be calculated aggression," Herring said. "It's not an all-out blitzkreig. It's not lining up guys in wild places. We're going to look the same every snap and (offenses are) going to say, ‘Can we run or can we pass?' (They'll) say, ‘Gee, I don't know.' They better hope they guessed the right one."

Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles' first became familiar with Herring this season when he scanned this year's list of candidates for the Broyles Award, which is given to the best assistant coach in the country. He was "tremendously impressed" Sunday and said Herring is a combination of former Arkansas coaches Jim MacKenzie, Wilson Matthews and Charley Coffey.

"He's not interested in money or he wouldn't be where he is," Broyles said. "Money was not an object with him. I don't know what (North Carolina State) tried to keep him. You know he's good with the fight that went on to keep him.

"I told Houston that I never got a great one to come and change without a fight."

Herring has eight years of experience as a defensive coordinator at North Carolina State, Clemson (1997-2001) and Texas Christian (1992-93). He also has NFL experience, coaching linebackers for the Houston Texans (2002-03). The former three-year starting linebacker at Florida State has coached linebackers at every stop, including stints at Auburn (1986-91) and Oklahoma State (1982-85).

"This is something that I dreamed about as an individual a long time," Herring said. "Coach Nutt and I have discussed it over the years as we watched each other's careers from different, opposite sides. It's a leap of faith to some people's eyes, especially in Raleigh, North Carolina where I left the No. 1 defense in the country. In some people's eyes, this is a mistake. But I'm the one that has to answer to that.

"I'm very thankful of the opportunity to be here. The bottom line, the reason I'm here is because of coach Nutt and I believe he's a winner. I believe he's a mover and a shaker. He's an individual that coaches and mirrors my beliefs and my passions.

"We're going to make it a good fit. That's the way it's going to be."

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