Herring Natural Leader

FAYETTEVILLE -- Pat Jones tells it like it was yesterday. He was the defensive coordinator for Jimmy Johnson at Oklahoma State on a visit to spring drills at Florida State.

Bobby Bowden was hopeful that Jones would talk Johnson into hiring his just-finished All-America linebacker as a graduate assistant. So Bowden instructed his young coach-to-be to take over a few drills that day in practice for the Oklahoma State coaches to watch.

"It was like World War III had broken out," recalls Jones, former head coach at Oklahoma State. "We thought he was their linebacker coach. He had just finished as a player. Explosions were happening all over the field and Reggie was in the middle of it all."

That was Reggie Herring's first day coaching college linebackers and he was working with his former teammates from the previous fall. Quickly, Jones called Johnson to get a promise that Reggie Herring had his first college job.

Herring would move in with Houston Nutt, just finished as quarterback at O-State. They would become grad assistants at OSU and later worked together as full-time staffers in Stillwater.

Of course, they were reunited a couple of months ago when Nutt lured Herring away from a similar position at North Carolina State to be Arkansas' new defensive coordinator.

So far, the reunion has been wonderful. Herring made a big splash during recruiting season, and he's made an even bigger impact in offseason workouts. The strength and conditioning coaches run the offseason workouts, but position coaches can attend and visit with the team in the meeting room afterwards.

"I know what Reggie is going to be like in those deals," said Jones, now linebacker coach for the Oakland Raiders. "Let's just say they won't be standing around holding hands and singing kumbaya! They are going to get after it in practice and they will get after the enemy."

Nutt nodded his head in agreement when told of Pat's comments.

"That's it," Nutt said. "It's been a lot of fun for me to be around Reggie again. We said we were going to do it some day when we were together in 1981. I'd forgotten a little about what he's like. A lot of it is coming back to me now.

"It's refreshing to see what he's become. He's learned a lot at every stop ... you know, with the Houston Texas of the NFL and from every other coach he's been around ... but you can still see the influence of guys like Jimmy Johnson and Pat Jones. He's developed into a great, great coach." What is going on right now with the Hogs has nothing to do with Xs and Os. Nutt knows Herring has great expertise in that, but that is not the root of his coaching. It's the work ethic he instills in his players and that happens first in winter offseason workouts.

"It's been an adjustment for some of our guys," Nutt said. "It's like Reggie says, you get whatever you emphasize. There is no gray area with Reggie. You are going to get effort."

There are lots of ways to push buttons to get effort. Some do it with encouragement and praise. Nutt said it's clear that Herring does it with fear.

"I can be hard on players behind closed doors," Nutt said. "People don't see that side of me. But Reggie is clearly on the other side of the deal from me. It is all about fear. He's going to get after you and you know it from the start."

That's happened already. Freshman defensive lineman Fred Bledsoe, out of shape after a cushy holiday break, heard Herring's bark in a hurry when the Hogs began their 5:30 a.m. running classes a few weeks ago.

"It's tough love with Reggie," Nutt said. "He had been on Fred hard, but he had him step to the front in the team meeting room because he wanted everyone on the team to applaud Fred for running through a little adversity."

It seems Bledsoe lost his dinner from the previous night, but never stopped running during a recent morning workout.

"Fred just kept running his 110s," Nutt said. "Another morning, he didn't like the leadership from three returning starters. He had them go to the back of the line and go behind (walk-on) Donovan Johnson. He's pressing buttons all the time."

Nutt said he's uncomfortable comparing Herring to Wilson Matthews, the legendary Frank Broyles assistant from the glory days of the Arkansas program. He'll let lettermen do that if they want. But he thinks he knows what they will tell him.

"I never saw Coach Matthews coach," Nutt said. "So it's wrong for me to say Reggie is like Coach Matthews. I've heard from (Orville Henry) or Coach Broyles what he was like. That sounds just like Reggie.

"It's funny, but the most asked question I get after an off year from fans and lettermen, 'Who is the Wilson Matthews of your staff?' If they come by and watch, I'll be interested to hear what they think of Reggie as far as comparisons to Coach Matthews.

"I know what I've heard about Coach Matthews sounds the same, a guy you hated on the field, but loved when practice is over. You knew he made you better and you loved that."

If they are puking and loving it, I wouldn't want to play this Arkansas defense next fall.

CLAY HENRY IS THE PUBLISHER OF HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH FRIDAY. E-MAIL: CLAY@NWAONLINE.NET

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