Familiar Foes

FAYETTEVILLE -- It's not often an offense ranked 113th in the nation in scoring, 109th in rushing and 104th in total offense makes anyone uneasy.

But Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring is more nervous than usual because of Ole Miss offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.

"He's a smart fish now," Herring said. "He'll scheme you and he'll come up with some good stuff we haven't seen. They've had two weeks to prepare for us and they're going to lay something out there early that we haven't seen."

Herring got an up-close view of Mazzone's mind at work in 2004, when the two were defensive and offensive coordinators, respectively, under coach Chuck Amato at N.C. State. Herring, who spearheaded the nation's top defense in his only season at N.C. State, left the Wolfpack to join Arkansas coach Houston Nutt last December. Mazzone, who was in charge of a N.C. State's high-powered offense for two seasons, left the Wolfpack for Ole Miss shortly after Herring's departure.

The coaches haven't experienced the same success in their first seasons at new schools, but will try to one-up the other when Arkansas meets Ole Miss at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

And, just like Herring, Mazzone said he's a little wary of this week's opponent.

"The trouble is, you know all the stuff he does, but you don't know what to prepare for," Mazzone said. "He's hard to prepare for anyway. It doesn't matter how well you know him. He does some really tough things for an offense. He's an impressive, come after you, get up in your face (coach) and he makes you execute."

Mazzone figured that out at N.C. State in 2003, when Herring joined the staff and began transforming a struggling defense.

N.C. State led the nation in pass efficiency, was third in passing and eighth in scoring offense in 2003. The Wolfpack also set school records in six categories in 2003 and was led by All-America senior quarterback Phillip Rivers.

But Mazzone said Herring's defense "kicked his butt" the following spring.

"He's got so much passion and intensity," Mazzone said. "It's like, every day in practice, there is no half speed. You're going to get his best shot every snap. I think his players take on his personality, very intense, very aggressive individual that obviously has a great football mind on top of that.

"I think it makes him one of the top defensive coordinators in the country."

Herring and Mazzone first met at a coaching clinic when both were starting out in the profession and have been acquaintances since. They've combined to hold 15 jobs in 48 years of coaching in college and the NFL. And they've even worked at the same schools at different points in their careers.

Mazzone was quarterbacks and receivers coach at Texas Christian from 1987-91. Herring was defensive coordinator in 1992 and 1993. Herring was at Auburn from 1986-91, while Mazzone worked there from 1999-2001. Mazzone's first stint at Ole Miss lasted from 1995-98. Herring worked there for two weeks in 2002.

But the coaches were never on the same staff until meeting up at N.C. State.

"He ran his offense and we ran our defense," Herring said. "Our job was to stop them and their job was to score. Every school and every program has different issues and different problems and we just deal with them accordingly. But as far as working together, we were very compatible. They score, we stop them."

Amato often let his coordinators plan the Wolfpack practice schedules and said they worked well together. He said Herring and Mazzone liked to get after each other and believes Saturday's meeting will be interesting.

"They'll probably think they're in two-a-days or spring practice," Amato said. "They're both really good coaches and they want to beat each other so bad because they're both unbelievable competitors.

"One of them's going to win and one of them's going to lose."

Herring has struggled to rebuild a defense he continually describes as a "work in progress." The Hogs were close to the bottom of the nation in nearly every statistical category earlier this season, thanks to the 70 points and 736 yards the Trojans compiled in September. But the Hogs enter Saturday's game at Ole Miss ranked 78th in scoring defense (28.1 points) and 57th in total defense (368.8).

Mazzone is going through plenty of problems of his own, searching for consistency from a unit that averages 13.8 points and 301.1 yards a game. Senior quarterback Michael Spurlock has been replaced by junior Ethan Flatt. Mazzone said the young unit has struggled, but is slowly making progress in several areas.

"Three years ago, I had the third-best (passing) offense in the country," Mazzone said. "Last year, he had the best defense in the country. Every now and then, you come into some rebuilding situations and it takes awhile to get it going."

Herring said the two haven't spoken since the summer, when they talked about their new jobs, personnel and other football-related topics. Mazzone left a message for Herring to call this week. But Herring said he rarely talks during the season.

They'll have time to catch up after someone earns bragging rights this weekend.

"You have mutual respect for each other and you really don't want to think about (facing a friend) until it gets there, until you have to deal with it," Herring said.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories