Seldom do they ever stray from that network. When I hear that a coach has many applications on his desk for an opening, I discount that as meaningful information. They don't often hire from a pile of resumes. In fact, I can't ever remember any head coach that I know filling a full-time assistants slot with a coach he found from a stack of job applications.
Coaches hire those they know or know about through a close tie from their background. Bank on it.
Houston Nutt's main ties are from his early Arkansas and Oklahoma State days, both as a player and an graduate assistant/full-time assistant coach. If they aren't, then a recommendation came from someone from those days in that network. You'll hear Nutt speak on that at most hirings.
In that regard, Nutt's latest hiring, maybe his most important, comes from the very roots of his network. Reggie Herring and Nutt roomed together as graduate assistants in 1981 at Oklahoma State. That's where they started their coaching careers and it makes much sense that they are finally together on this Arkansas staff.
They would later coach together, along with Louis Campbell, on Pat Jones' staff at Oklahoma State. That was a staff that has produced numerous head coaches. The network from that staff spreads throughout the college and NFL ranks with the likes of Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt, Butch Davis and Larry Coker.
You'll see the mark of Jones, Johnson and Campbell in the way Herring coaches and calls defenses. The demanding and tough way that all three of those men coached defense is at the core of the way Herring coaches. When those compare Herring to old school Wilson Matthews, they are dipping into the background of Johnson, Jones and Campbell. All have roots back to Arkansas where the Matthews stamp is undeniable.
When I first learned on Friday afternoon, seven days ago, that Herring had told North Carolina State officials that he was close to joining Nutt's staff, it was a sense of relief. I knew the chemistry would be wonderful, that it would be a perfect fit.
Not only is it a good fit between the head man and the defensive coordinator, it makes sense on the defensive side, too. Line coach Tracy Rocker was the defensive tackle who starred in front of Herring's linebackers when they were together at Auburn, Rocker as a player and Herring as a coach. The word is that Bobby Allen and Chris Vaughn will coach the secondary together and that makes sense, too.
Those that don't know Allen as a secondary coach haven't studied his background. He coached the secondary more than the linebackers as a young coach and his ability to work closely with Vaughn, his protg, is widely recognized as a plus on this staff.
Herring said that no final decision has been made to pair Allen and Vaughn in the secondary, but that makes sense to the new defensive coordinator.
"I believe that the most important area on defense, the place that more things can go wrong and cause the most problems is in the secondary," Herring said. "You make a mistake there, and it's six almost every time. Why wouldn't you put two coaches there? I have always felt it important to have one coach for the corners and another for the safeties. We are leaning in that direction."
The Hogs will be aggressive under Herring. Blitzes will be common, but calculated. Risks will be taken, but not to the extent of leaving the defense vulnerable. Most often, the blitzes will be what Herring calls "fire zones." That's just another term for zone blitzes. In some cases, a linebacker will fire and a linemen will drop into coverage.
There will be some changes to the way personnel are deployed, but not a lot. Speed was the common denominator in what Allen, John Thompson and Dave Wommack, the last three coordinators at the UA, featured in their schemes.
Herring is no different. But he wants even more speed in the inside down linemen. He may move ends to tackle to get a better pass rush. He may move linebackers to end to get more speed on the edge.
"The one place you can sacrifice speed a little is at Mike linebacker, our middle linebacker," Herring said. "That guy doesn't have to be as fast as the outside guys, but he needs to be your best player, a physical player. He'll play the 'A' gap and stay on top of the running back."
Sounds like what I saw Johnson and Jones do at O-State in the early '80s when I was covering them for the Tulsa World on a daily basis. They featured two cat-quick defensive tackles, Little Rock native Leslie O'Neal and converted linebacker Rodney Harding, with stunts and blitzes that drove Big 8 coaches nutty.
Herring coached a slow middle linebacker, Matt Monger, to first team All-Big 8 honors when no one thought he should have been on the field. No one else in the Big 8 recruited Monger, an Oklahoma native. Monger had fun playing behind some scorpion-like defensvie tackles, all undersized, but all with ability to fire through gaps and run with tailbacks sideline to sideline.
Wommack was a good man and a good coordinator. I was depressed at his departure. Having said that, I'm excited about the new hire. It's like I told a good last week when I first heard of this possibility, this is just the move to push Arkansas over the hump in the Southeastern Conference.
Whether they make it up the hill and over by next season is open for debate. It may take Herring a little longer to revamp this defense than it did for him at North Carolina State. But it's going to happen. I'd bet on it.
Clay Henry is publisher of Hawgs Illustrated, a Stephens Media Group magazine. His column appears each Friday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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