Six days after being named the new defensive coordinator for the Razorback Football team Paul Rhoads talked about his promotion from secondary coach. “I’m very appreciative to coach B (Bielema) for giving me this opportunity,” Rhoads told the media in a Saturday afternoon press conference. “I’m really excited to get started and I’m eager about the challenge that goes along with it.”
Arkansas finished 75th in total defense for the 2016 season and 94th in rushing defense. Rhoads secondary fared better, finishing 58th in pass defense, a marked improvement from 2015 before Rhoads arrived in Fayetteville.
Head coach Bret Bielema said his decision to name Rhoads to replace Robb Smith had a lot to do with how the former Iowa State head coach handled Arkansas’ secondary in what turned out to be a very difficult season.
“He remained composed. He worked on his room. He stayed focused on the task at hand. He was a tremendous asset to Robb in what we were trying to get done,” Bielema said of Rhoads. “To stay calm in that position is very, very uncommon.”
Rhoads had successful stints at both Pittsburgh and Auburn as a defensive coordinator. In both jobs Rhoads says he came in blind having no previous association with the players he would coach. He believes the one season he has under his belt coaching Arkansas’ secondary will give him a leg up as the coordinator of the Hogs’ defense.
“It’s unique for me and I think it is an advantage,” Rhoads affirmed. (At Pitt and Auburn) “not only was I learning a position group and the same time I was learning all the personalities of the defense. Who was a hard worker? Who was efficient? Who was talented? I’ve got a little bit of a picture of what that is with all our guys. I also know from the personality of this football team that these kids are eager to be coached and play better.”
Rhoads will oversee the installation of a switch from Smith’s 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme that Bielema played in at Iowa and Rhoads coached at Iowa State but Arkansas will actually present multiple looks in 2017.
“Our 3-4 package, I envision it being like some of the teams in our league play. Even though it’s a 3-4 it has elements of a 4-3 scheme.” Bielema explained. “There will be a lot more variations to what we do. We can bring pressure from strong, weak, boundary, field. In our third year we didn’t vary a lot in in where we set the formation and I think that was something that came back to bite us.”
Bielema also announced that all of the terminology from last year’s defense will be replaced telling reporters,”I want a new slate. I want a new beginning. That’s going to be the easy part. The place we’re trying to find is, what’s the best personnel? Where to put it? What coach is going to be working with what? And try to make that adjustment as soon as possible.”
For his part Rhoads said he told his defensive players the changes won’t be that difficult because his main focus is still going to be on fundamentals not schemes.
“Being fundamentally sound and being technically sound regardless of what it is you’re playing that’s what you got to go out and accomplish. In a nutshell that’s what I told the kids we were going to accomplish, Rhoads stressed.
How much will the defense improve under a new coordinator and a new scheme?
“I think we can play better defense,” Rhoads predicted. “I don’t know if I’m willing to put numbers on that. What exactly that is. Are you just talking about a statistical rise? I don’t know what other factors are going to play into it. Simply stated, we can play better defense and I believe we will play better defense.”
Rhoads also has extra incentive to solve Arkansas’ defensive woes of the last two seasons. After being fired in 2015 following six years as Iowa State’s head coach he wants another crack running the entire show.
“Do I want to be a head coach again? Absolutely,” Rhoads declared. “I don’t like the way I finished up that opportunity I was given. You’ve go to do incredibly good at the job you’re at if you’re going to get an opportunity at the next job. That will be our focus here with this.”