Talking About New Arkansas Defensive Coordinator Robb Smith, Razorback Recruiting, and Basketball's Momentum

Wesley Hitt

Time for a new panel discussion!

1. Let's start with Robb Smith. It took UA 3.5 weeks to announce his hiring and I think it's safe to say most fans, at least the ones on the Internet, are somewhat underwhelmed after hoping for someone like Randy Shannon, Butch Davis, et al. Are those fans justified in their disappointment or should they relax? Are you okay with the lengthy process and how it turned out?

Drew F: Our fanbase has got to get over this superficial fixation with "name" hires.  There's so much more that goes into it than just name, including philosophy, fit with the rest of the staff, ability to work with and develop marginal talent, ect.  Just because you're underwhelmed doesn't mean it's a bad hire.  Everyone drooled over the staff Bielema put together in Madison and got excited when he brought some of them with him, even though most Razorback fans had never heard of Charlie Partridge prior to Dec. 2012.  Bielema has a good track record with hiring effective assistants (and cutting them lose when they don't perform up to expectations) - let him do his thing.

Adam: Fans seem to only want the names they know. They should definitely relax. And come on, could it be any worse than what we had last season?

Randy: I liked the defense Rutgers ran. Defense made Greg Schiano and gave him an NFL job. Schiano went a year without Smith, then fetched him to Tampa. James Franklin wanted Smith. I will go with our coach on this one. What do fans know?

Drew A: Bret Bielema has a pretty fantastic coaching tree and knows as many people as you can know in this sport. In hindsight, its obvious Smith was his first choice. Smith has done well everywhere he went, and I'd rather not hear he's a "failed NFL" coach. Tampa Bay's defense, for those who don't know, was really good under Schiano. At the end of the day he is going to be a good technique and schematic defensive coach. He's a complete wild card recruiting, and that's where people will judge him the most, because we love/loathe the stars more than anything.

Graham: See Drew F's response, who I think put it better than I could.

Doc: As soon as I saw people bringing up Ed Orgeron's name I knew we were in trouble. He just turned down the coordinator job at USC and people think he'd take the same job at Arkansas? What sense does that make? And I know why Butch Davis makes a lot of sense to people but I think his tight connections to big boosters hurts his chances more than many realize. I really did like Barry Odom though. I'd have been thrilled if that had worked out.

I'm fine with Smith though. There seems to be a sense that if a hire isn't a home run it's an abject failure. There's no middle ground. Why can't it just be a decent hire? We'll see what happens. As Adam said, it can't get much worse.

Kevin: Maybe Bielema knew the recruits wouldn't be that impressed either, so he waited until after signing day? I hope our new Robb and our new Rory both work out really well for us. But at the same time, I don't think fans can be blamed for scratching their heads and saying, "Is this really the best you could do?" And maybe it is. How many established defensive coaches want to have their reputation sullied by a bad defensive squad that they aren't able to make better, given the lack of talent that is there, which has generally been the norm at Arkansas during the last decade or so. Not many, I suspect. But at the same time, wasn't there, Bret, somebody out there you could have gotten from the state of Texas or from somewhere in the Southeast? Somebody with more ties to Southern football with Southern recruiting ties would have been better, I have to think.

Scottie: I'm with Drew F. on this. Just because the guy Bielema hires isn't a household name doesn't mean he's not going to work out. Bielema knows what he's doing, and he obviously saw something in Robb Smith that he didn't see is the other four "legitimate candidates."

Ryan: They know everyone is underwhelmed by the hire, otherwise they would have announced his hiring Jan 12. when they actually hired him. Fans never know what options are truly available and that lack of knowledge only welcomes speculation. Considering the delay of the announcement was only to create an allusion before signing day that they were going to hire Randy Shannon, it was silly. They eventually sent out the press release of his hiring during the middle of the men's basketball's first non-Auburn road win in the Mike Anderson era. I think that was poorly handled.

2. Signing Day came and went. What's your feeling on the overall class? Did the coaches do a good job of filling needs?

Adam: I think so. This coaching staff seems to be recruiting for the long haul, with a more strategic route of doing things. It all starts in the trenches and that's exactly what they're getting with these recruits.

Scottie: I think it's a solid class that has the potential to be really good. Our lowest rated player, two-star Anthony Brown, looks the part of a grown man already. There are several guys in the class I'm really looking forward to watching develop. I also think we may have filled the vacant playmaker spot at receiver in JoJo Robinson. Trey Biddy, on the radio last Friday, said JoJo's comp is Jarius Wright. I could go for another Jay Wright, you guys.

Graham: As with any class there were some hits and some misses. The offensive line was a homerun, where it seemed like Arkansas got everyone it went after. Defensively, the coaches at least signed a number of DBs and some talented lineman, but I have questions about the linebacker position. Where were they? I can't help to think what could have been on the defensive line if the Hogs land Bijohn, Josh Frazier, and Solomon Thomas all in the same class. Is that what it's like to be Alabama?

Drew A: You have go like the work Sam Pittman does as he backed up his first stellar class with another one filled with top notch ability. Wide receiver has plenty of intriguing playmakers and you added a high ceiling quarterback. The defense is filled with question marks, I like the bodies in the secondary, and it's obvious Jackson is a stud, but after that it's a ton of question marks. I'd say it isn't a "make it" class, but it's certainly not a "break it" class either.

Randy: Offense got plenty. Very disappointed in linebacker recruiting. Far from adequate.

Ryan: Arkansas did the best they could. I would be interested to know if they had made different hires, if that would have increased the possibility of signing one of the major recruits they missed out on.

Drew F: I don't like to focus on the ones we missed, because it feels disrespectful to the other 24 kids who do want to be Razorbacks.  The excitement around Signing Day itself admittedly did fizzle when Solomon chose Stanford and there were no last minute flips or surprise signings.  We still missed on the really highly rated defensive backs and linebackers, but the offer of early playing time may not be as attractive as we think it is; after all, I think very few recruits want to be known as the best player on a bad defense.  I do think we picked up some quality, even potentially underrated, guys on that side of the ball, though - Randy Ramsey and Josh Liddell may just be the kind of players that will be a tipping point for our back 7.

Kevin: I know the seed of victories ahead are planted on national signing day, but I have never been a religious follower of who does or doesn't sign with us. I get to know players once they start playing. And who knows, and not just at Arkansas, how many arrests, academic troubles, homesickness, and no telling what else will stand in the way of these guys seeing the field. Did they do a good job of filling needs? You know, haha, I wouldn't have minded if they had recruited twenty-five safeties, corners, and linebackers!

3. Is there a particular recruit you're looking forward to seeing on the field, particularly immediately?

Drew A: JoJo Robinson has everything you want in an inside receiver. Arkansas desperately needs a stream stretcher and JoJo should help with that immediately.

Drew F: Cole Hedlund as Hocker's replacement is going to be very important.  I don't know how many of these guys are redshirt candidates, but I'm ready to see what our DB recruits are capable of.  We need all the help we can get back there.

Doc: There are two wide receivers enrolling for the spring, Jared Cornelius and Cody Hollister. I'm interested to see if they will be able to contribute immediately. Hollister was one of the lowest-rated recruits in the class and a juco, so we'll know relatively quickly if Bielema found one of his diamonds in the rough or if the coaching staff completely whiffed. Lord knows the Hogs could use him and his size. He's a tall kid.

Randy: One of the offensive linemen and one or two of the receivers will play a lot. This will be a good thing.

Kevin: JoJo Robinson jumps to mind. With a name like "JoJo" there has to be some exciting plays in store for when he hits the field.  But the kicker out of Texas that is so highly regarded, I would most like to see if he is able to fill Hocker's shoes. I sure hope so. Hocker rather spoiled us with his steady leg. I want to continue to be spoiled.

Scottie: Would it be crazy of me to say Rafe Peavey? I think the kid has the ability to be our starter next season. Yes, I'm aware it isn't ideal to start a true frosh on the road in any game, let alone at Auburn. His style of play is comparable to Russell Wilson (can throw it, but can use his feet to his advantage) and I'm just anxious to see him play in person. Outside of Peavey, maybe Bijhon Jackson. He's going to have to come in ready to play, because we need the hole in the middle of the D-line filled badly.

Ryan: It would be huge if one of the new corners could significantly contribute right away. The development of Anthony Brown will be fun to watch considering how raw he is.

Adam: JoJo Robinson sticks out for various reasons. Brandon Allen (or whomever gets the job) needs more targets, as the BA homers would say. Ok, he's getting them. Let's see what he does with them.

Graham: I'm of course intrigued by the offensive line, but I really want to see these four receivers and Jack Kraus the tight end. The coaches did an outstanding job -- be it on purpose or by accident -- of signing guys with different skillsets, from bigger, more physical guys to speed, slot guys. Kraus could become a big part early in this offense opposite of Hunter Henry, making for a pre-injuries and pre-murder Gronk-Hernandez-esque punch.

4. What do you think about the emphasis on Florida recruiting vs. Texas? The Hogs have signed several more than usual from Florida in Bielema's first two classes, but some wonder if that is sustainable at Arkansas?

Kevin: I wonder that too. I like it that we've been able to sneak around to the other side of the barn with this girl named Florida. But we are married to Texas, and we shouldn't neglect her. I hope just pulling two recruits from there doesn't become the new norm.

Graham: As long as Randy Shannon is at Arkansas I think the trend towards Florida players is sustainable. Also, with the more you are able to convince that Fayetteville is a good place to go, the more likely those recruits who are unsure about leaving the Sunshine State will come north. In all reality though, who cares where they are coming from as long as they win football games?

Ryan: I have no problem with it. If Bielema could make signing kids out of Florida sustainable at Wisconsin, he can make is sustainable at Arkansas. Nonetheless, there is a lot of talent coming out of Texas that Arkansas needs to capitalize on as well.

Drew A: Get as many studs as possible. I don't care where you can be successful doing it, just do it. Obviously, Arkansas has some good ties to the Florida area right now. Work it.

Randy: Arkansas is wasting opportunities by under-recruiting Texas. Whoever is missing this is a fool.

Adam: It's definitely a concern if our Florida coaches leave (which is always a possibility), but I can't blame them for what they're doing. I don't care where they get them, as long as they can rise the stock of the Hogs.

Drew F: I'm not sure it matters how "sustainable" the Florida pipeline it; let's just milk it while we can.  I feel like the attitude toward Texas recruiting is beginning to verge on cliche.  We're going to continue to get guys from there on a regular basis on proximity alone (already have one committed for 2015), but I'm not sure how well the idea that "we need to sign ____ guys from Texas every year, no matter what" meshes with reality.

Scottie: I think the Florida pipeline is sustainable as long as we have a coach like Randy Shannon with strong ties. It also doesn't hurt to have a player voice such as Alex Collins to say ,"hey, you can come here and make something of yourself like I did." The Florida kids, however, may be cautious if those players that go before them don't enjoy a bit of success (such as going 3-9 (0-8)). But I would like to be able to pull several players from both states in each class. Texas has been good to us in the past, but maybe this staff is really seeing something it likes from those Florida kids.

Doc: Of course there's nothing wrong with getting a few players from Florida each year but I really don't understand why Arkansas coaches for many years now seem to struggle with the concept of Texas recruiting. They've got to have relationships with the high school coaches down there and there should always be a few on staff who target the area while Shannon is deployed to Florida. Isn't recruiting the main reason we've got home and homes scheduled against Texas Tech and TCU in the coming years? Not to mention moving the A&M game to Arlington for the next decade? I just don't understand the strategy. If Florida is the focus, why not schedule FIU, USF, or UCF instead? Or even Miami?

5. How big a deal, if at all, is it that the Hogs claimed their annual basketball road victory? Does it change the way you view the rest of the season or the general state of the program?

Drew A: Arkansas needed 18 things to in a row happened to make the tourney. Now we need 17.

Ryan: I love the win. Vanderbilt was a hot and confident team on a four game winning streak. The Hogs earned the victory, but they can't stop there. It was nice to see Harris and Qualls have both bounced back after their attitude adjustment suspensions. They must build on the victory and win at either Starkville or Tuscaloosa (both would be nice).

Drew F: One road game isn't good enough (even if it wasn't at Auburn for once), but this game could be the tiniest of baby steps toward finally being able to consistently close at places like Georgia and Tennessee when a road victory is within reach.  Anyone who expects us to ride the momentum to wins at Columbia or Lexington this year isn't being reasonable; those games weren't expected to be wins before the season started.  We'll see if it can carry over to Starkville or Tuscaloosa.

Scottie: It was nice from the standpoint that we fought back after predictably giving up a lead late, and made key shots. Madden made two huge shots, then Qualls did his thing in the waning seconds, but I just see as filling the "one road win per season" quota. I need another win away from the Bud (Miss. State seems like a real possibility) for anything to change my mindset on the remainder of the season.

Adam: Nope. A buzzer-beater 3-pointer after a game of shooting lights out (after a game of laying goose eggs) does not show growth. As we discussed on this week's Hog Trough Fancast (plug!), the game at Missouri will be the true sign if we're on to something new with the Razorback basketball team.

Randy: Vanderbilt is vulnerable to Arkansas' style. Beating them - barely - changes nothing.

Kevin: It was a very big deal when I watched it happened. But I started coming down to earth pretty quickly after I realized that this is probably too little, too late for the Hogs. I don't see them building off of this with a trip to Missouri in store. Kentucky is still out there as well as a road game. So at most right now you can say the Hogs found this year's Auburn, which happened to be Vanderbilt. Prove me wrong, guys. Prove me wrong!

Doc: It keeps the team breathing. They've got eight SEC games left before Atlanta. Four at home and four on the road. Win out at home (which is not a certainty) and split on the road (they've got Missouri, Mississippi State, Kentucky, and Alabama), they'll have 21 wins and be 10-8. They'll probably be favored against both the Bulldogs and the Tide, especially if the Tide are checking out since that's the last game of the year. Win a game or two in Atlanta on top of it and things would get interesting. Of course, that's asking for more road wins and SEC Tournament wins than they've have in the last several years combined so it's hard to be optimistic.

But they've got a big opportunity at Missouri Thursday night.

6. Which had more to do with Arkansas' victory? The anthracite uniforms or Mike Anderson ditching the usual shirt and tie in favor of the red turtleneck?

Drew F: Anthracite all day.

Ryan: I think it all goes back to the curse of the Slobberin' Hog. It was one win, but the Hogs are still a long way from making the dance, thus breaking the curse of the Slobberin' Hog.

Drew A: So, I was at a birthday party this past weekend during the game and the guy's dad yelled at tip off,  "I hate those damn anthrax jerseys!" I almost spilt my beer. I didn't though, because I always remain calm in beer spilling situations due to intense and extensive training. But it was close.

I tell that story to say this. I need more anthrax jersey stories. Need them.

Adam: Obviously the Anthracite uniforms. It made Vandy so appalled that a team would deny tradition that they couldn't compete on their normal level against a terrible road team.

Kevin: If either had anything to do with it, why have they waited this long to break them out?

Scottie: I don't believe in turtlenecks, so I'm going with the anthracite unis. Long live the smokes.

Graham: From watching the football team play with white helmets (and lose to Rutgers in the anthracite unis), I know different jerseys aren't the difference-maker. It was Mike going all-in on tribute to the Nolan and the '94 team with his buttonless shirt and blazer combo.

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Randy: I love the smell of anthracite in the morning.  It smells like desperation.

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