When Chris Ash bolted for Ohio State a little over three weeks ago, it left an unexpected hole in the Razorback coaching staff during a prime recruiting period. Luckily for Hog fans, all the excitement surrounding national signing day has provided a welcome distraction from the DC vacancy, especially since it seems to have not affected our recruiting efforts (see here, here, here, and here).
But, the situation still remains the same: with two days left until Signing Day, we still don’t have a defensive coordinator. For that matter, we don't have a safeties coach, either.
In the immediacy of Ash’s departure, internet rumors abounded that Memphis’ DC, Barry Odom, was the guy. While not exactly a "name" hire, his skill set certainly fit the bill for Ash’s replacement: experience with safeties, an accomplished recruiter from his time with Missouri, and what he did with the Memphis defense over the past few years is nothing short of a miracle. And, in classic Arkansas fashion, this dude took "Twitter stalking" to a whole new level. As Doc noted in his profile of Odom, Odom’s Twitter activity in the wake of the DC rumors was nothing short of odd: aside from various Arkansas coaches, he also started interacting with recruiting media and even a few Arkansas recruits, most notably Solomon Thomas, a guy that Memphis has no shot at landing. It had all the hallmarks of someone who was about to hit the Arkansas recruiting trail. And yet, if Odom were the new DC, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have been announced yet.
But maybe, just maybe, that's because we already have our DC picked out... and he was already on the staff. This is where Randy Shannon comes into play, if rumors are to believed. When Shannon was fired at Miami, the university initially determined that he was not due his full contract buyout. Shannon sued Miami in response, and the two parties settled out of court in undisclosed term. In 2011, Shannon declined the DC job at Maryland, citing the potential loss of $1.5 million in buyout money from Miami. Contract stipulations in which the total buyout amount can be defrayed upon the former employee finding new employment are not all that unusual - we had such a deal with John Pelphrey, after all.
What makes Shannon's deal unusual is that, if true, he is apparently forbidden from accepting a coordinator or head coaching position without forfeiting his entire buyout, and it's now believed that Shannon's obligation to his Miami settlement ended on Febuary 1. The problem with this version of the narrative is that it's now February 3 and we still don't have a DC. If Shannon's Miami settlement were the only thing keeping him from being named the Arkansas DC, it would make sense to announce him immediately on Feb. 1 and make a big splash prior to NSD. Perhaps the university is waiting a few days to make sure that there's no appearance of impropriety with regard to Shannon's settlement, but it's all conjecture at this point. For what it's worth, Pete Roussel of coachingsearch.com says that we'll be waiting until after NSD to name a DC.
Now, remember that safeties coach vacancy we've all forgotten about? Assuming Shannon is the DC, who do we get for that? Some hypotheticals:
- Barry Odom: It's unlikely that he would leave a coordinator role to be a position coach, but what if he were also co-DC, Asst. HC, or DC-in-waiting? Shannon will probably be off to a HC gig before too much longer, after all. Having Odom as senior coach on the staff could provide some continuity if Shannon is only a stop-gap at DC.
- Aaron Henry: Currently a GA, he was a starting safety at Wisconsin during their 2010 and 2011 Rose Bowl campaigns. Promoting an inexperienced GA to a position coach is something of a rarity, but Bielema has a history of doing just that, most notably with current UW cornerbacks coach Ben Strickland and Bart Miller when Bielema fired Mike Markuson two games into the 2012 season.
- Bobby Allen: The 2-time Razorback defensive coordinator moved to an off-field position for 2012, but you have to wonder if he would consider returning to the sideline. His 1998 defense was pretty salty, and he has extensive experience coaching the secondary, though primarily with cornerbacks. Depending on how well he's been doing in his current role as Director of High School Relations, he could be a recruiting asset for the upcoming 2015 in-state class, which looks like it could be the best in years.
For my part, I don't consider any of these options to be "likely," but that's only because Bret has kept this hiring decision exceptionally close to the chest. The national media appears to be completely out of the loop when it comes the DC rumors, and I don't know if anyone has even addressed the safeties coach vacancy. Who knows, maybe Shannon will named by the end of the week... or maybe Bielema pulls another hire out of left field.
One more thing about Shannon. If it seems like you don't know much about aside from the stingy defenses he coached at Miami, you're not alone. The man is a loner, a rock, shaped by a tragic past detailed in this SI profile from 2007. After reading that, I think there's no question that Shannon is the kind of #UnCommon man that we want mentoring the young men on our team.
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