Football Staff Working Now to Win Later
For some that believe football only takes place in the fall, new Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and his staff are proving that there is no such thing as the offseason.
Now that ‘Coach B’ and his handpicked staff are all in place, they have wasted no time traveling around the country searching for the right players to make Arkansas better in the near and distant future. With such a geographically diverse coaching staff coming in, Arkansas has a leg up on recruiting competition. Some of the new coaches come over from Wisconsin with Bielema, others from Tennessee, TCU, Washington and Miami.
As expected, it was crucial to retain as many early commitments as possible, which generally might pose a challenge for incoming coaching staffs. Many of Arkansas’ earlier commits were visited by the new staff this past week to help further ease the transition of coaches from old to new.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney spent Sunday visiting Fayetteville High School quarterback Austin Allen, a three-star recruit and brother of Hog quarterback Brandon Allen. Chaney and Allen apparently hit it off according to HawgSports.com’s Danny West, as the Elite 11 quarterback remains firm in his commitment to the Hogs.
Other local recruits to receive in-home visits from the new staff were Greenwood High School wide receiver Drew Morgan and Fayetteville High School linebacker Brooks Ellis. The three-star recruits were visited by George McDonald, who is expected to leave Arkansas to take the offensive coordinator job at Syracuse, and Randy Shannon, respectively, and were delighted with what the new coaches had to offer.
Shannon, the former head coach at Miami and new linebackers coach, gives Arkansas a significant recruiting advantage because of his experience on the recruiting trail. McDonald has also been listed as one of the top 25 recruiters in the country in 2012 according to ESPN.
Now that it appears that Bielema has been able to sustain most of his commitments from last year’s staff late in the recruiting period, some bigger targets around the country are in high demand for Bielema’s staff in 2013.
New running backs coach Joel Thomas visited the home of Plantation, Fla., running back Alex Collins, who is expected to take his official visit to Arkansas Jan. 25. The 5-foot-11-inch, 207-pound Collins, a four-star recruit and the 11th best running back prospect in the country according to rivals.com, was heavily recruited by Bielema’s staff at Wisconsin and thus remains high on the Hogs’ wish list.
Collins and North Little Rock High School’s Altee Tenpenny are some of Arkansas’ top targets, two physical backs who would fit well into Bielema’s run-oriented attack that made Montee Ball famous at Wisconsin. Tenpenny is verbally committed to Alabama, but Bielema made it clear in his opening remarks as head coach that he wants the top recruits in the state to stay and play in Fayetteville.
To get a feel for the distances coaches travel to recruit, take Honolulu’s Reeve Koehler as an example. Bielema and offensive line coach Sam Pittman flew out to Hawaii to pay the 6-foot-3-inch, 280-pound Koehler an in-home visit.
A four-star offensive guard and Army All-American, Koehler has narrowed his choices to Arkansas and Kansas, and said he will make his decision once he returns to Hawaii from his official visit to Fayetteville Jan. 18.
National signing day isn’t until Feb. 6, so until then there will be much speculation about how the 2013 class will turn out. The way Bielema and his staff are working on the recruiting trail, expect Arkansas to finish up the recruiting season strong and get recruits that can make an immediate impact on the program.
Cameron McCauley is a writer for the Arkansas Traveler. This is a guest column. Follow the sports section on Twitter @UATravSports.