FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema’s search for a defensive coordinator finally ended Saturday afternoon.
Bielema announced Robb Smith — who spent the 2013 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — was hired to replace Chris Ash. The position had been vacant since Ash left to become the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State on Jan. 14.
“I’ve been able to watch Robb Smith grow in the profession, and I know he’ll bring in an attacking defensive philosophy that is built specifically to stop offenses in the SEC,” Bielema said in a statement released by Arkansas. “Robb has been promoted time and time again at every place he’s been. With his background, he captivates a room no matter where he is and players gravitate towards him. He’s demonstrated an understanding of what it takes to build a team into a championship program.”
The 38-year-old Smith will take charge of a defense that ranked 89th in the country in points allowed last season (30.8). He moves to Arkansas after spending 2013 as part of Greg Schiano’s staff with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, working as the organization’s linebackers coach. Schiano was fired after the season.
Dave Wannstedt, the former Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins and University of Pittsburgh head coach, worked with Smith in Tampa last season. He said the coach was responsible for turning Tampa’s linebackers into a strong unit.
Smith worked with second-year linebacker Lavonte David, who was named first-team All-Pro in Tampa last season. David recorded 144 tackles, 6 sacks, 5 interceptions, 10 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
“When I came down here and took a job with the Bucs, (Schiano) told me we were going to bring Rob in on the staff on defense to work with the linebackers and everything and I was excited,” Wannstedt said Saturday. “Because I knew Robb’s background and what a great job he did with the players at Rutgers.
“Once he got down here, it didn’t take long before our linebackers were probably the bright spot of our whole defense. They played at a high level.”
Bielema was believed to have been considering Smith, current Arkansas linebackers coach Randy Shannon and Memphis defensive coordinator Barry Odom for the position. Bielema announced on signing day that Shannon would not be defensive coordinator, but had been promoted to senior associate head coach.
He’ll work with Smith, who won’t bring much defensive coordinator experience to Arkansas. But Smith enjoyed a big season in charge of Rutgers’ defense in 2012.
The Scarlet Knights finished fourth in the NCAA in scoring defense (14.2 points a game), sixth in rushing defense (95.2 yards) and 10th in total defense (311.6) during a 9-4 season. Rutgers beat Arkansas 35-29 in Razorback Stadium the season. Former Razorbacks wide receiver Cobi Hamilton set the SEC’s single-game receiving record with 10 catches for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns in the loss.
Smith’s only other defensive coordinator experience came in a three-year stint at Maine (2006-08). The Pittsburgh native has never worked in the SEC, but is familiar with Bielema. Smith began his coaching career as a defensive graduate assistant at Iowa from 1999-2001, when Bielema coached linebackers.
“Robb’s smart. He understands defense. He thinks outside the box,” Wannstedt said. “In my 18 years of being a head coach, I’ve had a lot of defensive and offensive coordinators. They know the playbook and as long as everything is working according to the playbook it’s good. But that’s not the way it happens. The minute you’ve got to do something, make an adjustment, something happens that’s not exactly by the book, they have a tough time making adjustments on the move.
“My exposure to Robb, he thinks outside the box. … If I was putting together a staff tomorrow, I’d hire him. That’s probably the highest recommendation I could give.”