Arkansas’ Perplexing Hire
By Matthew Osborne
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New Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema recently made the puzzling decision to hire Jim Chaney as his team's offensive coordinator.
The University of Alabama has undoubtedly established itself as the premiere program in all of college football over the better part of the last decade.
Utilizing a system predicated upon physicality, toughness and discipline, Nick Saban has created a blueprint for how to win championships in the country’s toughest conference.
Presumably looking to follow the blueprint which Saban and other SEC coaches such as Steve Spurrier, Will Muschamp and Les Miles have implemented to lead their respective teams to success, the athletic administration at the University of Arkansas recently made the decision to hire Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema as the school’s next head football coach.
Fresh off winning three consecutive Big Ten championships at Wisconsin, Bielema heads south to Fayetteville with a philosophical approach that would make the gridiron warriors of the 1950s proud. Ever the old school coach, Bielema has always been commended for the physicality and toughness of his teams. Running the football between the tackles and playing defense aren’t just a mere goal for Bielema, they are the fundamental principles on which his philosophy rests.
Taking over a Razorbacks program which is still reeling from the lasting effects of Bobby Petrino’s morally reprehensible behavior away from the field, Bielema knew that it was going to take some time in order to get Arkansas where he wants it to be.
Aside from the obvious disparity between Bielema’s philosophical approach and Arkansas’ current personnel, the Razorbacks’ new head man was also faced with a number of ancillary problems, such as filling out his coaching staff.
With Bielema’s well-documented background as a “throwback” coach, it was naturally expected that he would ultimately settle upon assistant coaches who shared his old school approach to the game.
That is why his decision to hire former Tennessee assistant Jim Chaney as offensive coordinator has been so puzzling to folks in the college football community.
Although Chaney has an exemplary track record as an offensive coordinator, he is well-known in the coaching community for employing a pass-heavy spread offense.
In each of his last three seasons in Knoxville, the Volunteers threw the football more times than they attempted to run the football. Contrarily, Wisconsin’s offense ran the football 316 times more than they threw it under Bielema this past season.
So what factors went in to Chaney being hired to lead the Razorbacks’ offense? Could it be that his preferred style of offense is a better fit for the current personnel on Arkansas’ roster?
Certainly Chaney has proven to be a more than capable play-caller at the highest level, but his offensive philosophy appears, at first glance, to be in stark contrast with Bielema’s overall philosophical approach.
The blueprint for winning football games in the SEC has clearly been distinguished over the past few seasons. Running the football is still king in the nation’s best conference, and a failure to establish a dominant ground game will ultimately result in less than desirable results.
The decision to hire Bielema certainly seemed to indicate that Arkansas had a firm grasp on what it takes to win in the SEC.
Less than a month into the job, however, Bielema made a questionable decision which clearly goes against everything he has ever stood for as a football coach by hiring Chaney.
Only time will tell if Chaney will be able to work his offensive magic in Fayetteville and help turn the Razorbacks into a championship contender, but the initial impression from this hire is extraordinarily underwhelming.