Wednesday, July 29, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Head Hog likes new assistant

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – For two years as his most nationally high-profile assistant football coach and recruiter, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema derived much from Randy Shannon.

Of course Bielema has derived nothing from Shannon since January and likely won’t again. The former Arkansas linebackers’ coach/assistant head coach now is the co-defensive coordinator and assistant head coach come home for the Florida Gators.
The University of Florida itself isn’t Shannon’s old home, but the State of Florida certainly is for the Miami native.

Shannon starred for the University of Miami as a linebacker for Jimmy Johnson’s Hurricanes from 1985-88 and after a two-year NFL career under Johnson as a linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys, returned to his alma mater in 1991. He coached on Miami’s defensive staff through 2006, the last six years as defensive coordinator and was elevated to head coach from 2007-2010.

Shannon’s South Florida recruiting ties obviously in 2012 helped the Razorbacks land current junior running Alex Collins, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher currently on the Maxwell Award and Doak Walker Trophy preseason national watch lists, and current junior offensive tackle Denver Kirkland of Miami currently adorning the Outland Trophy watch list.

As a coach, inheriting a dreadfully thin linebacking corps in 2013, Shannon helped develop 2014 senior second-year junior college transfer Martrell Spaight into the SEC’s leading tackler. Spaight was named 2014 first-team All-SEC and was drafted by the Washington Redskins.

Strong as Shannon has been for Arkansas, Bielema sees no weakness proceeding without him.

Bielema himself has a strong recruiting presence in Florida.

He avidly recruited in the Sunshine State from 2006-2012 as Wisconsin’s head coach and now has Arkansas two years established with a strong recruiting presence in Florida.

As for coaching linebackers, Bielema seems more than well satisfied with Shannon’s Arkansas successor, Vernon Hargreaves.

Hargreaves, his son Vernon Hargreaves III, ironically the Preseason All-SEC cornerback for the Florida Gators now employing Shannon, has State of Florida recruiting ties of his own.

Hired away from the University of Houston, Hargreaves previously was a Miami assistant from 1998-2005 and also coached defense for Florida International and South Florida.

Brooks Ellis, the junior two-year starting middle linebacker from Fayetteville, now Spaight’s heir apparent moving to Spaight’s old weakside linebacker spot, has directly benefitted from Hargreaves’ coaching, Bielema said.

Khalia Hackett, lettering mainly on special teams as a Razorbacks true freshman in 2013, emerged last spring under Hargreaves in Ellis’ old middle linebacker slot.

Josh Williams, a sophomore JC transfer last year backing up Ellis in the middle, after a spring, now starts at outside strongside linebacker under Hargreaves.

“To bring in a guy like Vernon Hargreaves, I think you could ask Brooks Ellis the techniques he has learned,” Bielema said. “How to use his hands, the eye discipline, the ability to defeat blocks has been very, very significantly increased. I think our linebackers will become a lot more of a productive position for us. All three of them, not just two, or one last year with Martrell. I am very excited about that.”