FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has to hire one assistant after Charlie Partridge was named Florida Atlantic’s head coach earlier this month.
He’s not counting on other departures. But his coaching career has taught him to “prepare for the unexpected” as the coaching carousel spins this winter.
“I think in the world of college football, literally, one hire can affect the whole room,” Bielema said. “A lot of names getting tossed around for different jobs. There’s going to be a chain reaction and you can never really predict it. You just have to understand when it comes you have to be prepared and that’s my biggest challenge.”
Bielema said he carries a three-deep list of coaching candidates at each position in case there are departures. He grew accustomed to using it while at Wisconsin, watching assistants leave for other opportunities on a regular basis during his time seasons in charge of the Badgers.
Bielema had to replace one coach on his Arkansas staff just one month into his tenure as well, when receivers coach George McDonald left the Razorbacks to become offensive coordinator at Syracuse. He later had to fend off Alabama for offensive line coach Sam Pittman, who turned down the Crimson Tide offer after being presented with a raise by the Razorbacks last winter.
“Unfortunately for me, I’ve had a lot of it,” Bielema said.
But Bielema also said it’s “100 percent” part of the profession. He climbed the ladder as well during his career, moving from Iowa to Kansas State and Wisconsin.
“I thought there was a coach or two along the way that tried to hold me back,” Bielema said. “I was doing a good job for them and they didn’t want to lose that and I think that they really didn’t … But I’ve been one, you tell me a job that you want, and if it’s a promotion and I think it’s a great one I’ll go to bat 100 times over.”
Bielema said he gave his remaining staff members some down time for Christmas before returning to work for the final recruiting push. The next few weeks also will include some time for evaluation on the 2013 season and what’s ahead in 2014.
“We’ll really hit the ground running and hard the last three weeks of January and see where it goes,” Bielema said.
Bielema raised some eyebrows — especially in Columbus, Ohio — when his final ballot for the USA Today coaches’ poll was revealed in early December.
Bielema, who has a history with Ohio State and coach Urban Meyer, ranked the 12-1 Buckeyes No. 12 after its Big Ten Championship Game loss to Michigan State. It was the lowest Ohio State was ranked by the coaches who participate in the poll.
Bielema said last week he didn’t drop Ohio State — which finished No. 6 in the poll — that low because he held a grudge. Instead, Bielema said he was following some of the guidelines provided by USA Today when coaches become voters.
“One of the guidelines says if a team loses it should move down six to seven spots,” Bielema said. “Especially if it was a loss to a team that was ranked behind them. I believe I had Ohio State (No.) 5 and they lost and I moved them to No. 12.
“The one thing people would be able to see if they saw my poll (throughout the season) would be a lot of consistency. I mean, I kind of just do it by the way we’re guided to do so. I didn’t think that was going to be a big story — and it really wasn’t. It was just with Ohio State people.”
Ohio State will play Clemson in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.
Swanson, Smith Sign
Two of Arkansas’ top 2014 NFL Draft prospects have selected their representation.
Center Travis Swanson, who was projected as a first-round pick by CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang last week, has signed with Athletes First and will be represented by David Dunn and Joe Panos according to sportsagentblog.com.
Defensive end Chris Smith has signed with Allegiant Athletic Agency, according to a press release from the company. Smith, who led the Razorbacks in sacks for two straight seasons, will be represented by Thomas Sims.
Swanson and Smith have accepted invitations to play in the 2014 Senior Bowl.
Place kicker Cole Hedlund, who has made a verbal commitment to the Razorbacks, was recently named to the American Family Insurance All-USA first team last week. The high school team was selected by USA Today’s Jim Halley in consultation with high school coaches and recruiting analyst Tom Lemming.
Hedlund, an Argyle, Texas, native, earned the honor after making 24 of 26 field goals and 101 of 101 extra points as a senior.
He will get a chance to replace outgoing senior Zach Hocker, who holds Arkansas’ career scoring record.