Several wise (and winning) head football coaches over the years have told me they are only as good as their assistants.
Frank Broyles was the first I heard say it. The fact the annual aware to the top assistant coach in the country is named after him is testament to how much he believed that axiom.
Among the many things former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema didn’t get, that one may have been his ultimate undoing.
Not that you’ll get him to admit it. Bielema hasn’t spoken publicly since his firing the day after Thanksgiving, but his name didn’t surface much in the many coaching vacancies. Nothing was really his fault anyway and they were always close.
Several people have pointed out that the rap on Bielema now is his success at Wisconsin was due more to following Barry Alavarez’ instructions than anything he did.
That, plus, some are saying he doesn’t listen to his assistants.
And in looking back over his five years with the Razorbacks, you have to wonder if there’s some validity to that.
His first staff with the Hogs, combined with more talent than anyone wanted to admit, should have been considerably better than the 3-8 mark they posted (0-8 in SEC games). That team wasn’t going to challenge for any division titles, but it was considerably better than what it finished.
Just look at the staff:
• Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney: He stayed for two years and was shoved out the door by Bielema, then he went to Pittsburgh for a year before landing at Georgia doing the same job for Kirby Smart. They played for the national championship less than a month ago.
• Offensive line coach Sam Pittman: One of the best recruiters in college football, he left following the 2015 season to join Chaney in Athens. In two years he put together an offensive line that played for a national title.
• Defensive coordinator Chris Ash: Stayed one season, then left for Ohio State, where he was co-defensive coordinator on the national championship team in 2014.
• Associate head coach, defensive line coach Charlie Partridge: Lasted one season before jumping off the ship for the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic where he put together the players Lane Kiffin won 10 games with this past season. He wasn’t a head coach, though, winning just nine games over three seasons.
Off that first staff, there is one national championship and a championship game appearance on the staff.
Following that, you got the impression something was up. The guys he was bringing in were good guys that reportedly knew a better way to do some things, but were basically ignored.
The latest is Dan Enos, who was Bielema’s offensive coordinator. Some have said he wanted to do some different things with the offense, but was limited by Bielema, who was simply too stubborn or (more likely) didn’t know enough to change and adapt.
Now Enos is going to be associate head coach and quarterbacks coach at Alabama.
Nick Saban has never been accused of hiring bad assistants. There may be some he disagrees with and they are gone soon, but they are usually winners wherever they go.
Since hindsight is usually 20/20 looking back over these things, we see now Bielema was pretty good in hiring assistants. When he came to Arkansas he said one of the reasons he wanted to leave Wisconsin was to stop the revolving door of good assistants leaving.
Now we know money wasn’t why they were leaving the Badgers.
Or so it seems.