The timing finally worked out this time around.
Smith, the former Rutgers defensive coordinator who spent last season with Tampa Bay in the NFL, was hired by Bielema and the Razorbacks over the weekend. The 38-year-old was introduced on Monday, vowing to bring an “aggressive philosophy” to a defense that allowed more than 30 points per game last season.
Smith takes over a unit that was 12th in the Southeastern Conference in points allowed last year, a season in which the Razorbacks lost their final nine games on the way to a 3-9 finish in Bielema’s first season.
Bielema said he had talked about hiring Smith, who he worked with while an assistant coach at Iowa, several times over the years after taking over at Wisconsin. That included when he eventually hired Ash while with the Badgers, and last year - when he was uncertain whether Ash would join him at Arkansas.
Smith eventually chose to follow former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano to Tampa Bay, where he coached the linebackers last season. However, once Ash left for the Buckeyes last month - following Schiano’s firing by the Buccaneers after the season - Bielema quickly reached out to Smith again.
This time, the timing was right.
During the weeks leading up to last week’s national signing day, Bielema said he was in no hurry to name Ash’s replacement. Once the recruiting season slowed down, though, he concentrated on filling the vacant position and finalized Smith’s contract on Saturday.
“I am excited, not only for our kids, but our program and staff and everything else,” Bielema said.
Before spending a season in the NFL, Smith coached for four seasons with Schiano at Rutgers. He was the defensive coordinator there in 2012 when the Scarlet Knights won the Big East Conference - allowing just 91 points in seven conference games - and he learned that “football players are football players” while in the NFL.
“At the end of the day, whether it’s a student-athlete or a professional football player, they want to have the tools necessary to be successful,” Smith said. “And if you can provide them with that information and those tools, they’re going to gravitate toward you.”
Smith coached at Maine for seven seasons before his time with Rutgers, and he said he’s excited to face a variety of different offenses in the SEC - which he called “the best league in college football, without question.”
Smith joins a defensive staff that already features former Miami head coach Randy Shannon. Bielema said last week that Shannon, the linebackers’ coach last season, would be promoted to senior associate head coach and wouldn’t be named defensive coordinator - a position he held with the Hurricanes before being named head coach.