It's been a whirlwind last 18 hours for the Ohio State football program. After news first broke yesterday evening that Ohio State had gauged the interest of the recently departed from Penn State Larry Johnson Sr to potentially be their defensive line coach, within 2-3 hours, we had news that Johnson was in the process of finalizing a deal with the Buckeyes.
Flash forward just over 12 hours, and Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel once again had news with huge ramifications for the future of Urban Meyer's Buckeyes. According to Thamel, the Buckeyes will be bringing in Arkansas (and former Wisconsin co-)defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Thamel also confirmed the finalization of Johnson's contract.
But a number of Ohio State fans were instantly taken aback by the fact that the Buckeyes were bringing in the caretaker of a defense that ranked 94th in F/+ for the 2013 season. By comparison, Luke Fickell's embattled Ohio State D last season was 45th.
So how much of that defense was the result of the players Ash inherited in his first and only year in Fayetteville and how much of it was something he either was or wasn't doing? We went straight to the source and Arkansas Fight's Doc Harper for this edition of '5 minutes in the Holy Land'.
Does Chris Ash's departure from Arkansas to Ohio State come down to money? Responsibilities? And from your year following him, is his recruiting prowess better than 247Sports' recruiter rankings would have us believe?
I don't know for sure, but I highly doubt it's money. Bielema's made a really big deal since coming here out of making sure he could afford to keep any assistants who would otherwise leave for money. So unless the Buckeyes were simply opening the vault for him, it seems unlikely money was a big factor. It may be that he's more comfortable in the Big 10 or that he wanted to go to a more successful program that already has more talent at its disposal, but hard to say for sure.
He was never really hyped as recruiter. He certainly wasn't known for being one of the top recruiters on Arkansas' staff. Of course, Ohio State typically has much more success in recruiting than Arkansas or Wisconsin, so he may be more successful recruiting to Ohio State, but I can't honestly say he's some sort of ace recruiter.
How much of Arkansas' defense was new FAU head coach Charlie Partridge and how much of it was Ash? What sort of philosophies did they employ?
Arkansas was very conservative on defense most of the year due to talent deficiencies in the secondary. Opposing receivers typically received pretty generous cushions in an effort to prevent big plays. It didn't always work – look at the game-winner for LSU to end the season – but Arkansas' defense did gradually improve through the season (We did hold Auburn to 35 points in November, which is much more impressive now than it was then). I'm sure he wanted to attack more as most coaches say they want to, but we just didn't have the personnel to do it.
Fans were disappointed in basic tackling by the secondary, something for which he actively promotes himself. You can see a particularly egregious performance from Tevin Mitchel in the Ole Miss game on a play that went for a touchdown in the second half and essentially lost the game for us.
I never had any indication Partridge was doing more than what he was supposed to be doing on the defensive line.
Obviously Arkansas' defense struggled, to say the least, this past season. Was this the result of the previous regime, or does Ash merit some of the blame?
Most fans gave Ash a pass. We know the Petrino staff barely recruited defense. I mean, Arkansas at one point this season gave up 111 straight points to South Carolina, Alabama, and Auburn, so fans will give the current coaches at least some blame for being that bad, but it was still talent more than anything else. After 2012, a really negative mentality became prominent in many of our players, and when things started to get bad this season, you could see it coming back to the surface, but the coaches deserve credit for somewhat righting the ship in November. Even though Arkansas didn't win, the players gave full effort – which didn't happen in November 2012. Very few were ever calling for him to be fired.
What did Arkansas' players think of Chris Ash, defensive coordinator?
There didn't seem to be many problems. He was Arkansas' third defensive coordinator in three seasons, so we never got the vibe that anybody was really close with each other, but there weren't many rumors of problems. There were even a few players who never sniffed the field under the previous staff, but things clicked playing for Ash and the other new coaches. And all of a sudden, we had these seniors starting games that weren't even able to get on special teams in previous years.
So, yes, the players seemed happy most of the year. They never quit playing hard during the losing streak – other than the Alabama and South Carolina games. They fought until the end when they had nothing left to play for, which is a good indication that they enjoyed playing for the coaches.
Given some of the defense's issues, as odd as it sounds to ask, are you guys at all excited to get a functional do over defensively? Is there anything about Ash as a coach you're likely to miss?
Arkansas fans just want new players to come in. Unless Bielema's able to find some all-star who will get the fans really excited, we just want to see the new players get to Fayetteville and watch the young players develop. Arkansas really needs someone who can convince good defensive recruits to be Razorbacks – particularly linebackers and defensive backs, so we'll be watching for that.