FAYETTEVILLE - Bret Bielema’s first official Arkansas Razorbacks hire is the coach coordinating Bielema’s last two defenses at Wisconsin.
Chris Ash, Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012 and Wisconsin’s defensive backfield coach in 2010, becomes Arkansas’ defensive coordinator, new Arkansas Coach Bielema announced Tuesday.
Bielema, the Wisconsin Badgers’ head coach from 2006-2012 and their defensive coordinator in 2004 and 2005, was hired last week to succeed John L. Smith, the interim coach in 2012 after former Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino was fired last spring.
“I am excited to welcome Chris to our staff,” Bielema was quoted in a UA press release issued early Tuesday evening. “In the last three years working together, I gained a great respect for the way Chris teaches the game and develops student-athletes. I’ve followed his career for a long time, and his knowledge of the way we run our program and specifically the defense will be valuable for us moving forward in our transition. Chris helped us improve drastically in our pass defense at Wisconsin where his defenses consistently ranked in the top 25 nationally in all the major categories.”
By agreement with Wisconsin Athletic Director/Interim Coach Barry Alvarez and Bielema, Ash will remain at Wisconsin through Jan. 1 to coordinate the Big Ten champion Badgers’ defense in their Rose Bowl game against Pac 12 champion Stanford.
“I made a commitment to stay at the University of Wisconsin through the Rose Bowl and I owe it to these players and fans to do that,” Ash said Tuesday night from Madison, Wisc., in an Arkansas arranged teleconference.
When Ash arrives shortly after the Rose Bowl, it will be a Fayetteville first.
“I have not been to Fayetteville at all either recently or ever,” Ash said. “I didn’t need to go to Fayetteville to make the decision. I’m excited about the opportunity and I think I am really going to enjoy it.”
Ash said knowing he will continue to work with Bielema suffices as does what he knows about Arkansas’ tradition and “passionate” fan base.
He does come to a program fallen to 4-8 after successive 10-3 and 11-2 seasons under Petrino, now the head coach at Western Kentucky.
“I know they have lots of talent,” Ash said. “I have watched Arkansas football for years. I think it’s a sleeping giant capable of doing great things.”
Ash said he has seen enough of Arkansas’ defense to be excited that returning defensive ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers “can get after a quarterback” and with the progress that linebackers A.J. Turner and Otha Peters and safety Rohan Gaines made as freshman starters in 2012.
Regarding adjusting from coaching for the first time in the SEC after coaching in the Big Ten at Wisconsin and Big 12 at Iowa State, Ash said, “Football is football,” but added of the SEC: “It’s the best college in football. You have the best players year in and year out. I am 38 years old and I’m hungry to have the opportunity to coach against great players and great coaches.”
Ash said his Wisconsin defenses played out of a 4-3 base, but that his defenses are “flexible and multiple” to suit his personnel and to adjust to the opposition offenses.
Though coaching exclusively in the upper Midwest and two years on the West Coast at San Diego State, Ash said he has recruited extensively for Wisconsin in the SEC territories of Florida and Texas.
Ash is a graduate of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and said he played in the secondary there before earning a master’s degree at Iowa State.
The Ottumwa, Iowa, native coached at both schools , first in 1996 as a Drake volunteer assistant and a graduate assistant in 1997 elevated to defensive coordinator in 1998 and 1999.
Ash stepped up from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big 12 in 2000 starting as a Iowa State grad assistant while working on his masters through 2001. He was elevated full-time to coach defensive backs from 2002 through 2005 with the additional title of recruiting coordinator in 2006.
Ash then went west to San Diego State as defensive backfield coach/recruiting coordinator in 2007and 2008, returned to Iowa State as defensive backfield coach/recruiting coordinator in 2009 and then went on to Wisconsin under Bielema.
Three starters in Ash’s 2010 Wisconsin secondary earned All-Big Ten.
The 2011 Wisconin defense that Ash coordinated ranked 13th nationally in scoring defense and 15th in total defense.
As defensive coordinator, Ash replaces Paul Haynes who was hired last December out of Ohio State by Petrino.
Bielema has made no official announcements on the holdover UA staff he met with last week that include Petrino hires Haynes, assistant head coach/ linebackers coach Taver Johnson, defensive line coaches Kevin Peoples and Steve Caldwell, offensive line coach Chris Klenakis and receivers coach Kris Cinkovich and Petrino staffers Bobby Allen and Tim Horton who preceded Petrino as assistants for former Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt.
Allen, the cornerbacks coach believed to have been offered the vacated UA job of high school relations director, and running backs coach/recruiting Horton may be the only holdover assistants with the option to remain.
Horton is believed to be a finalist for the Appalachian State head coaching job to replace longtime Coach Jerry Moore under whom Horton served as an Appalachian State assistant coach from 1990-1998.