Paul Haynes was on the opposite sideline a year ago when Arkansas went bowling.
Haynes, named this week as the Hogs’ new defensive coordinator, was the safeties coach at Ohio State when the Buckeyes held off the Hogs 31-26 in the AllState Sugar Bowl last season.
He’ll be on Arkansas’ sideline Jan. 6 at the AT&T Cotton Bowl when the No. 6 Hogs take on No. 8 Kansas State, the start of what Hog fans hope will be a new and improved era in the realm of defensive football at Arkansas.
The Hogs made strides under former defensive coordinator Willy Robinson from Season No. 2 to Season No. 3, but fell off this season and gave up 28 or more points in six of their 12 games.
Coach Bobby Petrino said it was time to go in a new direction, and it didn’t take him long to settle on Haynes.
We caught up with Haynes earlier this week for a Q&A:
You go from the Big Ten to the SEC. What will be the biggest adjustment for you?
Paul Haynes: I know in the Big Ten, week in and week out, we faced great competition. But I know this will be a step above in terms of the competition, a different level. I don’t know that it will be an adjustment for me. I just have to make sure the defense we put out on the field is sound and gives great effort. Week in and week out, anybody can beat you here. So we just have to make sure that we’re ready to go.
What was Petrino’s mandate to you in taking over this defense?
PH: To make sure we keep improving and make sure our guys know exactly what they’re doing and make sure our guys do a good job with fundamentals and technique. Again, I don’t think that it was something he was disappointed with before. I just think he wanted to make a change and make sure this defense takes it to the next level. If we’re sound with our fundamentals and technique and give great effort, we can get it to the next level.
What is your stamp defensively?
PH: The first thing about defense is that you’ve got to stop the run, and that’s going to be the first thing that we focus on. I know there are a lot of so-called pass-happy teams out there, but even with those types of teams, if they can run the football, they become harder to defend because you’ve got to defend two things. We’ve got to make teams one-dimensional and then we’ve got to mix it up and be multiple and affect the quarterback. We’ve got to do a good job of making that quarterback think every play. That’s not just pressuring him every play, either, but our coverage guys have to do a good job of moving around and not being stiff and making him think every down.
Are you a 4-3 or 3-4 guy, or will you play combinations of both?
PH: I think you’ve got to mix it up. In this day and age of college football, I don’t think you can sit in one thing. I do like the four-man front, but we will be a multiple-style defense. That’s one of the things that Coach Petrino wants. There’s only so many things you can do, just learning the terminology and changing the terminology and making sure that your kids understand it and making sure that your kids play fast. The verbiage will be different, but there won’t be that much change as far as what we do from what they did here previously.
Who have been your mentors in football?
PH: First, I would have to say Coach (Jim) Tressel. I have known him for a long time, even before I got to Ohio State. I had the privilege of playing against him when I was at Kent State and he was at Youngstown. He’s a guy I call a lot because I know he has my best interests. The second guy is Dean Pees, who’s with the Baltimore Ravens. I had the privilege of coaching with him for two years at Kent State. He’s been with Nick Saban at Michigan State, and I really learned a lot of defense from him. The other guy is Perry Fewell, who’s the defensive coordinator with the Giants. He actually got me down to Jacksonville. Those are the three guys I talk with the most often.
You mentioned Tressel. Do you think he’ll coach again?
PH: I think he will, and I’ll be the first to say this: There’s no way that college football is better without Coach Tressel in it. Coach Tressel is a life coach, and there are so many thousands and thousands of kids that he has taught the values of life. College football needs him, and I think college football will be better with him. I’m looking forward to seeing him get back on the sideline.
What is your connection with Petrino?
PH: We worked together in Jacksonville, and I worked with John L. Smith for three years, one at Louisville and two at Michigan State. Garrick McGee and I were also at Jacksonville together. He was the offensive quality control guy, and I was the defensive quality control guy. The year I spent in Louisville, a lot of the people who are here, I kind of had a connection with them at some point in time. I spent a lot of time with (Petrino) in Jacksonville. He used to come to the room where Garrick and I worked, and we’d talk. We stayed in touch, and I know his body of work. I know what he likes and know what he’s about, so it was an easy transition.
Do you look at this Arkansas program as being close to winning a championship, and what is it going to take to break through against Alabama and LSU?
PH: That’s the challenge that lies ahead of us. We know we have to improve and know we have to get better and know we have to beat those two teams if we’re going to reach our goal, and that’s to win the national championship. If you keep improving in fundamentals and effort, you’re always going to have a chance. Our guys will fight and battle. There’s a no-quit attitude around here. I know that, for sure, having competed against these guys last year. The little things win championships, not the big things. We’ve just got to make sure we continue to focus on the little things.
Petrino is known for putting high-powered offenses on the field everywhere he’s been. How much pressure is there to duplicate that on defense?
PH: I don’t know if there’s pressure. Rather, our job is to take the pressure off the offense so they don’t feel like they have to win games 45-40. Our goal is to be the best defense in the country. We’re not looking just to hold our own or be average. We’re going to go to work with the goal in mind of being the best defense in the country. You look at defensive stats, sure, but the first stat you look at is wins and losses.
What’s paramount these next few weeks as you get ready for the Cotton Bowl?
PH: The big thing for me is learning the terminology because we’re not going to change anything and try to learn my stuff in this short period of time. I don’t think it’s fair for the seniors. I don’t think it’s fair for this football team right now. So I need to learn the defense as much as possible and make it as simple as possible and get to know the kids. That’s why I wanted to be here now and not wait until after the bowl game. I want to get to know these kids, and I want them to get to know me. That’s going to be my main focus.
Has anybody succeeded in getting you to call the Hogs yet?
PH: I haven’t done it yet, but my kids got on YouTube as soon as I got the job and they did it all the way to the airport and all the way back to the airport. They’re super excited, and I’m super excited, too, about this opportunity.