Leechburg grad excited for opportunity as defensive coordinator at Arkansas
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For Leechburg native Robb Smith, one coaching door closing led to another opening.
Smith, a 1993 Leechburg High School graduate, lost his job as linebackers coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when head coach Greg Schiano and the staff was let go.
But Smith wasn't out of work for long. He's the defensive coordinator at the University of Arkansas in college football's fabled Southeast Conference.
“It's the way it is with the coaching profession,” Smith said from his office in Fayetteville. “I enjoyed my time at Tampa, but when that door closed, I was able to come here.”
Smith will be working under head coach Bret Bielema, who Smith has known for about 15 years.
“I was a graduate assistant at Iowa while he was the linebackers coach,” Smith said. “We've kept in touch over the years and Bret's been a great mentor to me.”
Bielema, after a successful stint at Wisconsin, will be starting his second season with the Razorbacks.
Soon after Smith became available, Bielema contacted him in the middle of the college recruiting season and signed the former Blue Devils fullback/linebacker three days after National Letter of Intent Day.
“I reached out to Robb as well as a few select other guys, and I told them I wasn't in a hurry” Bielema said.
“I'm excited not only for my kids, but for our staff and everyone else.”
Arkansas is in the middle of spring football practice, giving Smith a chance to install his 3-4 defense and get to know his players.
“We have seven (starters) coming back right now,” Smith said. “But I told them this is a clean slate. That's the biggest thing I'm doing moving forward. I'm excited to see what these guys can do.”
Soon enough, however, Smith will have to come up with the right formula to stop some of the best college offenses in the country.
“No question it's one of the challenges that led me to this job,” Smith said. “You have to face dynamic offenses, pro-style speed. The big thing is to build a defense that has the versatility to defend multiple offenses.”
Smith's first assignment will be to stop Auburn, which has played in two of the last four national championship games.
Many schools start off with a cream puff opponent, but the Razorbacks will leap right into SEC play at Auburn on Aug. 30.
Other conference opponents will include Alabama, LSU, Missouri, Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
While coaching in Tampa Bay and earlier at Rutgers, other nearby pro sports teams vied for attention.
At Arkansas, the entire state is focused on the Razorbacks.
“It's the only show in town,” Smith said. “That's special. The fan base is very passionate; they want nothing but the best.”
Smith has been interested in football and coaching at a young age.
He started going to Leechburg games at age 5, growing up across the street from then-coach Don Olshansky.
Smith played for Leechburg under coach John Peterman, now at Penn Hills. After an outstanding career as a defensive back at Allegheny College, Smith got the coaching bug after his playing days in Meadville were over.
George Guido is a freelance writer.
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