FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas assistant Paul Rhoads will have a different vantage point during games this season.
In his shift to defensive coordinator, Rhoads is moving from the press box to the sideline. He strictly coached defensive backs in 2016, a role he’s keeping in this season, his second at Arkansas.
Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema says Rhoads has a way of communicating critically with his players without demeaning them. As a result, Bielema believes the players will respond to and trust his methods and, ideally, play better as a result.
“Paul has a way of being verbally loud without yelling, if that makes sense,” Bielema said. “He’s very assertive. As a coach, it’s a very rare breed that has that. I think the kids really respond to him. He’s not a vulgar guy. Doesn’t use [bad] language. It’s more about challenging them, and I think it’s been very responsive.”
After allowing an FBS-worst 39 rushing touchdowns in 2016, Arkansas’ defense players need a coach who believes their flaws can be remedied. That is the case with Rhoads, and all signs point to a bolstered sense of confidence from a year ago.
“He empowers this defense,” senior cornerback Henre’ Toliver said of Rhoads. “That’s what I think the biggest difference [from last year] is. He knows the holes of the defense, so us as a defense, we don’t panic.”
Rhoads credits his father, Cecil, for teaching him the ability to be tough on his players without pushing them away. Cecil coached high school football for more than three decades and is a member of the Iowa High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
“I get more passion from my dad than I do Xs and Os,” Rhoads said. “ He was loud, but there was always as many complimentary words being spoken as there was critique being done. I think as long as your kids always know that you are fair and just in that process, they figure out quite quickly that you are just coaching them hard.”
Rhoads will be returning to more familiar territory when he roams the sideline this fall. Last season was his first in the press box since he coached defensive backs at Iowa State in 1999.
He believes it’s much easier to communicate effectively from the sidelines while seeing things from the same perspective as the players. It also gives him a chance to personally make adjustments in the middle of a series, which he feels is especially important against no-huddle offenses.
Rhoads became known for his passionate interactions with players — and officials — on the sideline while head coach at Iowa State from 2009 to 2015. That’s a layer of his personality Razorbacks players are used to seeing in practice, and they will be able to tap that energy in the heat of battle this season.
“He’s an enthusiastic guy,” Toliver said. “I’ve seen the videos of him at Iowa State getting all riled up. I just want to see that on game day.”
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