29 Dec

James Shibest: “I can remember how chunky ol’ Austin was when he was young”

James Shibest

The Virginia Tech special teams coach recalls meeting Austin Allen while coaching at Arkansas

James Shibest and Bobby Allen are at the center of Razorbacks-Hokies football coaching cross-pollination. Allen, a former Virginia Tech player, has been on the Arkansas staff for nearly 20 years. Shibest, meanwhile, is a former Razorback player and coach. He’s in his first year at Virginia Tech, coaching special teams and tight ends for Hokies coach Justin Fuente.

They will both be on the sidelines for today’s Belk Bowl, in which Arkansas is a touchdown underdog to Virginia Tech according to the latest betting odds.

Shibest, who coached at Arkansas 2000-07, yesterday recalled Allen training his two sons in and around Razorback Stadium. Those boys, Brandon Allen and Austin Allen, have combined to hold the Hogs’ starting quarterback job for the last four years.

“Almost every free minute he had he was working with them boys and obviously that worked,” Shibest told sports show host Bo Mattingly and sportswriter Clay Henry on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly. “Whether it be football, baseball, whatever it was, has paid off. God I’m just so happy for them guys. I used to remember how chunky ol’ Austin was when he was young… He’s an unbelievable competitor, let me tell you. I know all the Hog fans know that boy but I’ll tell you what, he is a good player.”

Here are some more choice excerpts from their conversation:

Bo Mattingly: … What was that period of your life like when you  left Arkansas when coach Nutt took the job at Ole Miss? Then when it didn’t work out at Ole Miss, you had some stuff to figure out…

James Shibest: No doubt. I have really been unbelievably blessed. Ever since I’ve gotten to this level I was very fortunate. I came from junior college and coach [Houston] Nutt hired me. God what an awesome person to work for and learn from. You love your alma mater so much, you want to stay there. It was tough.

Then when we went to Ole Miss went ahead but you got to go feed the family. Really the first time I really ever had to look for a job is when I got connected with coach Fuente at Memphis there. It didn’t take long, it was a couple of weeks. It wasn’t like I had to sit out a year. It’s a tough road a lot of times in this profession. I’ve been extremely lucky. Always having to be at a great place and then with great people to work for.

On coaching junior college football:

James Shibest: Let me tell you it was really a great training. First of all you learn how to go be a coach. Them guys kind of were on their second chance especially the Division I type guys through academics or various reasons. They needed you more. I don’t know if I’ve ever been closer to my players more than in junior college. It was obviously a little bit smaller but them guys really needed your help. There was some deep, deep satisfaction when you could get them to that … back to division one or whatever, to that next institution.

Clay Henry: I’ve written stories about the Arkansas wide receivers of late and I keep pulling up these top 10 lists. I keep finding you in there —

James Shibest: Didn’t do much as a freshman and then, of course, it was a little nerve wracking there. I came in with hopes and Coach [Ken] Hatfield was … Of course all you heard was the Flexbone. I didn’t really know what that was as far as being a receiver, how I would fit in that. It’s amazing how it turned out to be a great blessing. Them safeties have to play the dang triple option in there, and I was out there by myself one on one most of the time and-

Clay Henry: You ran those crossing routes. It’d take a little while. The safety would clear than then ere came Shibest, about eight seconds later.

James Shibest: All right now, I was a lot faster than what y’all say I was.

Clay Henry: Okay, sorry, sorry.

James Shibest: [Laughs] It was pretty cool. You know Brad [Taylor] was still there so we kind of had to throw the ball that first year and end up having a pretty good year. It all worked out just like the way it should have.

The Shibest File
Experience: 27th season, 1st at Virginia Tech
Hometown: Houston, Texas
High School: MacArthur
College: Arkansas (1987)
Playing Exp: Arkansas (1983-87)
Family: Wife – Dianna; Son – James John III, Daughter – Jordyn Grace

Coaching History

Year School Position
2016 Virginia Tech Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
2012-15 Memphis Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
2008-11 Ole Miss Special Teams Coordinator
2006-07 Arkansas Special Teams/Tight Ends
2002-05 Arkansas Special Teams/Wide Receivers
2000-01 Arkansas Special Teams/Tight Ends
1996-99 Butler County CC (Kan.) Head Coach
1994-95 Garden City CC (Kan.) Offensive Coordinator/QBs/WRs
1993 Independence CC (Kan.) Defensive Backs
1992 Independence CC (Kan.) Offensive Coordinator
1990-91 Oklahoma State Graduate Assistant
17 Jan

Bret Bielema on Why Austin Allen Projects as the 2016 Season Starter

Austin Allen

Today, Arkansas head coach spent nearly 30 minutes discussing the state of the Hogs football program. In the below transcription, he talks about the health of running back Rawleigh Williams and the depth chart order the four quarterbacks.

He also urges new offensive lineman coach Kurt Anderson, a Chicagoan, to start rocking cowboys boots for the sake of Texan recruiting.

Bielema on the the Liberty Bowl aftermath: 

After the game we had a list of guys that needed to have medical follow up. Some guys who needed some random things that needed to get taken care of. We had a number of guys get into that. I’ll probably wait until we get back in school session because I haven’t been able to see those guys face to face yet to further comment on that. Nothing too serious, just some guys having follow up with the doctors.

I was able to hire an o-line coach. I know he’s coming in here to interview afterwards. I think Kurt is a very vibrant personality. He’s a guy that I had learned about during the recruiting process. He was actually the No. 2 rated linebacker coming out of high school, behind LaVar Arrington. Seems if he finished his career as a center he could tell which way those careers went and he’ll be the first to admit it. A very talented, valued asset to everybody that he had work with and who had been around. Dan, being a Michigan State guy, and when we first started talking about Kurt, and Kurt’s a Michigan guy, sometimes those things don’t mix together – but they had a lot of commonalities…

People just raved about what he was able to do… I thought it was interesting this year when he obviously filled in as the o-line coach because their coach had been suspended for the first seven games and they [the Bills] had led the NFL in rushing. Just a lot of positives around him. Been a great asset just in the first few days of recruiting as well. He brought a lot to the table. I think a very dynamic recruiter that can help us not only with o-line men but in other positions as well. Very excited about him.

Obviously, some other news to have the 3 guys declare for the NFL. I wish them the best of luck. Hunter [Henry], we had an extensive talk with him and his parents before the bowl game. I knew his rating when it came back was kind of low. We had envisioned and I think he has a very, very good chance of being the first tight end selected in the draft. An incredible career, an incredible impact on our program. I think back to he was my first recruiting call. I think that was one well spent. Right after of our media teleconference that first day I was announced.

Soon after that, I had been recruiting Alex Collins during my time at Wisconsin and then to come here and to have his career finish the way it did on that run, just is one that I’ll always remember. I think it was a very difficult decision for him as well. I sat down with a lot of his family and people. I think he was very, very torn, but his grade came out as a favorable grade to come out and prove his worth as well. I’m very, very excited for Alex and his next chapter.

Denver informed me via text that was sent to me on Wednesday. He told me on Monday he was going in the direction to make that next step. I wish him the best of luck as well as he moves forward.

Those are all 3 guys part of that first recruiting class. One that we hadn’t played a game yet and to have 3 guys that possibly could be the top in their respective positions in their respective grades, I think that’s a very, very good likelihood of them being that in that grade. I remember that class wasn’t all that highly regarded in the SEC, but had a national ranking I think was in the top third, I think somewhere in the 30s, somewhere in there. It’s not what you have when you walk in, it’s what you have when you walk out. I think those guys proved their worth.

We’ll start an 8-week conditioning in 2 weeks with Ben Herbert and the guys that we currently have. I thought it was very important for us to get a full 8 weeks. I think we have 2 types of rosters that are coming back. We have a group that is very experienced — very, very developed, very, very in-tuned to what we do, and then we have this next group that’s kind of going to have to fill in big ways that need a lot of work. We’re going to adapt our program a little bit than we have in the past. It’s something I’ve routinely done going into my 11th year as a head coach. Just trying to fit your roster a little bit better. I’m excited to work with Herb. We’ll do some things a little bit different than we’ve done in the past. Kind of lay that out as they go forward.

Then we’ll do all of our Spring practices post Spring break. Which we’ve normally gotten a week in before here before we left for Spring Break, but all of ours will come after Spring Break, with the Spring game coming on April 23. Our Pro Day is on March 9. That’ll be a big one. We got a lot of really, really talented players in large numbers, so I expect to get a good crowd for that (No doubt they’ll be looking to get the first taste of a high anticipated 2016 season, one in which Arkansas has been pegged with 50-to-1 odds of winning the national title).

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Q: Has Kody Walker indicated he’s coming back for a 6th season?

Bret Bielema: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yep, Yep. Kody, I found out he had a 6th year and I waited until the right moment to tell him and when I told him he had a 6th year, he had about a biggest smile as you’ve ever seen. I don’t think there ever was any doubt that that was something he was going to look forward to.

Q: Is there anybody that’s indicated they want a transfer out of the program?

Bret Bielema: Other than the ones we already knew about?

Q: Yeah, anybody since the bowl?

Bret Bielema: No. I don’t think so. I tell you what, I can’t confirm 100%, but I’m 99 percentile that Randy Ramsey will be with us in the Spring as a walk on player, a non-scholarship player. He asked if he could return and pay for his own way. I thought that was a good way to express his desire to be a part of what we’re doing as to pay his own way out of state. I think he’ll be with us in the Spring and see what he can prove. We, obviously, had a couple of mid-year enrollees that will be with us as well, but nobody leaving the program.

Q: How much extra work did Austin Allen get during the bowl practices and how about any of those other [backup] quarterbacks?

Bret Bielema: Yeah, I think we got in 16 practices and I believe 5 of those were developmental only, so a lot of really good, quality work for those guys. There was actually 2 practices that we didn’t let Austin practice. It was just those other 3 quarterbacks. Austin got in a lot of really good valuable work as the No. 1 guy when his brother wasn’t, when BA wasn’t even on the field. Then there were a number of practices where those next 3 quarterbacks got a lot of work without Austin being there as well.

We always talk about in the Spring there are No. 1’s. You got to have somebody go out and we’ll call the 1’s. It’s a coach’s perspective, but if that first group ran on the field, it’d definitely be Austin [Allen]. If the second group ran after, it’d be Rafe [Peavey]. If the third group ran out there, it’d Ty [Storey] and then Ricky [Town] just based on really time in the program. Now what they do with it this Spring is going to add a lot of influence on how fast certain people can move up or down the depth chart.

Q: Have you talked to Rawleigh [Williams III]?

Bret Bielema: Yeah. I just texted him yesterday. Rawleigh reached out to me on my birthday and wished me a happy birthday. Polite child. I said, “How are you feeling? How’s things in Dallas?” He said “Feel great, Coach. 100% ready to go.” I do know that we’re doing a couple extra things with him medically just to appease not only us but him, mom, as we should. I don’t think he’ll do anything with us this spring other than go through maybe drills, non-contact, or anything like that. But before we step on that field as a contact player, we’re going to make sure everything’s clear.

Read More

10 Aug

Q&A with Brandon Allen & Austin Allen

Nelson Chenault (USA Today)

They have pushed each other their whole lives. The question now is how far they can push their team.

A veritable dust storm of media folk rolled into the Razorback football team’s compound yesterday for the program’s annual media day. I was honored to attend, too, and enjoyed the chance to sit beside the Razorbacks’ top two quarterbacks. Here are some choice excerpts from what they had to share:

Starting Quarterback Brandon Allen

On what to expect from the new offense under Dan Enos

You can expect a lot. You can expect us to be a very balanced offense … the biggest thing we’ve worked on is not allowing teams to be able to stack the box against us and stop the run. We’ve done a lot and grew a lot as an offense … I don’t want to say spread people out but keep people on us really and just little tweaks here that are gonna allow us to get the ball in the perimeter, and not let teams knock it out and box us.

On his wide receivers:

You know I love the experience and Keon is really leading those guys and he’s even bringing that core receiving corp a long way. Hunter is the leader of those tight ends and you know they’re doing so much in making themselves better. They’re doing a lot from a fundamental standpoint getting releases, getting off coverage and they’re night and day from where they were last year.

On if Hunter Henry will play an even bigger role in the offense this year:

Absolutely – you know we’re doing so much with him. He’s such a mismatch for defenses with  linebackers and corner backs … He’s such a mismatch and a weapon for us. So we’re gonna move him around we’re going to do certain different things with him, they’re going to feature him and give him the ball and  the offense is all about getting the ball to the play maker.

On all the pre-season love Arkansas has been getting:

I look at it as an opportunity. I think I’m really just excited for the season and we’ve talked about as a team the pre-season accolades, the pre-season watch list, those really don’t mean anything to us. They really don’t. They’re nice to hear but the real thing we want is those pro-season accolades and the things we know that we can accomplish and get done.

On running behind one of the most hoss-ified offensive lines in SEC history:

Makes me feel nice it really does, you know I feel very protected, very at ease back there. Those guys take it hard on themselves whenever I get hit or anything and I think those guys really take pride in what they do. Whether that’s opening holes or protecting me, they love seeing success from this offense.

On handling the big pressure moments coming this fall:

I think that really comes from experience, being able to handle the moment, handle the big pressure situation and I think my experience goes a long way. We’ve got the personnel and we got the player skills to make the big plays. You know it’s just my job as quarterback to be able to put the ball in their hands.

On how much it matters whether the Hogs have a two-a-day or not this training camp:

It all comes down to how we practice. If we don’t practice the way we need to practice we may as well throw a two-a-day in there, but if we practice the way we should, get the work in we need to get done and do it at a high level, then there is no need for that two-a-day – and we can go about our business without having those two-a-days.

On whether he sees other teams also shedding two-a-days if the Hogs get off to a hot start:

They may. We’ll see how it works out it’s really for just keeping us fresh for the start of the season and throughout the season so no two-a-days may be the way to do it.”

Interested in reading similar interview takeaways from 20 other Hog coaches and players, including Dan Enos, Will Gragg and Dominique Reed? Get them all through BestOfArkansasSports.com’s interview roundups.

Quarterback Austin Allen

On getting some burn last year (his sophomore year):

That was a fun experience right there. I hadn’t played for two years going into that Ole Miss game. That was a lot of fun going in there and running the huddle and all that, and it was exciting for me.

On whether he’s feels his time to get major minutes is coming, as it was at Fayetteville High after his brother graduated:

A little bit. There’s a lot of competition and a lot of great quarterbacks here, a lot of new quarterbacks coming in. You always got to be prepared. I mean, you always got to work hard and always try not to get out-worked basically is the way I like to think about it, and that’s kind of what I’m trying to do… You got to be confident playing the quarterback position. That’s just kind of seeps through to the other teammates when you’re walking the huddle, when you have an aura of confidence, and you’re the calling the play.

On how the receivers and running backs look nowadays:

The practices in fall made me see how far Duwop [Mitchell] has come. He’s a freak show wide at receiver and now you’ve got Dominique Reed coming in, he broad jumped 11-11, he runs about a 4.27 40. Then you got consistent guys like Keon, he’s been amazing since the time I got here to where he is now, it’s unbelievable. He’s ready for a breakout year and he deserves all of it. All of the running backs just chuck it down to him to a two-yard throw, and they might run for 85, so there’s playmakers all over the place.

On why fans and players are optimistic for 2015 beyond the fact the team finished strong in 2014:

I think it’s just they see the improvement in the team from the first year to second year, and now our recruitment class has come in. There’s some big-time players that came in in that recruitment class, and there’s just how well Coach Herb got us all prepared, our bodies, to play in the SEC. That’s why I think we have the confidence, because it comes from the head coach and Coach Herb. It should be a good year.


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