Arkansas begins spring practice

FAYETTEVILLE ( - While spring practices are a time for several young players to work on fundamentals and battled for starting jobs in the preseason, it is also a time for coaching staffs to gel after off-season changes.

That won't be necessary, though, when Arkansas hits the practice field this afternoon for the first of 15 spring drills. Following a 10-3 season and the school's first BCS bid, the Razorbacks' entire full-time coaching staff remained intact throughout the off-season.

"I think it was critical to be able to keep our coaching staff intact this year," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said in an interview last week. "We had a lot of changes last year and with the loss of some of the seniors and their experience, to have some of the continuity of the techniques that we teach and the language we talk, we'll be a step ahead of where we were last year when we started spring football."

Arkansas was able to ward off potential suitors thanks in large part to substantial pay raises for all nine of its full-time assistants. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee was the beneficiary of the biggest salary bump from $300,000 last season to $425,000 this year.

McGee interviewed for head coaching vacancies at Connecticut and Tulsa, before opting to remain at Arkansas for a fourth season. Petrino said last week McGee was also contacted by teams in the NFL.

"It's certainly a credit to (athletics director) Jeff Long and our chancellor in showing their commitment to our football team to keep our assistant coaches intact," Petrino said, "but also to our assistant coaches, who love living in Northwest Arkansas. They understand the uniqueness of the fans, and the passion of the fans."

Arkansas acclimated three new assistant coaches last spring in defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell, wide receivers coach Kris Cinkovich and offensive line coach Chris Klenakis. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said Monday he could only speak for coaches on his side of the ball, but acknowledged no staff turnover would be beneficial.

"When you stay together there is a comfortableness and there is also the ability to learn the defense as time goes on," Robinson said. "There is a package on the defensive side of the ball that has some intricacies that really you have to learn your position and what you're coaching first, and that as that goes on making sure your players are doing what you're trying to get taught and then gradually start to understand the whole package.

"I think the fact we are returning as a staff, the fact we have experience and the fact our coaches know the defense a lot better, they'll be able to teach our players better and will be more unified. It will result in a faster pace of play."

Arkansas did announce Monday it has hired Brandon Sharp as a graduate assistant to work with the defense. The Razorbacks were down a graduate assistant after Marty Biagi took a full-time job with Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the off-season.

Like tight ends coach Richard Owens, also a graduate assistant, Sharp played for Petrino at Louisville and spent a brief time in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans and Chicago Bears.

"Brandon has always done an excellent job and we are happy to be able to move him into this role on our staff as he pursues his career goals," Petrino said in a statement. "As a player for me, he showed a tremendous amount of leadership which will continue to serve him well."

Tuesday's practice will begin at approximately 3:40 p.m. at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, weather permitting. Practices held outdoors will be open to the public during the spring.