Nutt names co-coordinators

Wednesday, January 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Pictured is Arkansas coach Houston Nutt.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- New Arkansas defensive coordinator John Thompson has gone through three jobs with the speed of the blitzes for which his defenses are known. Thompson quit his post at Memphis last month to join the staff of Nick Saban, who has the task of rebuilding the team at Louisiana State. On Tuesday, just weeks after joining the Tigers, Thompson signed on with the Arkansas staff to share defensive coordinator duties with Bobby Allen.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said Thompson would coach the secondary and Allen would continue to coach linebackers. Nutt and Thompson talked about the Arkansas job two years ago, but they said at the time that their defensive philosophies didn't quite mesh and Nutt hired Keith Burns from Southern California. The Arkansas job came open Dec. 7 when Keith Burns, the coordinator and secondary coach, left to become head coach at Tulsa. Allen, who coaches linebackers, served as coordinator when the Razorbacks defeated Texas 27-6 in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. The Razorbacks recorded eight sacks and held the Longhorns to minus 27 yards rushing. "With Bobby Allen's knowledge and what he has done in our program combined with our defensive package, John should blend nicely with what he brings to the table," Nutt said. "It's a goodmatch."

Nutt said he was not sure when he would announce a replacement for Mark Hutson, the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator, who has taken a position as offensive line coach at Tulsa. Arkansas defensive line coach Bill Keopple said he is uncertain whether he would be replaced amid all the changes. "You'd have to talk to Houston is all I can tell you," Keopple said. "I'll find that out later on." In another development, Fitz Hill, who is the recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach at Arkansas, said Tuesday he had turned down a similar position with Texas Tech.

Thompson, 44, coached seven years at Southern Mississippi and then was defensive coordinator at the University of Memphis last year. Saban was disappointed Tuesday, but said he understood Thompson's decision. "John has made a decision that is important to his family, and we're sorry to see him go," Saban said. "Now we will hire at LSU a defensive coordinator who has the same long-term desire to help us rebuild our program to national prominence. "We will fill our position with a person who is committed to LSU, the people of Louisiana and playing the kind of defensive football that will be exciting for all of us."

Last year, Memphis made great strides under Thompson, allowing 313.5 yards per game. He mixed in a lot of blitzes and used a variety of fronts to keep offenses off balance. The Tigers were 11th nationally in scoring defense, giving up an average of 16.5 points per game. The year before, Memphis was 93rd in the country in scoring defense. "Everywhere he has been, he's been successful," Nutt said. "He had outstanding defenses at Southern Mississippi but the job he did at Memphis was incredible, taking them from 106th to 23rd in the country in total defense."

Thompson, who grew up in Forrest City said he had known Nutt since high school. "He's someone you are just drawn to," said Thompson, who lettered two years at the University of Central Arkansas and served as a graduate assistant at Arkansas in 1982. "The way he is doing things combined with doing them at Arkansas is an exciting combination." He said it had been a life-long dream to coach at Arkansas. Thompson coached at Louisiana Tech, Northwestern Louisiana and Alabama before his stint at Southern Miss. Allen, 40, was Nutt's defensive coordinator at Murray State in 1996 and held the same position on Nutt's staff at Boise State in 1997. He shared the coordinator's job with Burns in 1998.

Saturday night, a few hours after the Cotton Bowl, Nutt said Allen was the leader in his search for a coordinator. "We just want the best fit and the best chemistry," Nutt said at the time. "Let's just get the best fit," Allen said after the Cotton Bowl. "I want Houston to get the best people he can get so we can keep on moving forward and, hopefully, someday we'll be playing for it all."