FAYETTEVILLE — There’s a noticeable trait in the staff new Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has assembled. A few coaches have strong recruiting ties in Florida.
Wide receivers coach George McDonald, who has spent the past two seasons working at Miami, is one. Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, who is a Florida native and spent much of his time at Wisconsin mining the state, is another.
Even Bielema himself spent much of his career as an assistant recruiting the state.
It’s a sign Arkansas — which had one player from Florida (receiver Javontee Herndon) on its 2012 roster — may spend time trying to pull players out of the state. But Bielema also stressed the Razorbacks are counting on the state alone.
"It’s always been entertaining for me as a head coach when you hire a coach, they automatically think they can only recruit in areas they’ve traditionally been," Bielema said. "What I’ve learned as a head coach and also as an assistant as you watch, good recruiters are great recruiters wherever they are."
It’s no secret other areas are vital to Arkansas’ success in recruiting. The Razorbacks have counted on states like Texas and Louisiana in addition to Arkansas over the years. So Bielema indicated those areas won’t be forgotten under his watch.
But the Florida ties are evident. Wisconsin had 11 players from Florida on its roster and Partridge said he played a hand in bringing each one to the Badgers.
"I think regardless of what area you’re recruiting, it comes down to relationships and earning people’s trust through the course of the recruiting process," Partridge said earlier this month. "It really goes no different down there. It’s exciting for me to think about going down there and having the opportunity to recruit for a program like Arkansas and the SEC and I’m looking forward to that opportunity."
McDonald was instrumental in helping Miami secure a class ranked eighth in the country by ESPN.com in 2012. It also led to McDonald being rated as one of the top 25 recruiters in the country in 2012, according to Rivals.com.
McDonald has worked his way around the state as a recruiter, but stressed he isn’t limited to the Florida alone. McDonald said his experiences at other programs like Minnesota have helped establish and maintain contacts in other areas.
"I’ve been fortunate where I’ve been a little bit diversified in terms of my recruiting areas from being at different universities," McDonald said. "So I’m just really excited to go out and sell the Arkansas brand, sell coach Bielema, sell the offense that we’re going to put together and just sell everything that Arkansas has to offer.
"Whether I’m in Florida, whether I’m in Chicago, whether I’m in Canada, I’m excited to be at Arkansas and I know we have the resources and the product that’s going to allow us to compete at a high level for recruits."
Bielema said he’ll have a maximum of two coaches recruiting Florida for the Razorbacks. Partridge and McDonald are likely candidates for those roles.
Bielema also is confident in the recruiting prowess of his entire staff to date, which includes offensive line coach Sam Pittman, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, running backs coach Joel Thomas and defensive coordinator Chris Ash.
He said Arkansas goals in recruiting — no matter which area — remain clear.
"You walk in, you’ve got a great personality, you’ve got a great school to represent, you do your work, you can outwork people in certain areas," Bielema said. "I really do believe that really good recruiters can be recruiters anywhere."
McDonald may not be familiar with most of the players he’ll work with during spring practice. But there is one name he knows well.
Herndon has ties to McDonald after older brother, Tray, played for McDonald at Minnesota. It’s a fact Herndon described as "weird" via Twitter, saying "he coached my brother as a freshman, and now me as a senior."
"When I saw that name I was like, ‘That has to be him,’" McDonald said earlier this month. "So I looked at his file and was like, ‘Yep, that’s him.’ So I am excited to get to see the kid after I recruited his brother. I am excited to see how he’s developed."
Tray Herndon started his career at Minnesota in 2007, but transferred to Vanderbilt after McDonald left his position with the Gophers. He eventually ended up at Valdosta State, playing his final season of college football with the program in 2011.
Javontee Herndon caught 21 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns as a junior last season. Herndon and sophomore Mekale McKay (21 catches, 317 yards, 2 touchdowns) are the Razorbacks’ leading returning receivers.
"He’s one of the guys coming back that has had some nice catches and played a lot for them last year," McDonald said. "So I am excited to get to work with him and keep developing him."
Two coaches from Arkansas’ 2012 staff have landed head coaching jobs this month (Paul Petrino at Idaho, Paul Haynes at Kent State). Could there be a third?
Long-time Nevada head coach Chris Ault stepped down late last week, opening a position he had held for 28 seasons. Former Arkansas offensive line coach Chris Klenakis’ name has been mentioned as a potential candidate.
Klenakis spent 16 seasons in two stints at Nevada as offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, working closely with Ault. He was offensive coordinator from 2004-09 before leaving for a position on Bobby Petrino’s Arkansas staff.