FAYETTEVILLE — Rory Segrest had only spoken to Arkansas coach Bret Bielema once before the interview process that led to his eventual hiring last week.
It came on the field in War Memorial Stadium at the end of Arkansas’ 31-21 win against Samford last September. Bielema had just won his second game with the Razorbacks, while Segrest was the defensive line coach on the opposing sideline.
"He came over and was very nice, complementing what he had seen on film from us prior to our game as far as special teams and defensive line play," Segrest said.
It’s pretty clear Bielema’s words weren’t lip service. He remembered Segrest after Charlie Partridge left to become the head coach at Florida Atlantic last month, hiring him to coach Arkansas’ defensive line and special teams units.
Segrest was introduced during a teleconference with the media on Friday, beginning his work at Arkansas after spending the previous three seasons at Samford and five before that in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. His appointment was unexpected, considering Segrest doesn’t have any ties to Bielema or any other full-time coaches on Arkansas’ staff. But Segrest believes he’ll have a smooth transition.
"Any time you come in and replace a guy, you’ve obviously got to come in and prove yourself," Segrest said. "I feel very confident in what I teach. I’m excited about being able to work with these guys. I’ve got over 100 games of NFL experience under my belt. You know, I’m definitely not intimidated by any means. I’m looking forward to this challenge and just real excited about getting things going here with these guys."
Segrest will earn $225,000 a year after agreeing to a contract that runs through June 30, 2015. He would owe the university $100,000 if he left Arkansas before Feb. 15, 2015. The buyout drops to $50,000 through the remainder of the contract.
He’ll work with a defensive line trying to replace three departed seniors (Chris Smith, Robert Thomas, Byran Jones). The fourth 2013 starter — Trey Flowers — announced earlier this week he was returning for his senior season.
Aside from their jersey numbers, Segrest said he doesn’t know much about his new pupils but if familiarizing himself with the group as quickly as possible.
"It’s a young football team," Segrest said. "You can see there’s a lot of developing still to be done, and that’s actually an exciting thing for me."
Segrest was in his second stint at Samford, where he coached the defensive line and special teams. Before that, the 40-year-old Segrest spent five years on Andy Reid’s staff with the Philadelphia Eagles before being relieved of his duties.
He also has had coaching stint at Southeast Missouri State (1999-2001). Segrest played for Alabama’s 1992 national title team, but said his playing career ended early because of a back injury. Segrest said the injury helped him begin his coaching career, working as a student assistant under Gene Stallings in 1994-95.
"You want to be on the field, but it was a blessing in disguise because it got me a good jump start to my career," said Segrest, who also was a graduate assistant at Auburn under Terry Bowden and Tommy Tuberville from 1997-99. "I’ve obviously been around a lot of great coaches and learned a lot of football."
Segrest has worked for Pat Sullivan at Samford after Philadelphia fired him at the end of the 2010 season. Segrest said he had opportunities to leave for other positions during the past three years, but was patient.
He believed the offer from Arkansas was impossible to pass up.
"I had several opportunities to move onto bigger jobs with offers from BCS programs, but there was nothing I thought was moving my family for until now," Segrest said. " I didn’t want to make a move just to be looking for the next move and I knew if I was patient and kept working hard an opportunity like this would present itself. … I’m looking forward to great things here at Arkansas."
One of Segrest’s earliest responsibilities will come on the recruiting trail as Arkansas puts the finishing touches on its 2014 class. Coaches are permitted to go back on the road Jan. 16 and Segrest will be available to aid in Arkansas’ efforts.
The Waycross, Ga., native and former Alabama player doesn’t have major college football recruiting experience, but said is comfortable in Georgia, North Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. His specific recruiting area has not been determined, but Segrest said he’ll work hard wherever he is assigned.
"I have a lot of coaching experience in terms of having been a recruiting coordinator and different things along those line," Segrest said. "It’s obviously a different ball game when you’re in the SEC and big-time football. The thing I’ve got is I’m a hard worker and I plan on doing everything I need to do to get the job done.
"Part of recruiting is obviously personality. I feel like I’ve got a great rapport with kids and so obviously I’m not concerned about that issue whatsoever."