FAYETTEVILLE -- Wisconsin is continuing to lose assistant coaches, but now Bret Bielema is the reason for it.
As the Badgers' head coach, Bielema lost assistants to the NFL or schools that could pay more and now at Arkansas, he has that same capability. On Tuesday, it was announced that the first hire he has officially made is the hiring of Wisconsin defensive coordinator Chris Ash.
In all three of his seasons as a member of the Wisconsin coaching staff, the Badgers won the Big Ten Championship and made the Rose Bowl. Ash will remain with Wisconsin through the Rose Bowl this season before joining the Razorbacks' staff.
“I am excited to welcome Chris to our staff,” Bielema said. “In the last three years working together, I gained a great respect for the way Chris teaches the game and develops student-athletes. I’ve followed his career for a long time, and his knowledge of the way we run our program, and specifically the defense, will be valuable for us moving forward in our transition. Chris helped us improve drastically in our pass defense at Wisconsin where his defenses consistently ranked in the top 25 nationally in all the major categories.”
Ash first coached under Bielema in 2010 when he became Wisconsin's defensive backs coach. A year later, he was promoted to defensive coordinator. Though Bielema’s assistant coaches at Arkansas will likely make more than they did at Wisconsin, Ash said taking the job is not about the salary.
“I didn’t get into this profession for money, I got into it for my love and passion for coaching and the players I get to work with on a daily basis,” Ash said. “Obviously any time you are rewarded for the time, effort and commitment you make, it makes you feel appreciated, but it isn’t about money for me. I’ve loved every other job I’ve had and I love the people I get to work with every day from coaches to players to administrators and a reward financially is just a bonus, in my opinion.”
Long before joining Bielema's staff at Wisconsin, Ash graduated from Drake after playing defensive back for the Bulldogs. Just three years later, he became the defensive coordinator at his alma mater, which is also where he got to know Bielema.
“I’ve known Bret for a long, long time," Ash said. "It goes back to his days as a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa and I was at Drake University, which is a small college in Des Moines, Iowa. We kind of came up through the coaching ranks together. About three years ago, he offered me the opportunity to come work with him at the University of Wisconsin and I jumped at it.
"I know the way he likes to coach, I know what he believes in and those are consistent with my thoughts and beliefs. I like the way he runs his program and he’s a winner."
Instead of an interview with Bielema, Ash said it was his friendship with the head coach that led to his hiring at Arkansas.
“There was no meeting," he said. "Coach Bielema and I know each other well and if he took another job or had an opportunity to go somewhere, I had a chance to go with him and that’s just the relationship we have, and the belief he has in me and the belief I have in him. There was no face-to-face meeting or interview. My interview has been my time working with him.”
Even though Ash did not meet with Bielema, nor has he ever stepped foot in Fayetteville, he said he did not need to make a trip to the Natural State to know taking the job was the right decision.
“I know there has been a wealth of talent through there," Ash said. "I’ve watched SEC football and Arkansas football for years. I think it’s a place with a sleeping giant where you have a great opportunity to do great things. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the community, the state, the passion of the fans, the program and the university. When you have all those things in place, you have great facilities and you have an outstanding athletic director, I think you have a chance of success and I didn’t need to go to Fayetteville to make this decision.
“It’s more about the people and the guys you work with and the guys you work for. Those things are there and I am excited about the opportunity and I think I’ll really enjoy it. I had options and they were all good options, but this is what I felt was the best option for me."