FAYETTEVILLE — Charlie Partridge is a Florida native and has spent plenty of hours recruiting in the South. His brother is even a University of Florida graduate.
So the 39-year-old has a good feel for the immense pressure facing coaches in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference. But Arkansas’ new defensive line coach said he can’t wait to join the fray.
“It’s one of, if not the most respected conferences in college football,” Partridge said Sunday. “I think anyone who’s a competitor wants a chance to be part of a conference like that and I’m excited to experience everything that it’s about.”
Partridge, a day after being named Arkansas’ newest assistant coach, spoke to the media about his new position during a Sunday teleconference. He’s following coach Bret Bielema from Wisconsin along with long-time friend Chris Ash, who was named Arkansas’ defensive coordinator early last week.
Partridge and Ash will remain with the Badgers through the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 and, barring any changes, are then scheduled to report to Fayetteville to work with Bielema and shape Arkansas’ defense. Partridge is the fourth assistant coach — and second from Wisconsin — hired by Bielema. Former Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and offensive line coach Sam Pittman also are on board.
“I have never been to Fayetteville. I know it’s close to the Ozarks,” Partridge said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people that know about the area and have nothing but extremely positive things to say about the quality of life as well as the fanbase and the support for the program. So I’m very excited to experience that.”
Partridge brings plenty of credibility as both an assistant coach and recruiter after five successful seasons with the Badgers.
He helped develop linemen like J.J. Watt, who is now with the Houston Texans and regarded as one of the NFL’s most dominant defensive players. Partridge also played a vital part of Wisconsin’s pipeline of signees from Florida. The Badgers place 11 Floridians on their 2012 roster thanks largely to Partridge’s work.
“All the guys that are on the roster right now from Florida I did have a hand in recruiting,” Partridge said. “I think, certainly, coach Bielema has a track record in Florida as well. He used to recruit down there for Iowa and Kansas State and Wisconsin before he became the head coach. He had that area. And that’s where me and coach Bielema actually got to know each other.
“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 and Ash worked at Wisconsin together for three seasons, but have known each other much longer.
The two played college football together at Drake in the 1990s. Partridge was a three-year starter on the defensive line, while Ash was a defensive back. They began their coaching careers together at Drake, along with another former teammate and new North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren.
The two Arkansas assistants also worked together at Iowa State in 2000 and 2001 before Partridge moved on to Eastern Illinois, then Pittsburgh. They were reunited again at Wisconsin in 2010, when Ash left Iowa State for a spot on Bielema’s staff.
While both shared the coordinator’s title at Wisconsin last season, Partridge said Ash was in the lead role and will be once again at Arkansas.
“I’m still going to assist Chris in any role that I possibly can to continue to install our package and get things going that way,” Partridge said. “So from a workload standpoint, nothing is going to change. From a title standpoint, right now, it’s defensive line coach. All I’m excited about is joining Arkansas.”
Partridge and Ash are among five Wisconsin assistants to accept new positions since Bielema left the Badgers earlier this month. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada (North Carolina State), wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni (Tennessee), and linebackers coach Tony Buh (California) will begin new positions next month.
Buh was reportedly offered a position on Bielema’s staff as well, but will join Sonny Dykes at California as the program’s defensive coordinator. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Sunday that Wisconsin running backs coach Thomas Hammock also has an offer to join Bielema’s staff at Arkansas.
All of Wisconsin’s assistants have told athletic director and interim coach Barry Alvarez they will remain with the Badgers through the Rose Bowl.
“I think he is doing everything he can to persuade guys to hold on as long as they can until he names the head football coach,” Partridge said of Alvarez. “But the bottom line is, Barry’s going to make the decision that he feels is best for this program and we’re going to make the decision that we feel is best for us and our families.
“While he’s doing the best he can, the focus right now during our time here remaining through January 1 is to do everything we can to win the Rose Bowl, and that’s our commitment to Coach Alvarez.
Partridge could be some much-needed insurance for Bielema and the defensive staff, though, if Ash doesn’t stay with the Razorbacks long.
Multiple reports in Wisconsin indicate Ash is applying for the head coaching position vacated by Bielema even though he has signed a letter-of-agreement with the Razorbacks. It’s not known if Ash is a serious candidate, but promoting a defensive coordinator isn’t unusual. Bielema was promoted head coach in 2005.
Either way, Partridge said he is eager to start his coaching tenure in the SEC.
“I’m looking forward to getting started after the Rose Bowl and working towards a divisional championship and an SEC championship as we move forward,” he said.