FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema will add Washington running backs coach Joel Thomas to his staff, according to CoachingSearch.com.
The website reported the move late Sunday night. Bielema wasn’t available for confirmation Sunday, but did reveal during a teleconference Saturday he had a running backs coach in place but wasn’t able to announce the move yet.
“I have a running backs coach that’s hired that as soon as he’s done competing in a bowl game I expect everything to happen and move pretty quickly,” Bielema said.
Washington’s season ended with a 28-26 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday. So Thomas could be introduced at Arkansas as early as today.
Thomas has worked as Washington’s running backs coach on coach Steve Sarkisian’s staff the past four seasons. In 2011, Thomas coached Washington tailback Chris Polk as he became just the second player in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. Polk ran for 1,488 yards in 2011, which was the second-best season in school history and also was one of just seven players in Pac-12 history to reach the 4,000-yard rushing mark in his career.
Sophomore Bishop Sankey was equally impressive under Thomas’ tutelage in 2012, rushing for 1,439 yards and 19 touchdowns. He was named the most valuable player of the Las Vegas Bowl after rushing for a Washington bowl record of 205 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.
Thomas is from Port Angeles, Wash., but has ties to new Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. He worked as a graduate assistant at Purdue early in his career when Chaney was offensive coordinator.
Thomas also has ties to former Arkansas coaches Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith, working for both at Louisville in 2002-03. Former Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino also was part of the same offensive staff at Louisville in 2003.
Thomas played at Idaho from 1995-98 and is the school’s leading rusher, gaining 3,929 rushing yards with 51 touchdowns in his career. He was named the Big West Player of the Year as a senior and inducted into Idaho’s Hall of Fame in 2008.
Thomas will become the sixth assistant hired by Bielema, joining Chaney, offensive line coach Sam Pittman, receivers coach George McDonald, defensive coordinator Chris Ash and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge. Arkansas has three positions to fill with tight ends, linebackers and secondary coaches.
Tim Horton worked as Arkansas’ running backs coach for six years. Bielema said Horton — along with 2012 linebackers coach Taver Johnson — remained in consideration for positions on his staff. Thomas’ hiring would mean the only offensive spot available for Horton is as Arkansas’ tight ends coach.
Horton does have experience at that position, coaching both wide receivers and tight ends in his first full-time job at Appalachian State from 1990-92.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau