CONWAY, AR - The majority of the coaching staff for new University of Central Arkansas head coach Nathan Brown is in place, with several familiar faces rounding out Brown’s first staff.
Brown has brought in Brooks Hollingsworth as tight ends coach/assistant head coach, Ken Collums as quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator, Max Thurmond as linebackers coach/defensive coordinator, Taylor Reed as running backs coach and Chad Williams as safeties/nickel backs coach. Brown also retained Ryan Howard with a change in responsibiilities to wide receivers coach/special teams coordinator, Gunnar Boykin as offensive line coach/recruiting coordinator and Tony Davis as defensive line coach.
“I wanted to bring in guys who No. 1, are passionate about the players,’ said Brown, UCA’s former offensive coordinator who replaced Steve Campbell, who left for South Alabama at the conclusion of the 2017 season. “And two, passionate about the game of football. I want guys that love football, love to teach football and are passionate about developing young men into great student-athletes. All of the hires that we’ve made up to this point, there is no doubt that those are the main goals of each of these coaches.
“I also wanted to get guys who are part of what our recruting footprint is going to be. The Houston area, the Dallas area, pushing southeast into Florida. And each and every one of these guys either have recruited in those areas, are from those areas or graduated college from those areas.
“And last but not least, if I got an opportunity to hire UCA guys, I wanted to be able to do that. Any time we can hire guys who have graduated from this program or been a part of this program... they have a different energy and a different passion for UCA football. So to get the opportunity to hire a Brooks Hollingsworth, a Ken Collums, a Ryan Howard and a Taylor Reed... all those guys are former UCA student-athletes. That’s definitely an advantage to our process as well.
“I couldn’t be more excited about the way this staff has developed, and as fast as it’s developed, because it definitely has been an accelerated process. But I want it to be known that this was a meticulous process, and because of that, we got the right guys in here.’
Hollingsworth, a member of the UCA Sports Hall of Fame, returns for his fourth stint at UCA after most recently coaching the offensive line at Conway High School.
“Brooks Hollingsworth was the first person I thought of when visiting with Dr. Teague about this job,’ said Brown. “I knew I needed someone that has some age and some experience at this level of football. And Brooks being a UCA guy obviously adds to what he brings. And not only that, Brooks is a guy who I consider my coaching mentor. As a young coach, he was our offensive coordinator here. He knows more football in his left pinkie that I have in my whole brain.
“He’s a stable guy, someone who has been a head coach at the college level, so bringing that experience was obviously valuable as well. I am very excited to have Brooks come back to our staff.’
Collums is a former UCA quarterback and assistant coach who led the Bears to the 1991 NAIA national championship as a freshman quarterback. He was head coach at Abilene Christian University from 2011-16.
“That was the first guy I called,’ said Brown. “Obviously a lot of respect for him and for what he’s done through the years, being a national champion quarterback here as a player, his deep-rooted ties to this university. And not to mention, a very successful career as an offensive coordinator, not only at UCA but at Abilene Christian. He’s one of the only coaches in history to coach consecutive 12,000-yard passers for their career. There aren’t many that you can say that about.
“And also, he’s been a head coach in the Southland Conference at Abilene. Adding his experience and bringing in someone I can lean on in some areas that may come up or that I’m not accustomed to or are new to me, will be huge through this process.
Howard played quarterback under Brown at UCA and has coached the Bears’ tight ends the past two seasons.
“Ryan is a guy that is a budding star,’ Brown said. “He is someone that I truly, truly value as a coach. He played quarterback here, and you could tell as a player he was going to be a great coach. The opportunity to coach tight ends here the past two years has really expanded his knowledge of the game. He’s going to be an offensive coordinator, a play caller, sooner rather than later. To get the opportunity to move him over to wide receivers, a skill position, a place that’s probably more in his wheel house, is definitely a plus.
“And I wanted to make sure he knew his value to me so I’m making him the special teams coordinator as well. He was directly involved with the special teams in several aspects last year so him getting the opportunity to expand that role and spread his wings with something new... it was a good opportunity for him to see that I trust him in a big way.’
Reed spent the previous two seasons as a graduate assistant on the University of Arkansas staff after the conclusion of his UCA playing career (2013-15).
“Anytime you get to be around a guy like Taylor _ and we were together just about every day for 3-4 years _ you see how they react to things, you see how they act in the meeting room, you see what kind of person they are. He is the son of one of the best high school coaches in the state (Scott Reed at El Dorado HS), his grandfather (Bill Reed at Texarkana HS) was a great coach as well. Then Taylor got a chance to go up and assist Dan Enos at the Universiity of Arkansas for the past two years, and learn at the SEC level.
“It was a no-brainer bringing him back. He’s young, energetic, he’s going to recruit some of the state with his name and his ties. To get the opportunity to bring him back was definitely a blessing.’
Boykin has been a part of the UCA staff for the past two years as assistant offensive line coach and director of football operations.
“For the last three years Gunnar has basically shadowed Coach (Steve) Campbell as the assistant O-line coach,’ said Brown. “Gunner did a lot of the day-to-day aspects in the meetings and the drill work. I was able to watch Gunner grow and develop some of our young talent in the offensive line. He brings a lot to the table.
“He was director of football operations for the last two years. He’s just very organized and does a great job in recruiting. He’s recruited the Houston area for the last couple of years and has brought in some of the best talent we’ve had here from that area. Gunnar was a valuable asset to keep around. Very excited to cut Gunnar loose with the offensive line.’
On the defensive side, Brown replaced outgoing coordinator Greg Stewart with Thurmond, who worked with Stewart at Jacksonville State. The JSU graduate spent the past year at Austin Peay University as co-defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator.
“One thing that Max brings to the table is energy,’ said Brown. “He’s energetic, he’s passionate about the game. The day after I got the job, he was my first call on the defensive side, he was the No. 1 guy I wanted. He came over and we sat together for 3-4 hours and talked football. He didn’t even blink, you would have never known we were in there for 3-4 hours.
“He’s passionate about the Xs and Os of playing defense. He runs the same structure of defense that we’ve recruited to the last three to four years under Coach (Greg) Stewart. He’s worked under Coach Stewart, so a lot of the terminology and positions that we have developed over the past few years, it was important to me to keep that intact. He does that. Coach Thurman is going to be a valuable, valuable asset to this program. I think this defense is about to boom under his tutelage.’
Davis has coached the interior defense at UCA for the past two years and helped prepare some of the best defenses in UCA history.
“Tony has done a great job coaching guys like Eric Jackson, Javian Williams, Terence Partee, Jordan Toliver, the past few years,’ said Brown. “He has just developed some great interior defensive linemen here at UCA. And to get the opportunity to keep Tony was important for me because of the commaraderie and the cohesiveness of our defensive line, which has been outstanding the last few years. I definitely wanted to keep that together.
“Tony is young, he’s energetic, he’s smart, he’s a student of the game, and he’s someone those guys respond to. He’s going to be an important cog in keeping the level of defensive success we’ve been enjoying.’
Williams, a Southern Miss graduate, comes to UCA from Savannah State where he was defensive coordinator after an NFL playing career with San Francisco, Kansas City and Baltimore.
“Chad Williams was one of the first guys Max wanted me to call once we made that hire,’ said Brown. “He said this is the one guy I want to bring. And it took me five minutes visiting with Chad on the phone to know that he was a guy that we needed. He’s a former NFL player at the safety position. And he has something like 9-10 career interceptions, so he wasn’t just a special teams kind of guy, he played the position.
“He’s a guy who has coordinated at this level of football at Savannah State. And prior to that he was the defensive coordinator at Valdosta State. So he’s had a track record of coordinating defenses, he’s played the position at the highest level. He’s a guy that has passion for the kids, has a passion for developing defensive backs and a guy that I think is going to take us to the next level at that position.’
Brown said the only two positions that remain open are both on the defensive side, coaches for bandits/outside linebackers and cornerbacks.
“Those are the only two spots left to fill,’ Brown said, “and we have a couple of guys pinpointed for those positions. It’s just a matter of getting them over here logistically, talking to them. But I would anticipate having those guys in place, if not before Christmas, then very soon after.’