DALLAS (AP) -Ask an Arkansas Razorback about Reggie Herring these days, and an unusual word comes up - one seldom associated with the fiery assistant before he was made interim head coach last month.
``It's been fun,'' cornerback Matterral Richardson said. ``He's doing a great job.''
For three years, Herring whipped Arkansas' defense into shape with a demanding style that was entertaining - as long as you weren't the one getting screamed at. Now, after being promoted from defensive coordinator for next week's Cotton Bowl against Missouri, Herring has apparently mellowed.
``He's a lot more laid back - not in my ear near as much,'' linebacker Weston Dacus said. ``We've been having a lot of fun though. He knows how to get the players to play for him, how to get them motivated. We've been really having fun, and I think that's carried over to getting good work done in practice.''
Herring's new role with the Razorbacks will be short lived. He took over after Houston Nutt stepped down in late November, and although Herring made no secret of his interest in being Arkansas' head coach, Bobby Petrino was hired instead. A career assistant for 27 seasons, Herring didn't want to talk about his future Friday.
``I'm not going to discuss my job situation,'' Herring said. ``What I'd like to do - and no disrespect - is I'd like to totally focus on this bowl game, and then after the bowl game, I'll make decisions about my future.''
The 25th-ranked Razorbacks face No. 7 Missouri on Tuesday.
Herring was hired as Arkansas' defensive coordinator before the 2005 season, and he's been easy to spot on the sideline ever since. Now in his late 40s, he's far removed from his days as a Florida State linebacker. But he looks big enough - and intense enough - to join the Razorbacks' pass rush if need be.
In Herring's third game with the Hogs, Arkansas lost to Reggie Bush and Southern California 70-17. After that, the defense steadily improved and played a major role in the team's 10-game winning streak in 2006.
``He's turned our defense around I think,'' Dacus said. ``He demands perfection, and that's what he's going to get out of each player. He's going to be in your ear until you either quit or you do right.''
Herring is still as verbose as ever with the media, and he downplays his alleged transformation from tyrant to teddy bear.
``I don't know about being calm. You put on a different hat, it's different responses,'' Herring said of his new job. ``I've raised two children, I'm 48 years old. I think I know how to adjust to an environment and a different hat. You've just got to be given the opportunity and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to get this team ready to play.''
Herring credited his assistants for helping preserve continuity. Arkansas' staff figures to look drastically different next year, but many of Nutt's assistants have stayed on for the Cotton Bowl. Also, Louis Campbell returned from an administrative role to serve as temporary defensive coordinator, freeing up Herring to focus on the entire team.
Defensive lineman Marcus Harrison says Herring has relaxed a bit now that he's responsible for more than one side of the ball. There's a difference between Herring the coach and Herring the coordinator.
``A lot of times when he was the defensive coordinator, it was like we was in a battle every time in practice. But I think the whole team likes him and respects him,'' Harrison said Friday. ``Today was the first day I've sort of seen some of that defensive coordinator back out there. He's been really laid back, catching up on what the offense does.''
Harrison said Herring had support within the team when the Razorbacks needed to replace Nutt, and although Petrino eventually filled that position, Herring's defensive players are quick with endorsements for any potential employers.
``He'll make a great head coach wherever he goes,'' Richardson said. ``If someone gives him the opportunity.''

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