Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Bielema assessing staff options
Tim Horton, a former Razorbacks player who has spent the past six years as an Arkansas assistant, has reportedly been in contact with Auburn and Texas about positions on those staffs, and he is thought to still be in the running for a spot at Arkansas.
FAYETTEVILLE Bret Bielema received a $500,000 raise to $3.2 million per year to be Arkansas’ new coach, but he could have had more.
Instead, Bielema is taking less money from Arkansas so there will be a larger revenue pool for his assistant coaches.
“When I began to have more and more success at Wisconsin, I stayed, but a lot of my coaches left,” said Bielema, who led the Badgers to a 68-24 record the past seven seasons. “I just wasn’t able to compensate them in the way that other coaches were.
“I lost three coaches last year, and all of them went from making about $225,000 to making over $400,000 each. I know I’m hiring the right guys because everybody keeps taking them from me.
“The NFL, they kind of upset me a little bit, because they’ve got silly money. They’ve got like Monopoly money.”
Bielema said that shortly after Wisconsin beat Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten Championship Game last Saturday night, three of his assistants were contacted by other schools.
“They were talking money that I can’t bring them at Wisconsin,” Bielema said. “Wisconsin isn’t wired to do that at this point.
“I just felt for me and for my future and my life and what I want to accomplish in the world of college football, I needed to have that ability to do that, and thankfully I’ve found that here at Arkansas.”
The question now is which assistants will Bielema be paying more money than he was able to at Wisconsin. He said Wednesday at a news conference that he hasn’t decided who will be on his staff, but that he is going to interview all of Arkansas’ remaining eight assistants. Paul Petrino, this season’s offensive coordinator for the Razorbacks, was hired as Idaho’s head coach earlier this week.
“I’ve been a part of some of these coaching changes,” Bielema said. “I learned this first-hand when I was a young coach at the University of Iowa. Hayden Fry stepped down. ... He came into my office and told me he was retiring and I started crying like a baby.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen. And all of a sudden I get a phone call from my mother and she said, ‘Do you have a job?’ Not only do I not have a job, I don’t have a car. The university gives you a car.
“So I was sitting there, ‘Who are they going to bring in? What are they going to do?’ ”
Kirk Ferentz, Fry’s successor who is still Iowa’s coach, interviewed all of the assistants, including Bielema, and kept him on staff.
“I made a promise that if I ever was in this situation, I was going to interview every coach on the current staff and decide things on my own before I hired any coach from anywhere else,” Bielema said. “I have not hired another person to come to the University of Arkansas as of today.”
Bielema said he’ll hold a staff meeting today when all of the assistants have returned from recruiting trips, then will talk with them individually.
“I’m going through a sheet of information that I want to share with them all together for the first time, and then I’ll sit down individually with each one of them that want to sit down with me and talk about their job,” Bielema said. “Anything they can tell me to make the job better, whether they want to share it with me or not. We’ll make some decisions from there moving forward.
“I can’t tell you if I’m going to bring somebody from Wisconsin. I can’t tell you if I’m going to take somebody from anywhere else in the United States. I can tell you this: The staff I’m going to assemble is going to be second to none. And it’s going to be that way because of the support that I’ve gotten from the administration.”
Offensive coordinator is the one position Bielema must fill with Petrino’s departure.
“I have a short list of six people that I’m going to be interested in,” Bielema said. “Some I know very, very well. Some I know through the coaching profession.
“It’s something I would prioritize as the first thing on my agenda.”
Bielema has no previous SEC coaching experience.He was an assistant at Iowa, Kansas State and Wisconsin before being promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach at Wisconsin.
“Important to have guys from the SEC? I think that would be a bonus,” Bielema said in answer to a question. “I’m not going to say it’s amandatory thing.”
Bielema said he believes coaching success is a product “of the person you are, not because of where you’re from.” But he added that “SEC experience would be very, very nice” for the staff.
“My guess is several of my coaches will have that, but it’s not a priority,” he said. “I’m going to recruit good coaches to bring them here, fall in love with Arkansas and represent what we need to go out and play the game.”
Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long said Bielema’s salary is less than market value for a coach with his accomplishments, which include a third consecutive Big Ten title this season.
“He expressed early on that it was as much about his assistants, and being able to attract quality assistants and not lose assistants,” Long said. “I wouldn’t even call it a negotiation. We just talked about what was important, how we could reach both of our goals, and that’s first to win an SEC championship and then to win a national championship. We decided what we thought was the best way to go about it
“That just says volumes about Bret and who he is as a person and a coach.”
Sports, Pages 22 on 12/06/2012