Bielema seems to fit Arkansas
NWA Media/MICHAEL WOODS --12/05/2012-- Bret Bielema, the new University of Arkansas head football coach is introduced by athletics director Jeff Long during a press conference Wednesday.
FAYETTEVILLE Bret Bielema wasn't raised in Arkansas, but you'd never know it without asking.
The new Razorbacks football coach has that down-home personality that extends beyond state lines and is found throughout America's heartland. He referenced his midwest roots several times throughout his introductory press conference Wednesday, bookending his ascent from an Illinois hog farm to Arkansas' hog heaven.
Bielema showed himself comfortable and confident in his nearly one-hour introduction to the state. Using country-bred phrases like, "when I cash my corn," he endeared himself to many in the blue collar workforce that comprises the majority of Razorback nation. The head football coach is an important one in this state and being able to identify with the man in charge holds value for fans.
Arkansas' new coach reminds me of the people I grew up around in Waldron, a rural town built on the backbone of farmers and the local Tyson plant. He stresses doing things with integrity, staying grounded and working hard.
Bielema will fit right in on those spring Razorback club trips to other communities across the state. There, he'll likely repeat some of the same stories he told Wednesday, of loving life on the farm and how the years there left a blueprint of how to succeed once he left.
"I grew up in an environment where really all I thought I was going to do was grow up on the farm and help my dad carry on a tradition that he taught me from the age of 4 moving forward," Bielema said. "When I left the farm, I cried like crazy because it was all I knew. I'm glad I was raised that way. If there is one thing I learned in this life is that every job I've had, every goal that I've taken, every responsibility that I've gotten, it truly is up to you to put in the work and the time to do it right the first time so you won't have to go back and do it again."
His upbringing has shown beneficial to this point in his career. Wisconsin was 68-24 under Bielema, with only eight programs in college football winning more games during his time there. He won three straight conference tittles and had the Badgers preparing for a Rose Bowl for the third straight year upon his departure.
"One of the things that I really believe in as a coach is that if you can leave a place in a better place than where you were, you should feel good," Bielma said. "We gave them three straight Big Ten championships. That had never been done before.
"I have had some opportunities come my way the last two years that made me think a little bit. I have such a tremendous respect for Wisconsin, but the opportunity to be in the SEC is something that I really wanted to do."
Despite his $3.2 million salary and overnight fame here, Bielema's background is as blue collared as you'll find in the fields or the factories. With no major scholarship offers out of high school, he walked-on at Iowa and played four seasons for Hayden Fry, the longtime Hawkeyes head coach and former Frank Broyles assistant at Arkansas.
Bielema became a graduate assistant at Iowa, then an assistant coach. Then he climbed the Fry coaching tree with defensive coordinator duties under Bill Snyder and Barry Alvarez before becoming head coach at Wisconsin at the age of 36.
Those who have watched say his teams are hard-nosed and known for their discipline. Those who know him say he is confident, but not to the point of cocky. He even showed a sense of humor after Arkansas' tradition of calling the hogs, saying he had done it before, but only the hogs were listening.
"He made a good first impression," center Travis Swanson said. "I think he is going to fit in well here."
Bielema withheld from making campaign-like speeches to a fan base absent a conference championship since his freshman year at Iowa. What he did guarantee was a coach who will work hard.
"We will take it one game at a time and I am not going to promise anything, but I will tell you I am here and I want to give you something you have never had," Bielema said. "We will take it one day at a time and pursue that thing together."
Time will tell whether Bielema fits in Arkansas on the football field. It took only a few minutes Wednesday to realize he'll fit in just about everywhere else.