‘Coach B’ gets A-plus from Razorbacks players

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012
STAFF PHOTO ANDY SHUPE -- Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen is tripped up by Alabama defensive lineman Quinton Dial during the fourth quarter of play Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
STAFF PHOTO ANDY SHUPE -- Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen is tripped up by Alabama defensive lineman Quinton Dial during the fourth quarter of play Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

— Quarterback Brandon Allen said he’s staying at Arkansas for his redshirt sophomore season regardless of whether his father, Bobby, is retained as an assistant coach.

Brandon Allen, who grew up Fayetteville with his father on the Razorbacks’ coaching staff since 1998, was Arkansas’ second-team quarterback last season and started against Alabama when departing senior Tyler Wilson was sidelined by a concussion.

New Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said Wednesday he’ll meet with the assistant coaches today, interview them individually and determine the makeup of his staff at a later time.

“Either way, I’m going to be here,” Brandon Allen said. “I’ve always wanted to be a Hog. I am now, and whether [Bielema] decides to keep my dad or not. I’m still going to be here and work as hard as I always do.

“It would be cool to have my dad stay around, but if it comes down to where he’s not going to be here, it’s not going to bother me. I’m still going to be here. I’ll just let that unfold.”

Bielema, who led Wisconsin to a 68-24 record in seven years as the Badgers’ coach, including Big Ten Championships the past three years, met with the Razorbacks on Wednesday before his news conference and the players came away impressed.

“You can see he has a lot of confidence,” fifth-year senior center Travis Swanson said. “He really relieved a lot of tension in that team meeting about 30 seconds into speaking. I know there was a lot of tension for all of us not knowing who he is as a person. But as soon as he came in there, he made everyone feel comfortable. He told us what he believes in, what his philosophies are, who he is as a person.

“The way he talked to us, you can tell he wants that player-coach relationship.”

The Razorbacks have been dealing with an uncertain coaching situation since last April, when Bobby Petrino was fired because of off-thefield issues and replaced by John L. Smith, who signed a 10-month contract to be the interim coach.

“It’s been a struggle for those eight months, but it’s life,” junior corner back Tevin Mitchel said. “We had to come together as a team and understand you go through certain things in life. But to know we have Coach B now, that brings a lot of joy to us.”

Players already were using “Coach B” to refer to Bielema.

“You can see Coach B is an awesome guy,” senior kicker Zach Hocker said. “When we met with him, he brought so much excitement and positivity to our team, especially with us coming off a four-win season. It’s been a rough road, up and down. But [Athletic Director] Jeff Long and his staff has done an incredible job finding Coach B and finally getting a guy that’s hopefully going to lead us to bigger and better things.

“All the guys, you can tell we’re excited and we’re ready to go.”

Allen said Bielema, 42 and a former defensive lineman at Iowa, is an imposing figure physically but made the players feel comfortable.

“He’s really a players’ coach, I feel like,” Allen said. “That’s exciting for us. I’m just waiting for the chance to talk with him and work with him.”

Swanson and senior defensive end Chris Smith said while they are both excited about Bielema’s hiring, they are continuing to explore whether to make themselves available for this spring’s NFL Draft.

“I’m still weighing my options, not really leaning to one side or the other,” Swanson said. “Just keeping an open mind.”

Smith said he’ll talk with his family before making a decision.

“I’m leaning towards coming back, but I’m getting my evaluation and paperwork just to see where I’m at,” he said. “[Bielema’s hiring] helps out a lot. That’s going to be a big part of my decision.”

In Bielema’s final game as Wisconsin’s coach, the Badgers beat Nebraska 70-31 last Saturday night in the Big Ten Championship Game.

“I think he’s a pretty accomplished guy,” said senior fullback Kiero Small, who red shirted this season after undergoing foot surgery. “The way he likes to play football, that’s how you usually see the big-time schools playing. It’s just a good thing to know that we’ve got a good coach. ... The questions don’t have to be asked anymore. It’s just good to have it over with.”

The Razorbacks said they were as surprised as anyone when Bielema was hired after he hadn’t been among the numerous candidates mentioned over the past several months.

“I read something online that Arkansas got the best coach on the board - and no one even knew he was on the board,” Swanson said. “That’s pretty funny to me, but it’s a great hire.”

“I thought it was the funniest thing in the world just because everybody in this state thought they had it all figured out,” Hocker said. “We thought it was going to be this guy or that guy, and Coach B wasn’t on that list. All these other guys’ names were being thrown around, and his wasn’t. But to look at the resume he’s created, we couldn’t have made a better hire.”

Sports, Pages 22 on 12/06/2012