Bielema jumps at chance to turn around Arkansas

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012
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 afternoon.
Photo by Michael Woods
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 afternoon.

— Bret Bielema sent Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long a letter this fall commending him on his handling of the Bobby Petrino affair, but the letter might have served as a de facto notice of his interest in the head coaching position.

The contents of the letter stuck with Long during the course of his eight-month search for a permanent replacement for Petrino, which ended Tuesday with Bielema becoming the Razorbacks’ 32nd football coach.

University of Arkansas athletics director Jeff introduces Bret Bielema as the Razorbacks' new football coach on Wednesday.

Bret Bielema Introduced at Arkansas

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Bielema made a big first impression at his introductory news conference Wednesday,using self-depreciating humor in his straightforward style with a booming, sometimes raspy, Midwestern accent.

“Today brings the opportunity to stand up here and chase a dream,” Bielema told an audience of university dignitaries, members of the board of trustees, invited guests, athletic department personnel, players and members of the media. “I didn’t get into coaching in a normal way. I grew up, ironically, on a pig farm.

“The fans and alumni at Arkansas, you have a great passion.”

Bielema, 42, signed an offer letter worth $3.2 million per year for six seasons to lead the Razorbacks. He is making only his second head coaching stop after leading Wisconsin to a 68-24 record in seven seasons, including three consecutive Rose Bowl berths in his last three years on the job.

Bielema announced he would not be coaching in the Rose Bowl and would meet with Arkansas assistants and study film of the Hogs’ recruits for the next couple of days before heading out on the road recruiting Monday.

Long said his hiring of Bielema was based on the coach’s “honesty, integrity and class, and someone that embraced the passion of this fan base.”

Later, talking with reporters, Long revealed the letter he received from Bielema regarding the Petrino incident.

“He wrote me a note and shared with me how impressed he was with how we handled that, our leadership,” Long said. “I think I got that in September. I still have the letter. That impacted me, because I only got a few from coaches around the country, very few, less than three or four. It meant a lot to me. He sent along with it a couple of things he believed in in coaching.

“It had an impact on me.”

Bielema donned a Razorback cap briefly, made opening statements, then brought his wife Jen on stage for his first Hog call. The Prophetstown, Ill., native then handled a 28-minute question-and-answer session with reporters with humor and confidence.

“I said I came here to chase a dream,” Bielema said. “By that, if what I want to chase is a by-product of winning a national championship, that’s awesome.

“I’ve never been to a place where I can give them something they’ve never had.”

Bielema said you can’t put a price tag on the three consecutive Big Ten championships Wisconsin has won under his leadership, but that feat had been accomplished.

“At Arkansas it’s never been done,” he said. “We’ve never won an SEC title. We’ve been in the [championship] game three times and, you know, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out if you win the SEC title, you might be playing in the big one.”

Bielema expressed eagerness at joining the competitive SEC and a little frustration at the constant cycle of losing top assistant coaches because of salary concerns at Wisconsin. He also talked about the importance of keeping Arkansas’ best players in the state and his basic recruiting philosophy.

“Whether I’m representing Arkansas in Texas or Florida or somewhere I have a special relationship with a high school coach at a program that believes in what we are, I will recruit uncommon men here that are held to higher standards,” he said. “I don’t want people to be normal. I want them to be uncommon in the standard set in the world of college football, on and off the field.”

Bielema didn’t talk in depth about the schemes he intends to run, saying he would shape them to fit Arkansas’ personnel, but he stressed his teams wouldn’t beat themselves before the snap.

He also said his first Razorbacks team will gladly embrace an underdog role after enduring a 4-8 season in 2012.

“The fact of the matter is, in life a lot of people, they never cheer for the favorite,” he said. “They pull for the underdog. Right now we might be that guy. ... You know what? I’m going to love being in front of you some day talking about being a favorite. But right now we’re going to embrace being the underdog. We’re going to throw two arms around it. We’re going to kiss it and make it feel good.”

Bielema related a story about having a chance to become a defensive coordinator in the SEC at an earlier stage in his career but passing onthe opportunity.

“It was probably the best thing I ever did,” he said, “but it was something that intrigued me at that time, made me think about coaching in the SEC.

“I’m just glad the opportunity came at Arkansas, because there’s probably only two or three schools that I would’ve thought about this opportunity. And after I got involved with it, there’s only one school I would have done it for and that’s Arkansas.”

Sports, Pages 17 on 12/06/2012