Hogs coach hits ground talking

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Friday, December 7, 2012
NWA Media/MICHAEL WOODS --12/05/2012-- Bret Bielema, the new University of Arkansas head football coach, speaks to the media 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, speaks to the media during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

— Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema hit the state with a flurry Thursday.

In his first full day at work, Bielema spent the morning conducting group and individual meetings with current members of the Arkansas staff, watching video of Razorback commitments and prospects and appearing on a handful of radio shows.

Bielema also took a phone call from North Little Rock running back Altee Tenpenny, the state’s top-rated recruit who is orally committed to Alabama. Oral commitments are nonbinding.

“We talked a little,” said Tenpenny, who has scheduled an official recruiting visit to the Arkansas campus for Jan. 18. “I understand what he did at Wisconsin with the run game. To me, that’s a plus.” Bielema told Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly that he relished the challenge of competing in the SEC West, which has the reputation as the toughest division in college football the past three seasons.

“If I didn’t I wouldn’t have made the move,” he said. “You know, I don’t think we get anywhere in life by playing in the little league. Everybody wants to go to the big league, and obviously we’re right here in the middle of it, and I’m excited for it to come full circle next year.”

In an interview with Sirius XM College Sports, Bielema related an account of his departure from Wisconsin on Tuesday. Bielema described the team meeting as the hardest thing he had ever done in his life.

“I expressed to them how much I loved them and appreciated everything they did, gave them the reasons that I came here to Arkansas,” Bielema said. “I saw a lot of eyes that were locked in, but some angry eyes, some sad eyes, some eyes that were looking at me for answers. I tried to say as much as I could.

“I gave them an option. Our team meeting room had a door in the back and a door up front. I said, ‘If you want to say goodbye to me, I’d love to shake your hand and say goodbye. If you want to punch me in the head and not talk to me, walk out the back door.’

“Thankfully, I don’t know if there was a kid that walked out the back. They all came to the front. I had a very difficult exchange with a lot of them, but it was something I’ll remember forever.”

Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, who has announced he will coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl, told reporters Thursday that he had not been contacted by Arkansas officials to speak with Bielema.

Alvarez commented on the Jim Rome Show about Bielema’s departure.

“I had a sense a year ago that Bret was getting itchy, so I kept that list current,” Alvarez said when asked about a list of potential head coaching candidates.

Alvarez also mentioned that Bielema “talked to” another school last offseason.

When Rome asked if he was disappointed or angry when Bielema informed him Tuesday in New York City he was accepting the Arkansas job, Alvarez said, “I think surprised first and disappointed second, because Bret and I had a great relationship.”

Bielema has made no public decision on filling out his staff. There is speculation he might be interested in bringing Wisconsin associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge on board. Partridge, a native of Plantation, Fla., has been on Bielema’s staff for five years at Wisconsin and has a reputation for recruiting strong talent out of Florida.

The current Arkansas staff of assistant coaches has remained on board tending to team matters and recruiting.

None of them has contractual obligations at Arkansas beyond the end of the year, though all assistants are scheduled to receive incentive pay that was set up after Bobby Petrino’s firing in April. The pool of money for the incentives is a little more than $719,000.

Sports, Pages 19 on 12/07/2012