Bielema denies fishing for job

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Saturday, December 8, 2012
Bret Bielema was hired to fill Arkansas' head coaching vacancy on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012.
Photo by The Associated Press
Bret Bielema was hired to fill Arkansas' head coaching vacancy on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012.

— Arkansas’ new football coach spent Friday trying to clear up a couple of issues surrounding his departure from Wisconsin.

Bret Bielema has charged through a lengthy list of radio interviews the past couple of days since his hiring and faced some pointed questions Friday from national radio hosts Jim Rome and Dan Patrick.

Rome, host of the Jim Rome Show, pointed out that Wisconsin fans accused Bielema of “starting a conversation” with Arkansas when he sent Razorbacks Athletic Director Jeff Long a note in September commending Long for the way he handled the firing of former football coach Bobby Petrino.

“I think, Jim, even you could back me up on this,” Bielema said. “When I meet someone for the first time, when I get a chance to know a side of someone that I’ve never seen before, it’s commonplace that I drop them a note. I think a lot of people drop e-mails, drop texts, drop a Facebook message or whatever. I believe in the power of the pen.

“I saw Jeff Long get up in front of a roomful of reporters and make a difficult decision when he made the decision to move on without Coach Petrino. And the emotion he showed, showed me a person who cared about his program, and all I did was reached out to him and said it’s great to see these things in the world of college football, wish him nothing but the greatest amount of success in the moves that he makes afterward, and that was it.”

Rome responded by backing up Bielema on that point.

“I’ve said it for the record, and I’ll say it again right now,” Rome replied. “You are the only coach that I’ve ever dealt with that sends a hand-written note every single time you and I have a conversation.”

The fact that Bielema’s note included some of his coaching beliefs, as Long pointed out Wednesday during Bielema’s introductory news conference in Fayetteville, clearly stuck with Arkansas’ fifth-year athletic director.

Patrick, host of The Dan Patrick Show, went through an extended line of questioning with Bielema regarding loyalty in college football, much as he did with Smith in April on the show.

Patrick opened the interview by asking Bielema why he didn’t have a conversation with Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, who hand-picked Bielema to succeed him as Badgers coach, before taking the Arkansas job. Bielema replied that he had known Alvarez for nine years after being hired as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin by Alvarez in 2004.

“I’ve had a great relationship with him, and one of the things I know about him is he’s very persuasive, a guy that can get you to do things,” Bielema said. “When I made a decision to actually have some conversations with Arkansas, I knew that if I got to a point where I wanted to take this job, I needed to take it before I went and saw him.

“Just knowing him, and out of respect, and I know how convincing he can be, I told myself that was the way I was going to approach it.”

Bielema told Patrick that he had other opportunities crop up in recent years and he couldn’t pull the trigger on them and that “this was one I thought I finally needed to do.”

Bielema said he also would not oppose scheduling Wisconsin, which is something Alvarez said he wouldn’t mind either. Long has taken the lead in football scheduling since his arrival at Arkansas, and it is uncertain how much influence Bielema will have on future schedules.

On ESPN’s Mike & Mike Show, Bielema said he also had “some conversations with Tennessee a little bit on Sunday” before entering into more detailed discussions Monday with Long and Jon Fagg, Arkansas’ senior associate athletic director.

Pressed on all his radio appearances to explain why the Arkansas job was more attractive than Wisconsin, Bielema mentioned the opportunity to compete in a tougher environment, pay his assistant coaches higher wages and experience a new area of the country.

“I don’t want to play in an arena that maybe you aren’t the champion of the highest level possible,” Bielema told Patrick. “It’s just something that I really feel was neat to see evolve over the last several years and the dominance of the SEC. I wanted to go see what I can do. It’s nothing more than that.”

Bielema revealed to Rome that multiyear contracts for assistant coaches and a higher range of salaries were key factors in his move.

When Patrick advised Bielema to do himself and his profession a favor and “don’t be flirting with other teams,” Bielema responded firmly.

“This is not a situation where I’ve tried to parlay it for another opportunity,” he said. “This is coming to Arkansas. I met with our kids yesterday, unbelievable team reception and the administration and the people itself.

“It’s going to be something that I hope to stay satisfied and stay hungered with and get a chance for us to win for a long, long time.”

Sports, Pages 21 on 12/08/2012