Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
UA coach understands pecking order
New Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, left, his wife, Jen, center, and athletic director Jeff Long, right, Call the Hogs during an NCAA college football news conference in Fayetteville, Ark., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/April L. Brown)
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long’s nationally acclaimed home run hire stressed first hitting for extra bases into a gap where the Razorbacks have never hit before.
Bret Bielema, Wisconsin’s three time Big Ten champion coach who was hired Tuesday to be the Arkansas Razorbacks’ head coach, said during Wednesday’s introductory news conference that “today brings the opportunity to chase a dream.”
A media eager beaver took it from there.
“That’s obviously a national championship,” the media man stated as part of his question.
Bielema replied with a tone still pleasant but firmly to the point.
“I understand reporters all the time put words into your mouth,” Bielema said. “I didn’t say that. I said I came here to chase a dream. By that, what I want to chase is a byproduct of winning a national championship, that’s awesome. At Arkansas, it’s never been done.We’ve never won an SEC title.”
Arkansas sports the 1964 national championship in football that Coach Frank Broyles’ Razorbacks won and has officially won or tied for 13 Southwest Conference championships under Fred Thomsen, John Barnhill and Bowden Wyatt (one each), Broyles (seven), Lou Holtz (one) and Ken Hatfield (two).
Since joining the SEC in 1992, the best Arkansas accomplished are four SEC West titles - one outright under Danny Ford and three under Houston Nutt (two outright and one shared). But it has never won the SEC Championship Game.
Other than his sour season coaching the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, Bobby Petrino never made it to Atlanta - a fact that one network nitwit ignored last April when pontificating that Arkansas had “just fired the most successful coach in its history.”
Petrino achieved impressive 10-3 and 11-2 seasons for 2010 and 2011, but the SEC West championship sun always shined without him.
All the while, Petrino talked national championship, as did Nutt before him.
“National championship under construction” was a Nutt recruiting pitch.
Preaching national championships excited the fan base after Nutt opened 9-3 and particularly excited it for Petrino, who was fired for off the-field related causes at his apex before this season’s 4-8 flounder.
However, it’s compelling that the coach winning the most national championships in any sport - retired Arkansas Coach John McDonnell, who won a combined 42 national titles in cross country and indoor and outdoor track - discouraged discussing national championships until just before the national meets.
Broyles hired McDonnell to win conference meets first, McDonnell always said., and he obliged. His teams won 84 SWC and SEC championships.
Nothing, not even unprecedented national success, deterred McDonnell from always keeping the conference horse before the national championship cart.
So Bielema begins with an approach reminiscent of the best.
Should Bielema ever hook the SEC championship he craves, the even bigger fish is apt to follow in the same net.
A rebuilt Arkansas somehow, someday making the long climb over Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in the SEC West, and then in Atlanta beating the champion from the East, should be good enough to contest anybody from anywhere.
Sports, Pages 22 on 12/08/2012