Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Bielema off to flying start
Two hired, to be named later;Allen retained off field
Bret Bielema was announced as Arkansas’ new head football coach on Dec. 5.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said Saturday he’s already secured a running backs coach and a linebackers coach, though he won’t announce the names of the new hires until after their teams play in bowl games.
Bielema, speaking on a teleconference in his first group interview since he was introduced as coach at Arkansas on Dec. 4, also plans to welcome defensive coordinator Chris Ash and assistant head coach Charlie Partridge to campus for the first time today.
Bielema already has named five assistant coaches: Ash and line coach Partridge on defense; coordinator Jim Chaney, line coach Sam Pittman and receivers coach George Mc-Donald on offense.
“I know right now I have a running backs coach that’s hired, that as soon as he’s done competing in a bowl game I expect everything to happen and move pretty quickly,” Bielema said.
“I have a linebacker coach in place that I think will probably amaze a lot of people, but someone I’m very, very excited to have join our program. Once he is completed with his bowl game he’ll be aboard.”
Bielema added that Ash and Partridge, who will tour the Arkansas facilities with him today, have been talking to candidates to complete the defensive staff, in particular a coach to work in the secondary with Ash.
Bobby Allen, last year’s cornerbacks coach, who is planning to have knee surgery in the offseason, was on the road recruiting with Bielema in December.
“He has been tremendous for me,” said Bielema, who added that Allen has accepted the position of director of high school relations. “It was very important to me to keep him and I thought he would be great in that role.”
Bielema didn’t rule out retaining other former Arkansas coaches Tim Horton and Taver Johnson, even though their specialities have been running backs and linebackers, respectively, saying, “I’ve had a lot of conversations with Taver and Tim.”
Steve Ca ldwe ll, wh o coached defensive ends the past four years at Arkansas, has prepared to find work elsewhere, Bielema said, and offensive line coach Chris Klenakis’ next destination is also unknown.
Jen Bielema, the coach’s wife, also is headed to Fayetteville today after tweeting last week about the snow in Madison, Wis., and wishing she could click her heels and return to Arkansas.
“I haven’t seen her in a long time,” Bielema said. “It’s going to be a welcome experience for me here in Fayetteville.”
The new coach has been flying around the country in loaned planes since he’s taken the job, securing coaches and junior-college signees, and doing some recruiting.
“So I’ve been in the air the last 2 1/2 weeks more than I’ve ever been in my life,” Bielema said. “But it’s been beneficial in the world that we live in today. There’s probably two coaches that I’ve hired that if I wasn’t able to fly and go see them, they would not be with us. Just speaking real, because they had other opportunities and offers on the table.”
Bielema said he was unaware of any juniors declaring for the NFL Draft, as tailback Knile Davis and guard Alvin Bailey have done, and has not had any players tell him they were transferring elsewhere during the transition. Davis sat down with him after already securing representation to head to the NFL.
“He had a little bit of buyer’s remorse in talking with him there,” Bielema said. “My running back, Montee Ball, won the Doak Walker the night before, so he knows what we love to do and he kind of expressed that. But he had already gone down a path that was pretty well planned out already.”
The Doak Walker Award is given to college football’s top running back.
Chaney and Pittman, Bielema said, have been poring over practice and game tape from last season to help the staff get a feel for returning talent, and when recruiting opens back up in January, he expects to have an attack plan to finish out strong.
Bielema turned emotional when asked by a reporter from Wisconsin about breaking away from a Badgers program he had been associated with for nine years, the last seven as a head coach. He also clarified why Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, the man who handpicked him as his successor, wasn’t notified by Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long of Long’s interest in Bielema.
“When Arkansas made contact with me, I asked them to refrain from talking to Coach because I‘ve had some other opportunities come up, and when Coach got involved it became very, very difficult for me to say things and he talked me out of things,” Bielema said. “Jeff Long wanted to contact Coach Alvarez immediately, even going back to Sunday night, and I said, ‘Please, let me do this in person if we get to the point where I think I would take the job.’ ”
Bielema also described his last meeting with Alvarez in a hotel room in New York City.
“I went and told Coach Alvarez … what I was planning on doing,” he said. “I gave him the reasons why I felt this was an opportunity that I couldn’t let go. I was very emotional, and gave him a hug.
“He said some good things and we walked out the door. The competitive nature in both of us, I think that quickly changed five minutes later, and we haven’t spoken since. I’ve reached out a couple of times.”
Bielema said he thinks Alvarez is “going to be very upset with me for a long time,” but hopes that time will repair their relationship.
Bielema had dinner with family members who live in Fayetteville on Saturday night, and after meeting with Ash and Partridge today, the coaches and Jen Bielema will return to Madison to tie up some business. Then the Bielemas will visit with his parents in Prophetstown, Ill., then “lay low” through Jan. 2.
“I’m going to … kind of turn into a college football fan, just watch football and spend time with my wife and celebrate the holidays with some close family and get ready to run Jan. 3,” he said.
Sports, Pages 25 on 12/23/2012