Early days chaotic, productive for Bielema

By: Wally Hall
Published: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Bret Bielema speaks to fans during a timeout at Bud Walton Arena.
Photo by Michael Woods
Bret Bielema speaks to fans during a timeout at Bud Walton Arena.

— In just two weeks, the Arkansas Razorbacks will start spring football, and to say the days between Bret Bielema’s hiring as the head coach until now have been chaotic would be a gross understatement.

He hit the ground running back in December, racing down recruiting trails, hiring a staff, speaking to groups and organizations and getting a heavy dose of everything Razorbacks on the fly.

Many who responded with “Who?” the day Bielema was hired are now talking about competing with Alabama and LSU.

It was interesting to note how large the crowd was to hear about recruiting the night Bielema and his staff appeared in North Little Rock, the day after national signing day, and to see who was standing in the middle of the photo in the next day’s paper.

Ed Daniel, a close friend, is one of those brilliant tax attorneys who has a multitude of opinions.

Once a great Razorbacks fan, he had become dissatisfied during the Houston Nutt days and was never quite sure Bobby Petrino was a long-term answer.

There he was, though, wearing a Razorbacks windbreaker, at a Razorbacks function, and the proof was in the picture, which is now framed and sits on his desk.

Daniel is just one of many who are willing to give the new coach a chance, but everyone needs to understand if there had been a stockpile of great players, John L. Smith might still be the coach.

The program isn’t bankrupt of talent, but no one is going to pick the Razorbacks to finish higher than fourth or fifth in the SEC West next year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were chosen last by the media.

Bielema knew that when he took the job, and he’s never looked back.

He assembled what might be the best staff in many, many years, thanks in large part to Athletic Director Jeff Long understanding the issues a head coach faces today in getting and keeping a good staff.

Assistant coaches’ salaries are finally on the rise, especially in the SEC where at least one defensive coordinator, LSU’s John Chavez, makes $1 million a year.

Bielema already had ideas for his staff before the plane landed in Fayetteville.

A couple of things that have become apparent is he has a plan and he is organized. Of course, that is not exclusive territory for Nick Saban or Bobby Petrino, who incidentally recently invited many of the Razorbacks boosters who attended his fantasy camp to come to Western Kentucky for a camp.

Most who received the letter were insulted. It wasn’t signed; Petrino’s signature was stamped.

Bielema doesn’t appear to be the type to rubber-stamp anything. He’s a hands-on leader.

That was apparent by his tireless approach to recruiting, and somehow he and his staff came away with the 26thranked signing class in America. At one time, the class was ranked 54th.

It was an outstanding job, considering the short time Bielema and his staff had to put together a list of players, but it will take much better than being the 26th-ranked class to compete with Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia and even Ole Miss.

It seems a foregone conclusion that, given more time, the classes will only improve.

Perhaps the most important thing Bielema has done, though, is calm the seas of the fan base which was very unhappy with last year’s results.

From the BCS Sugar Bowl to the Cotton Bowl and then dropping to the toilet bowl did not sit well with many of boosters who are counted on for the donations that keep the entire Razorbacks program independent of state funds.

Now, in just two weeks, the Razorbacks Nation will get their first glimpse of how Bielema operates day to day, and the time has flown in a positive way since he arrived on campus.

Sports, Pages 25 on 02/24/2013