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 chitchats as spring practice nears
Razorback football coach Bret Bielema greets fans before a Razorback Day at the Capitol lunch in Little Rock.
FAYETTEVILLE Less than two weeks away from the opening of his first spring practice at Arkansas, Coach Bret Bielema and his wife Jen are on the brink of getting a house in Fayetteville and settling in after the whirlwind of assembling a coaching staff and a recruiting class.
Bielema said on a rainy Monday that he doesn’t plan on having a “rebuilding” label attached to the Razorbacks program very long.
“I do share with our guys I don’t know what we are yet,” he said. “I’m going to take every day as a way to get better. … The only thing you can control is today and work on tomorrow, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Bielema engaged in his first meeting of SEC head coaches earlier this month, calling it “an interesting segue all on its own,” and already has sparred with Alabama Coach Nick Saban over offensive line coach Sam Pittman, who received a hefty raise to remain with the Razorbacks.
The new coach is establishing a “Fayette-chill” persona, having been seen out around town in flip-flops and taking things easy away from the Broyles Center.
“It’s just who I am,” Bielema said. “I’m not overly wrapped up in it.”
He squeezed in a 48-hour fishing jaunt to the Bahamas after doing business with the NCAA rules committee and meeting with SEC coaches. “The flip-flops, that really just came about because I spent some time in the Caribbean and everybody was happy and the one common denominator was they either had flip-flops or no shoes at all.
“I just hate wearing socks. I’d much rather be comfortable and relaxed.”
Bielema said he likes to listen to reggae or country and western music, with Jen’s favorite group being Rascal Flatts. When he has the time he’ll golf or go fishing, get away where cell phone reception is sketchy, or prepare a specialty meal for his wife.
“I’m not just like a cook,” he said. “I’m like ridiculous.”
Bielema described a tomato caprice salad with garlic and a Brussels sprouts dish as well as a gourmet entree.
“I took sirloins and slit out the middle, marinated it in olive oil and garlic, then stuffed in some feta cheese and sewed it with a skewer, and then I flash fry it on both sides and then put it on the skillet,” he said. “And when Jen ate it, she invented the phrase ‘restaurant good.’ It went from good to restaurant good.”
Bielema shed some light on what spring practices might look like and what the Razorbacks will wear in the future. He said the first three practices of spring are likely to be fully closed.
“I don’t want to have to live up to expectations of the outside world, too. Just live up to the expectations of in here first. … There’s going to kind of be some coaching points that I want our guys to know are unique to us.”
The NCAA rules committee is moving to make numerals on uniforms take on a sharp contrast from the jersey color and for the numerals to have one tone, which should mark the end of the gradient blended numbers Arkansas wore last season.
But there won’t be major changes to Arkansas’ look in 2013 since the Razorbacks have a two-year contract with Nike for last year’s jersey design,
“We’ve made some modifications,” he said. “But the real signature just from my point of view will be in the coming season after that. There’ll be some things to look forward to. I’m a traditionalist by nature.”
Bielema said he has spoken with Austin Flynn, the Razorbacks defensive end who was arrested earlier this month and charged with driving while intoxicated, and that he typically “sets out a contract” that includes future expectations between the parties.
“If he upholds on his end of the contract, we should be in a happy spot here probably at the beginning of summer camp,” Bielema said, indicating Flynn wouldn’t necessarily face an in-season suspension.
Bielema reiterated Arkansas football is in position “to go to hopefully the highest levels of success that this conference can give” while expressing understanding for the collapse of 2012, a 4-8 season on the heels of Bobby Petrino’s firing in April and a series of injuries to key contributors.
“For them to be on the cusp of greatness then kind of have, like I’ve said to my staff and the kids, your feet kicked out from underneath you,” Bielema said. “They couldn’t see it coming. They had nothing to do with it. They had no involvement with anything.
“This year, I get it. Everybody was here and they were all engaged, but it was a really tough, tough sell I would think after that early defeat and to have so many injuries.
“I do know this and I’ve said it all along, ‘I think you’re more defined by your rise from failures than I think you are your successes. And I think this group is ready to rise from what they have been in the past to hopefully a new level of success.”
Sports, Pages 17 on 02/26/2013