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 not afraid to be vocal
Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema speaks during a time out in the first half of a NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. Arkansas defeated Tennessee 73-60. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
FAYETTEVILLE New Arkansas football Coach Bret Bielema will hang out at local establishments in his signature wind suit and flip-flops, and he’ll also get in the grill of detractors on social media he thinks have gone too far off base.
“I’m not going to fire back at everybody,” he said. “If someone is continually stupid, I might have to address that problem.”
Around Christmas, Bielema spent some time on Twitter, and some fans from his old team, Wisconsin, got after him a little.
“Enjoy life alone,” Bielema wrote on Twitter to one harsh critic. And to another, “Why hate? Life is too short.”
Bielema said this week he only dabbles on Twitter, maybe while waiting to catch a flight or while his wife is preparing to go out, but all his reactions are his own.
“I think the one thing you’re given in life at birth you carry with you your entire life that never costs you a dime is your name,” Bielema said. “You know? No one gets charged $15.25 at birth for their name. It’s just given to you. Your mom and dad create it. They put it on a birth certificate, and it lasts.
“If people want to be weird, they change their names, you know? That’s usually reserved for the high and mighty or the people that are looking to change for financial reasons or whatever. So I really think my Twitter account, it’s me. ... No other person is going to do anything but me. To me, that’s protecting who I am and what I am.
“Something that’ll really get me a chance to fire back is if I see something that’s grossly inaccurate, or it’s just really misleading.”
Bielema, whose Razorbacks open spring drills next Sunday, pointed out his forays into the free-for-all that is social media are likely to be extremely limited.
Three months on the job, Bielema has taken a headlong approach. He and his staff worked tirelessly through recruiting and managed to land a signing class that finished with a consensus top 30 ranking. Then he went to Little Rock and Hot Springs at the end of the signing day week, flew to Indianapolis for three days of work on the NCAA rules committee, attended his first SEC coaches meetings and then spent his down time catching wahoo and mahi-mahi on a 48-hour jaunt to the Bahamas.
The rules committee stint is a prime gig in Bielema’s eyes, with player safety ranking high for him. He said “targeting” defenseless players is under stronger scrutiny for 2013.
“If you get accused of targeting now, you could be thrown out of a game immediately,” he said. “It’s kind of like fighting. If it happens in the first half, you’re out the entire game. If it happens in the second half, you’re out the first half of the next game.”
Bielema’s hiring has gotten positive reviews from analysts within the state and out, and his trips around the state have been met with enthusiastic fan reaction.
He said he was planning for a quiet meal in Hot Springs following a recent clinic there, but it didn’t turn out that way.
“We walk in and one table sees me, they stand up,” Bielema said. “All of a sudden, it’s a chain reaction, a standing ovation, and they called the Hogs about five times in the next two hours.
“But it’s true, it’s true. It’s genuine. It’s not fake. You learn to really wrap your arms around it and embrace it.”
Bielema has also begun to embrace the diversity in landscape around the state.
“I had no idea of the contour, especially here in Fayetteville,” he said. “Then we flew into Mountain Home the other night, saw the landscape, flew into Petit Jean the next night, and you’re like, ‘Unbelievable.’ Just the diverse horticulture or landscaping. ... We were down in the southern part, El Dorado, flew in down there and it was kind of like everything’s flat. It’s neat there’s so much change right here in the same state.”
Sports, Pages 29 on 03/03/2013