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Bielema entertains at Hall of Fame shindig

By: Wally Hall
Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Arkansas football Coach Bret Bielema (left) visits with Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Sports Editor and Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame president Wally Hall during the “Talking Football” dinner Sunday night at Chenal Country Club in Little Rock.
Photo by ANGIE DAVIS
Arkansas football Coach Bret Bielema (left) visits with Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Sports Editor and Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame president Wally Hall during the “Talking Football” dinner Sunday night at Chenal Country Club in Little Rock.

It was Bret Bielema’s 37th talk since he became the head football coach at the University of Arkansas.

One of the few that was not directly related to the Razorback Foundation, but the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame had an itch and Bielema agreed to scratch it by talking football with a dinner crowd of 270 on Sunday night and then participating in the Pat Summerall Classic golf tournament Monday.

Bielema brought along offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and defensive backs coach Taver Johnson to help handle the questions.

Athletic Director Jeff Long, who helped secure Bielema for the Hall of Fame, was also on hand but more for support and a chance to visit with friends than anything else.

Bielema was enthusiastic and energetic, despite all the speaking engagements this spring, and just a few days removed from speaking at the Country Club of Little Rock.

He cracked some funny lines during the talk and included Chaney and Johnson liberally in the conversation. He left no doubt he is a team player.

Johnson was one of the few Bielema kept from the old staff, and Bielema quipped: “I didn’t like Taver very much when he was at Ohio State when I couldn’t find a way to beat them.”

Bielema was relaxed, wearing an Aloha-style shirt with a Razorback on it.

He’s a big guy, about 6-3, and looks every bit the nose guard he was at Iowa.

In fact, everything about him screams nose guard mentality. He’s hard driving and direct, unafraid of conflict and actually seeming to thrive on the challenge that lies ahead of him as he tries to make Arkansas a consistent contender in the SEC.

Nose guards expect to win every down; so does Bielema.

He spent several minutes talking about strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert, who has already started to make an impact on the players, and how many players Herbert has put in the NFL and then said: “Obviously, he hasn’t done anything for my body.”

Bielema got very passionate when asked about the new football facilities and recalled that when Hunter Henry and his family visited before signing date, Hunter’s mom, Jenny, commented she was really glad they were getting new academic facilities. And Jenny attended the UA, as did her husband, Mark, an ex-Razorback player.

Henry was recruited nationally out of Pulaski Academy, and when schools started calling, the UA’s academic facilities didn’t rank very high. But then that’s one of the areas Long addressed quickly after becoming AD.

When it was the crowd’s turn to ask questions, Bielema was asked about his staff being one of the best in the country.

“It is [an] SEC-quality staff,” he said. “I believe in hiring coaches who can recruit but also can coach you up and make you better. The harder the staff works, the harder I work.”

Incidentally, Chaney, like Bielema, grew up on a pig farm but said his in Missouri wasn’t “as pretty,” as the one Bielema grew up on in Illinois. .

Former Razorback David Bazzel asked Bielema what he liked to do to get a break from football: Bielema said he likes to golf, fish or “anything where there is no phone service.”

Of course, even Sunday night, Bielema had to discreetly work his phone. This is a recruiting period.

The last question of the night was the perfect closer, and it was about the Razorbacks schedule, which many are saying is the toughest in the country.

“We may have the No. 1 toughest schedule in the country,” Bielema said, “but what they [opponents] have to realize is they have to play us.”

That was exactly what the crowd, a large group that came to be entertained and informed, wanted to hear. And no one should have left disappointed.

Sports, Pages 19 on 05/21/2013

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