Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Bielema not shying from struggles
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema watches warm-ups prior to an Oct. 19, 2013 game against Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE It might be an off week from a game, but Bret Bielema indicated Thursday the last few days have been anything but a break for coaches.
An animated first-year Razorbacks coach drove home the fact he was not happy with his team's 5-game losing streak, which has included two of the worst losses in program history. Arkansas has been unable to establish its game plan at all the last two weeks, losing to South Carolina and Alabama by a combined score of 104-7.
"I just had probably the most abrasive staff meeting this morning with my coaches because I can't get people to understand that if you don't run the football and if you don't stop the football, we're not going to win games," Bielema said, pounding his hand on the table.
"There comes a point where Groundhog Day isn't entertaining anymore. You have to begin to move forward and make decisions as coaches where you know you'll put yourself in a position to get yourself better."
It has been a frustrating season for Bielema, who has had to rely heavily on newcomers in a rebuilding year. He said he has spent hours this week reaching out to recruits - both committed and non-committed - to talk about this season and the program going forward.
Bielema even brought a newly-made recruiting poster into the press conference room highlighting 18 first-year players, seven of which Bielema said he believed could be at least freshman all-SEC. The poster read: Greatness is happening. Are you going to be the next freshman to have a role in a season?
"Whether that’s something you want or not, it’s definitely something that encourages you and gets you excited about what we’re doing," Bielema said. "I used Warren Stephens' plane, a guy that’s been great for me since I got here about travel. I texted him the other day and said, 'Hey last year your plane helped me land four true freshmen All-Americans. If we can double that in this year’s class, we’ll be doing good business.'"
Arkansas has a tough road ahead in the month of November, including games against currently ranked teams Auburn, Ole Miss and LSU. The Razorbacks entered the off week having played four straight against ranked teams.
Arkansas will host No. 11 Auburn next on Nov. 2.
"The number one reason to beat Auburn is for pride," Bielema said. "I think that is something that has been questioned or taken a swing at or however you want to say it."
Bielema said the off week has given his staff time to assess the players who are performing best. He indicated following the Alabama game there could be personnel changes coming.
“You know, I’m not saying we’re just going with a full-scale youth movement," Bielema said, "but on the same account, I think if we’re through eight games and you’re a player of senior status to junior status, and you have not progressed the way that we would like, haven’t had the results that we would have liked at certain positions, you can expect someone to get an opportunity.
"I had a senior meeting on Tuesday. We had a luncheon where we sat down and I basically said, 'From December when I first met with you to where we are today, I’ve never wavered in trying to say two years down the road or three years. I’m talking about now. I want to win now.'"
Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman said Tuesday coaches weren't disappointed with effort in the 52-0 loss at Alabama, but it was obvious the team was overmatched in several areas.
"It wasn't a lot of mental errors, they just whipped us," Pittman said. "I had no problem with the way we played effort-wise. All four quarters, I thought we played hard."
Playing hard will be key as the season enters its final few weeks. Asked how he would define a successful final month of the season, Bielema didn't talk wins and losses.
"My philosophy as a coach is you have to get better every week," Bielema said. "Obviously if we get a few wins along the way - all four wins would be great. But I want to see improvement on the areas that we stress and coach. I told our coaches today, I can't accept answers that are inadequate. You know, if we need to leverage the football, I don't want to hear about why we didn't leverage it, I want to find out why we are going to leverage it.
"If we're going to play a certain technique, I want to know who's going to play the technique and how we can play it better. I just can't accept anything else."
Despite the humbling losses, Bielema said he won't stray from the football principles that have been successful for him elsewhere. He reiterated he knew coaching the Razorbacks would be a challenge this year.
"You've got a fog around Arkansas that has been around us for a little bit of time that I'm trying to fight off," Bielema said. "Those things can wear you down, but if you flinch or if you try to react in a way that you're not accustomed to doing, you're going to have failure. I love it when I see coaches have failure and what are they going to do right away? They're going to change. They're going to go from the Pro to the Spread. They're going to go from this to this.
"I'm made up of what I'm made up of. I know it'll win. I know it'll have success. And if I flinch anywhere along the way, then my kids are going to be able to see it and they'll start doing it. We just can't have that."