Like It is:

It takes more than an eclipse to dim UA coach

By: Wally Hall
Published: Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema (left center) meets with fans before speaking to the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, at the Embassy Suites hotel in Little Rock.
Photo by Thomas Metthe
Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema (left center) meets with fans before speaking to the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, at the Embassy Suites hotel in Little Rock.

They started lining up early, ready to jockey for the best position and it had nothing to do with Monday's solar eclipse.

It was the kickoff of the Little Rock Touchdown Club, and Head Hog Bret Bielema was the featured speaker. As a bonus, David Bazzel, founder of the touchdown club, promised everyone would be adjourned before the moon took on the sun.

Bielema needed to get back to Fayetteville ASAP for football, and at 12:55 p.m. his limo left the Embassy Suites with Bill "Popeye" Williams driving, catching a break when your trusty scribe let them break out of the parking lot. Traffic is always heavy when 500 people are leaving at once.

Williams had informed Bielema, the head football coach of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, he would be leaving a few minutes early to cool down the vehicle. Bielema liked that idea very much.

It was a great crowd, obviously anxious for football season, and they got really fired up when Bazzel announced that Big Red convenience stores had taped $25 gift cards under eight seats.

Bielema opened by telling the crowd he was worried about flying during the eclipse and that's why the pilots weren't there. They were getting training.

A natural speaker who always has enthusiasm and energy, Bielema was his usual charming self, and he almost glowed when he shared that 79 percent -- "I'm going to round it up to 80" percent -- of the football team had made above a 3.0 GPA during the two summer sessions.

"I wouldn't have been in that group," he said with a smile.

Bielema is a positive person. Probably has been all his life. But he did admit the way things ended last season, losing halftime leads against Missouri and Virginia Tech, "is not tolerable."

Mostly, he was upbeat.

He spoke for 35 minutes without the help of a single note. He speaks from the heart and has great recall, like the time he was recruiting defensive lineman Bijhon Jackson in El Dorado and visited the plant where his dad, Anthony, worked.

He shared that everybody stopped working and called the Hogs.

"That was pretty special," he said. "One guy wore an LSU hat. They just beat him up and threw him out."

Bielema's talks are candid and laced with humor.

The crowd, which comes from all walks of life, hung on every word. He talked about the Razorbacks offense and defense.

He obviously is still excited about the change to a 3-4 defensive scheme, which puts enormous pressure on the nose guard to defend twice as much ground, especially against the run.

Bielema raced through the schedule and was happy to report not one opponent has an open date before pl;aying the Hogs. He emphasized that the Thursday opener against Florida A&M would give them two extra days of preparation for the critical game with TCU the following week.

Bazzel, in his opening remarks, urged the crowd to buy tickets to the season opener against the Rattlers in War Memorial Stadium and mentioned it was a big week in central Arkansas, including the Salt Bowl, the annual showdown between Benton and Bryant at War Memorial, which will be played two days after the UA game.

It's possible that game could surpass the state-record high school crowd of 34,086 that attended in 2015.

It might not bode well if the high school game attracted more spectators than the Hogs, although Thursday is an odd night.

People attending the game are being encouraged to not approach the stadium from Markham Street, which is always congested during rush hour. The Health Department and UAMS are shutting down early, and that will help.

Traffic can always be an issue, especially Monday when 500 happy Hogs fans left Embassy Suites at one time.

Sports on 08/22/2017

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