Under scrutiny: Fans not satisfied as teams prep for Southwest Classic

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Arkansas coach Brett Bielema talks with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin before the start of the teams' 2013 matchup at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas coach Brett Bielema talks with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin before the start of the teams' 2013 matchup at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Two restless fan bases will converge on the Dallas Metroplex this weekend when the Arkansas Razorbacks take on Texas A&M in the Southwest Classic.

The former Southwest Conference rivals will meet at 11 a.m. on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the third consecutive season they have opened SEC play against each other.

A victory might serve to mollify one group of fans, at least temporarily, while the other program will be left to deal with the after effects of a second loss during the opening month.

Both teams have already lost marquee nonconference games during the first two weeks.

Texas A&M (2-1) has won five in a row over the Razorbacks (1-1), every year since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012, but their fans, even more than Arkansas, are demonstrably unhappy.

The Aggies held a 44-10 lead at UCLA in the third quarter of the season opener, but Coach Kevin Sumlin's team did not show quality clock and game management in the late stages and lost 45-44 on a last-minute touchdown.

Texas A&M also struggled in the first halves of its past two games, a 24-14 victory over FCS opponent Nicholls State and a 45-21 decision over Sun Belt Conference opponent Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday.

According to the web site, Sumlin occupies the fourth-hottest seat in among head coaches in college football.

Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema is No. 5 in the hot-seat ratings.

Bielema's Razorbacks have had a extra week to contemplate a 28-7 loss to TCU, which has moved up to No. 15 in this week's Associated Press rankings.

Bielema said he has emphasized to the team how close they are to being on top of their game.

"I think this team is very close to being where we would all be proud of them," Bielema said at his Monday press conference. "I know we've made progress. Not as fast as everybody wants, but this team is very, very close."

Sumlin endured a difficult week in the public eye after blowing the big lead in Los Angeles.

A member of Texas A&M's Board of Regents wrote on his Facebook page -- on the night of the loss to UCLA -- that it was time for the "arrogant" Sumlin to go.

Then, Sumlin's wife Charlene opened a letter sent to the family's house that referred to Sumlin by a derogatory racial epithet and closed with the threat "Please get lost! or else."

Charlene Sumlin said the family would pursue legal action if the letter's sender can be identified, and the coach addressed the letter after Texas A&M downed Nicholls State.

"I've done this a long time," Sumlin said. "I get all kinds of mail. ... In this situation, for that to come to my home and for her to open it, I think that is completely different."

Sumlin said he could deal with letters that criticize his work and make suggestions, but he felt this one was over the top.

"The racial piece of that is one part of it, but the open-ended threat at my house, I have to draw the line there," Sumlin said. "She didn't like it. She didn't feel safe about it. My kids didn't feel safe about it."

Bielema recounted Monday how he "grew up in the business" with Sumlin, from their days in the Big Ten, when Bielema was at Iowa and Sumlin was at Purdue.

"His connection with Oklahoma and the Stoops brothers, that strengthened our relationship, then when he got the job at Houston is when I was getting the job at Wisconsin, and we'd get together at clinics and conventions and just talk about different things," Bielema said.

Their conversations, Bielema said, haven't involved current pressure of them.

"As coaches, those are kind of the things you don't talk about," Bielema said. "They're usually about everything other than those kind of scenarios or situations.

"I know he's a big man and can handle his own situation and has championed that moment every time it's ever come up," Bielema said. "He's a guy I cheer for, obviously compete against this Saturday, but a guy I really admire and respect."

Sumlin said his postgame message to the Aggies after they outscored the Ragin Cajuns 35-0 in the second half, was to stay together.

"What you showed today is that you trust each other, you believe in each other," Sumlin said on Saturday. "It doesn't really matter what the situation is, what's being said or what's out there. You've got to believe in the people in this room. With that, I think we grew up a little bit today."

Bielema and Sumlin have been producing similar messages the p couple of weeks.

"Trust each other's ability and do your job," Sumlin said Saturday. "We've got enough guys who can play. Don't try to do too much. Just do your job and we'll be fine."

Bielema delivered similar remarks last week and again on Monday.

"One thing I've instilled in them or tried to, is to be very positive in ... their belief, and their faith in being successful is very important," he said. "To kind of block out anything negative and to try and be very positive about how close they are.


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"We're right there knocking on the door. I know we at times have done it. But at times we haven't. Until we hurdle that barrier it's gonna be something that we just talk about. I want it to be tangible. I want it to be real, and I want them to feel their success and to kind of block out any outside noise that tries to detract them from it and tell them why they can't. Let's focus on what we can do and why we do it."

Sports on 09/19/2017


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