A whirlwind day that started with Butch Davis and moved with near “certainty” to Mike Gundy ended with Bret Bielema as the new Arkansas Razorbacks football coach. The only universal truth associated with this hire is its shock value. The former Wisconsin head coach was never on anyone’s radar. And now he’s in Fayetteville, tasked with quickly righting the ship of what was once the nation’s fastest moving program. Of all the annoying tendencies employed by national writers, I found one theme pissed me off more than any other today. Many scoffed at Arkansas, calling this a “middling SEC program” or “middle of the pack” job. While 2012 was an obvious disappointment, the 2010 and 2011 seasons produced 21 wins and back-to-back Top Ten finishes. While Arkansas is not Alabama, it aint Ole Miss either.
While the hire certainly turned heads, there is no consensus about this being a “great” hire. The chattering class ranges from standing ovation praise to outright dismissal. I had a hard time getting my head around the move earlier today. After some perspective and a little reaserch, I’m firmly of the opinion that Jeff Long made a very strong hire. Bielema plays big boy football, puts linemen in the NFL regularly, and has the arrogance highly successful coaches need. Look at him, then look at his wife. Tell me that isn’t a guy that knows how to win big with fewer tools than his competitors.
Let’s take a look back at what others have been saying.
It will be an interesting fit for Bielema, who has spent his entire playing and coaching career in the midwest. He was a nose guard at Iowa and an assistant coach at Iowa and Kansas State before moving to Madison. But clearly Long was less worried about getting someone with Southern ties than he was getting someone with an established winning record.
But when it comes to coaching and developing hard-nosed football teams committed to running the ball and playing sound defense, Bielema has cornered the market on that brand of football in the Big Ten.
It just so happens to be the same brand that wins championships in the SEC.
As for what this means for Arkansas, the Razorbacks are getting a coach who’s a proven winner. It’s not often that coaches with three consecutive conference titles in a BCS conference are available for the taking, but Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long pulled it off. Considering the way things have gone in Fayetteville over the last year from the Bobby Petrino embarrassment to the John L. Smith disaster, things couldn’t have played out any better for the school.
Bielema can succeed at Arkansas. If he can keep the future Darren McFaddens and Tyler Wilsons in state and then pluck the rest of his roster from Texas, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida — bringing along current Wisconsin assistant Charlie Partridge would do wonders in the Sunshine State — the Razorbacks can be competitive in college football’s toughest division. At Wisconsin, the former Iowa defensive lineman identified diamonds in the rough and put tough, disciplined teams on the field. If he continues to prefer an offense that lines up and hands off and then uses play action to set up the pass, then he’ll fit right in with Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida
Can Bielema go into a living room and get a kid to turn down Saban, Les Miles, and Will Muschamp? Maybe, but he has yet to prove he can beat the powerhouse salesman.