MADISON, Wis. — Bret Bielema’s Twitter account has been relatively quiet for the last 10 days. Sure, he’s still tweeting about recruiting and invoking calls of Woo Pig Sooie (hashtag WPS, of course). But he no longer appears to be responding to individual criticism for his more than 49,000 followers to see.
Maybe he has learned his lesson. Maybe when his tweets drew ridicule from national media outlets, it finally embarrassed him into the silence he should have displayed all along. If you’re an Arkansas fan, one can only hope. If you’re a Wisconsin fan — or someone who enjoys a good social media spat — the kind of entertainment value Bielema unwittingly generated is hard to replicate given how comically unflattering it made him look.
Bielema, who left Wisconsin to become head coach at Arkansas last month, has come across as thin-skinned and petty, insecure about his place in the college football world, by engaging in back-and-forth Twitter exchanges with disgruntled fans. At least a dozen instances exist in which Bielema retweeted questionable messages from others to his account and offered a pithy response. Some have even been deleted.
Among his replies were: “enjoy life alone,” “weak minds get weak dreams,” “hope your children don’t follow you on Twitter,” and “stay classy.”
Why? To show his followers how many people disagree with his decision to leave Wisconsin? To make himself feel better? To try and make others look stupid?
His antics bring me back to something Bielema said before the football season began, when I asked him what his social media policy was for players and coaches at Wisconsin.
Bielema’s response at the time sounded reasonable and exactly the type of thing you’d hope to hear from a coach leading 18- to 22-year-old men.
“I tell the kids do what’s right,” Bielema said. “Don’t do anything that will cause or draw attention to yourself other than the reason you want to normally do it. Rule of thumb is don’t put anything on Facebook or tweet anything that you don’t want your mother to read. It’s pretty good. Me included. I think it is tough for a 19-, 20-year-old kid. I read some of the stuff people reply back to me — obscene, stupid, immature people.
“And obviously you’ve got to not respond. And I fortunately don’t have time to read them. Once in a while my wife gets on there and gets agitated. But we always just tell our kids to take the high road. Don’t respond back to anything or don’t get into these Twitter fights.
“You see so many kids across the country that engage in these back and forth between fans and other people. You end up looking like a moron. So just kind of keep it simple.”
Obviously, Bielema didn’t heed his own advice. In the process, he made himself look like the very type of person he railed against five months earlier. And the more time Bielema is away from Wisconsin, the better his departure looks for the Badgers.
New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen may be the least controversial coach in major college football and has spent his first month with the program out of the national spotlight. Heck, the guy doesn’t even have a Twitter account.
Wisconsin fans haven’t always been the most mild-mannered and rational when it comes to Bielema’s departure. Dozens of folks have spewed vitriol at Bielema on Twitter and elsewhere. T-shirts with the phrase, “We will never forget you, Bert,” popped up across Wisconsin almost immediately.
But Bielema didn’t do himself any favors, either, burning bridges on his way out by complaining about the lack of assistant coaches pay and the need to go elsewhere to win a championship and then exacerbating the situation by reverting to childish Twitter antics. A man who will earn $3.2 million annually at Arkansas is supposed to be above the riff-raff of the average Joe. If he can’t learn, it certainly doesn’t bode well for his future in Razorback Nation.
Arkansas faces an absolute murderer’s row of SEC teams to begin conference play in Bielema’s first season: Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and defending national champion Alabama. All four teams are projected to be in the Top 15 nationally in many early Top 25 polls for 2013.
What happens if Bielema’s Razorbacks are 1-3 through the first month of the SEC or, worse yet, 0-4? Arkansas fans that have been in Bielema’s corner thus far may turn against him. Can Bielema handle that type of condemnation in a region that contains the most rabid fans in the country?
Bielema has not had to deal with any type of catastrophic failure during his tenure as a head coach. In seven seasons at Wisconsin, the Badgers reached a bowl game each year and went 68-24 overall. Yet he still appeared bothered on the way out that he couldn’t please everybody, mentioning in his introductory news conference at Arkansas that he often heard how much he never won a Rose Bowl.
If Woo Pig Sooie turns to Boo Pig
Sooie, what type of person will Bielema reveal himself to be? The reasonable,
1-0 mantra-toting leader through difficult times? Or the brash, hotheaded coach
who can’t even tune out criticism from “obscene, stupid, immature people” on