Well before Bret Bielema accepted the football head coaching position at the University of Arkansas last week, he was an admirer of Razorbacks athletic director Jeff Long. We now know this because Bielema sent Long a handwritten letter of support commending him for his handling of former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino.
Petrino was fired last April after it was revealed he had an affair with a woman who worked in the athletic department.
Long admitted last week that he still had the letter from Bielema, the now-former Wisconsin coach, which he said was received in September. He noted the coach’s letter was one of three or four he received relating to the decision to fire Petrino and hire John L. Smith on an interim basis.
“It meant a lot to me,” Long told reporters. “He sent along with it a couple of things he believed in coaching. It had an impact on me.”
So what, exactly, was contained in that letter? Now, we have an answer.
The Arkansas News Bureau obtained the letter through a Freedom of Information request and posted it on its website Monday. Here is the letter in its entirety:
Just wanted to say that this note is long past due. As I watched your press conference this past spring I wanted to reach out and say how much I respected your actions but more importantly your words. As a head coach I know that my comments are looked at in every way possible. Here at UW I have a great AD because he is a man of his word and asks the same for all of us. Best wishes moving forward and stay strong. It was the right call!
P.S. One thing I have learned through my time here at UW is that today’s society wants to win them all, but as Coaches and Administrators we need to balance the Big Picture for all our student athletes!
The motives behind Bielema’s letter may have been honest. Of course, they can also be viewed in a different light now that he is in charge of the Arkansas football program. The letter, which has no specific September date listed, was written five months after Petrino was fired — during a month in which Arkansas lost four consecutive games. Given the Razorbacks’ poor start, it certainly seemed unlikely school officials would retain Smith on a full-time basis.