Bielema ready for rugged SEC at Arkansas
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long first met Bret Bielema
while in Miami attending an end-of-season awards ceremony
surrounding the 2005 national championship game.
Bielema was a 34-year-old up-and-coming assistant coach at
Wisconsin, and Long was the athletic director at Pittsburgh, still
a few years away from leaving to take over the Razorbacks program
for the retiring Frank Broyles.
Always one to network and keep his emergency file of potential
coaches ready, Long followed the career of that assistant he met on
the beach. Little did he know that he would one day hire Bielema to
coach Arkansas, helping end what had been a spiraling eight months
for the Razorbacks following the scandal-ridden exit of Bobby
The end of a secretive search came to an end Tuesday when the
former Wisconsin coach agreed to take over the Razorbacks. The
43-year-old was introduced at a news conference the next day,
giving Arkansas hope it can return to the upper echelon of the
”I’m very relieved,” Long said. ”You know, coaching searches
are stressful searches. There’s a lot depending on it. … It’s
always good to have a search completed. But I really feel good
about the coach we have to lead these student-athletes.”
Bielema, who left the Badgers after seven seasons, won’t coach
Wisconsin in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl game against Stanford. Instead,
he’ll immediately step in the hyper-competitive world of recruiting
in the SEC – home to the winners of the last six national
The former Iowa and Kansas State assistant could have a
difficult time initially selling an Arkansas program that was 4-8
this season and missed a bowl game for the first time since 2008.
However, he won’t have to go back far to remind recruits of success
at the school, which was 21-5 in 2010-11 under Petrino and finished
as high as No. 5 in the final rankings.
Given Bielema’s background as a defensive coach, the rugged SEC
seemed to him like the perfect fit. He said he had no apprehension
about joining an SEC West already loaded with Alabama and LSU,
”The thing I think probably intrigued me more than anything as
I’ve watched over the years the SEC, there’s a lot of coaches that
have my type of background that have had success,” Bielema said.
”I’m excited to work with the caliber of athlete the SEC can bring
and what we can bring here to the University of Arkansas is very
The Razorbacks had an equal amount of confidence in their new
coach after meeting with him Wednesday afternoon, and they
expressed little doubt Bielema could go toe-to-toe with the likes
of Alabama’s Nick Saban and LSU’s Les Miles.
”I don’t think, I know he can,” Arkansas cornerback Tevin
Mitchel said. ”You can see how confident he is. That’s a good
feeling for us as players.”
Bielema said he would interview each of the current members of
the Razorbacks staff, though he’ll he have to hire a new offensive
coordinator since Paul Petrino left to become the head coach at
Idaho. The Illinois native said he had six candidates in mind for
the position, a critical selling point to recruits for a school
that was among the country’s best under Bobby Petrino.
Led by current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson,
Wisconsin was sixth in the country in scoring in 2011. Bielema, who
was 68-24 with the Badgers, preached a balanced attack and said
he’ll tailor the offense to fit the players. Wisconsin running back
Montee Ball was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy last season, and
he’s second in the Big Ten this season with 1,730 yards
”I’m going to recruit a certain way and you’ll get more and
more specific what you want as the years go forward,” Bielema
said. ”But if you don’t have the right dogs in the race, you’re
not going to win it.
”So whatever race we get into with our philosophy, we have to
make sure we have the right people to run it.”
Bielema knew of Arkansas’ fall from preseason top 10 this
season, sending a letter of support to Long about how he handled
Petrino’s firing and the hiring of interim coach John L. Smith in
April. He knows now that the challenge is to rebuild.
”I’m never going to lie,” Bielema said. ”I’m never going to
make something look better than it is. We’re a 4-8 football team
that a lot of people thought were going to be great in the
beginning of the year and we weren’t.
”… But right now we’re going to embrace being the underdog.
We’re going to throw two arms around it. We’re going to kiss it and
make it feel good.”