Doc Harper: A New Side Of Bret Bielema

Razorback Fans See A New Side Of Bret Bielema At SEC Media Days

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I’m not suggesting I didn’t know Bret Bielema was passionate about being a football coach. You don’t accomplish everything he has with a whimsical, care-free attitude.

But what we’ve mostly seen from Bielema since he was hired in December has been a man enjoying a honeymoon period with an adoring throng of new fans. We’ve read stories about his love of reggae music and flip flops. He made the rounds on the booster club circuit, firing up fans with his lines such as how he didn’t come here to play in the SEC, he came here to win the SEC. He frequently interacts with fans on Twitter, sometimes offering words of praise regarding things going on with the team or recruiting, sometimes showing us pictures of him with his little dogs, sometimes retweeting pictures from fans loving their Razorbacks around the world.

Even when he fends off the haters on Twitter, it’s done in a dismissive, brushing dirt off his shoulder manner. He doesn’t engage them in some sort of drawn out fight. He’s smacking flies.

When he moved to the SEC, the obvious thing to question him about was his infamous “We don’t want to be like the SEC” line when he was still at Wisconsin. He’s been prepared to answer that with a fairly standard that-was-then-this-is-now response, and the topic usually dies there.

Criticism of his comments comparing his Big Ten record to Nick Saban’s, or criticism of the rankings of his recruiting classes were all brushed off on Twitter. Even when Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee said, potentially slanderously, that Barry Alvarez had called Bielema a “thug” we saw nothing but a couple of tweets and a harsh press release from Jeff Long defending Bielema.

New Side Of Bret Bielema

A New Side Of Bret Bielema Emerges At SEC Media Days

 

Yet, at SEC Media Days, when a reporter told Bielema that Gus Malzahn first thought Bielema’s notion regarding the safety of up-tempo football was a joke, we saw a new side of Bret Bielema that we haven’t seen since he became head coach at Arkansas.

His entire demeanor changed in an instant. He replied, “He thought it was a joke?” and a new side of Bret Bielema emerged. One that we haven’t see until now.

Gone was the usual stream-of-consciousness press conference. No more was the press conference a bland recitation of the Arkansas depth chart and how hard everybody worked in spring practice and offseason conditioning.  Bielema launched into an impassioned monologue about just how serious he actually was.  He didn’t become dismissive. He didn’t make a joke. He engaged fully and forcefully.

This was Bielema being challenged. He recognized that his credibility and integrity were being called into question by a fellow coach and he would need to stand firm. He didn’t respond with cheap jabs back at Malzahn, he never even brought him up.  Bielema essentially drew a line in the sand and said “This is who I am. This is what I believe. This is what I stand for, and I’ll fight for it.”

Whether Bielema is actually correct or not in his thoughts on up-tempo offenses is irrelevant. What matters is that Bielema took the criticism and challenged it head-on. Arguably, the closest we’ve seen to that type of fire from Bielema is from the Grantland article that documented how fired up Bielema can get in practice. That’s wonderful, but this was Bielema getting energized from a different perspective. This is how we can see Bielema reacting to news he didn’t necessarily want to hear. If a player admits to him he didn’t go to class or slacked off in practice, we can envision Bielema focusing the power of his entire being on that challenge and forcefully asking “you thought it  was a joke?”

In short, he took a punch and punched back.

That’s very important because arguably the most important factor for the Razorbacks this fall will be how they respond when faced with adversity.

The team has said all the right things since last year ended. They talk about this year being a fresh start and deleting 2012 from their minds. Bielema said he didn’t watch last year’s film when he started coaching here because he wanted a clean slate. That’s all well and good, but we won’t really know how much they’ve actually been able to establish a new mindset until they face challenges on the field.

By this point in the summer, we’ve all analyzed the upcoming schedule to death. We know about the brutal middle third of the season and that Arkansas is a double-digit underdog against four teams in a row. Most likely, how we remember this season will be defined by how well the Razorbacks come out of October and, if they lose those games, how they respond in November. If they begin to fold after a tough loss or two, the season could end very poorly. If they keep fighting with the understanding that they can win a few games in November, then the season can end with a bowl game.

We know how vital this is because we saw last year what happens without leadership. Arkansas was actually pretty successful in the 1st quarter throughout the season last year, but everything would fell apart when the opponents would begin to strike back. John L. Smith all but officially ceded leadership of the team to the players, and it led to disaster.

That’s why installing that sense of fight is just as important for Bielema as installing plays and schemes. There will be times this year when the Hogs will get knocked down, and the issue then will be how they respond to it.

An old saying is that teams are reflections of their coaches. If this new side of Bret Bielema is any indication, we can look forward to the team standing up and fighting back, and that should be refreshing, and a lot of fun to watch this fall.

Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Expats and a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas.  You can email him at heydocharper@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

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17 Responses to “Doc Harper: A New Side Of Bret Bielema”

  1. NewYorkHogFan
    July 22, 2013 at 7:45 am #

    Nice job, Doc. Well written.

  2. Senatobia
    July 22, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    I think Gordon Gee has a better perspective.

    Beilema will cram his oversized foot in his mouth soon enough and you’ll look stupid for writing this fluff piece.

    • Drew F.
      July 22, 2013 at 10:52 am #

      Gordon Gee’s “perspective” is why he’s out of a job.

    • Boston
      July 22, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

      Idiot alert. Senatobia is proof that one doesn’t need a brain to talk or write.

      • Senatobia
        July 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

        Keep on drinking the Kool-Aid ya bunch of lemmings.

  3. Doc Harper
    July 22, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    Keep in mind this is not a piece proclaiming “Bielema will be successful at Arkansas because of this.”

    It’s much more saying “here’s what Bielema has to do to be successful”

    Big, big difference. Whether he’s successful in implementing that mindset to the team is something we’ll just have to wait and see.

    • Football fan
      July 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

      Every hog fan is grasping for anything positive to come out of Beleiema’s mouth. Its gonna be another rough season no matter what he says. If you can’t see the writing on the wall, I feel sorry for you and your hopeless dreams. Maybe he will turn it around in a few years but seriously….. you MAY beat MSU and that’s no guarantee.

      PS. I dont give a crap how his name is spelled.

  4. stAte
    July 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    In my totally unbiased opinion, it takes superior talent on the OL and DL to win using the style that Bielema employs. I don’t know that he can recruit the kind of talent that is required to compete at the top level of the SEC with his style. I am sure things will be better than they were last year but probably not where they were headed under Petrino.

    • Drew F.
      July 26, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

      Since January, without ever having coached a game, Bielema has managed to sign a top-10 offensive guard, a top-15 offensive tackle out of Miami (with Miami and FSU offers), and a top-50 offensive tackle who chose the Hogs over Ohio State. He already has DT Bijhon Jackson committed for 2014, a good shot to land Josh Frazier, and just picked up a pledge today from a 4-star JUCO OT (who also picked the Hogs over Ohio State).

      Your concerns about his ability to recruit talent on the lines may be unfounded.

  5. brian
    July 22, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    Coach B talks too much. And his holier than thou statement against hurry up offenses is silly…and his opinion was all based on ’1 guy sent me an email’. Get real. Dumb statement and logic…but I’m a hog fan and hope he brings us back to glory quickly. The only thing that will matter is if he beats the hurry up offenses on the field.

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