Chris Bahn: Bielema’s Razorback Spring Practice Policies Fine For Now

With Arkansas football spring practice just a few days from its official start, it seemed like an appropriate time to do one of those “5 questions entering spring practice” columns.

As it turns out, a single question — a philosophical one that man has pondered for years — might be more appropriate: If a practice happens in the stadium and no fans or media are around to see it, did it really happen?

If nobody in a Hog hat can sneak iPhone video of Julian Horton matched up against Tevin Mitchel in pass skeleton drills, if media can’t chart every snap delivered by the second-team center … then what does it all mean? Why are we here, man?

Bret Bielema’s decision to close down spring practice access has naturally been met with some criticism and skepticism by fans and media. There are, of course, complaints from message board Joe and Twitter land, and even a protest in the featured-columnist spot at the statewide daily.

What makes it so curious for a lot of folks is that Bielema’s predecessor (well, the predecessor to his predecessor) was pretty liberal with his spring practice policies. Those tended to be wide open for fans and media despite how iron-fisted and secretive Bobby Petrino seemed to be.

Bielema was viewed as the anti-Petrino, friendly and approachable. He was going to be the guy who offered you the rest of his large catch at the Catfish Hole, instead of just glaring at you while you worked up the courage to ask for an autograph. Because of Bielema’s personality in public appearances — he’s come off a lot like the fun-time, beer swilling, joke-telling insurance salesman buddy whose house you went to for the Super Bowl — folks just took for granted that he was going to operate his program in a wide-open manner.

Bret Bielema with Hugh Elementary Students in El Dorado

Bret Bielema with Hugh Goodwin Elementary Students in El Dorado


What got lost in the toasts on Dickson and roasts of his assistants during public appearances is that Bielema is getting paid to coach football. It’s up to him to figure out how to best prepare for Nick Saban and Les Miles and Kevin Sumlin and Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn and all the other guys trying to figure out how to run the Southeastern Conference’s consecutive national title streak to eight.

It’s a tough task.

Because of his success at Wisconsin and because of how he’s conducted himself so far, Bielema deserves the benefit of the doubt at this point. If he thinks the team needs closed practices in the spring, then why not?

Side note: it does always humor me to hear coaches talk about eliminating the distraction of fans and media in the stands during practices, like there won’t be 101,821 fans at Bryant-Denny or 92,542 in Death Valley to distract from the task at hand. More than anything I’m sure Bielema just wants a chance to evaluate his players in peace with no outside play-by-play on every snap of practice filtering back to players.

Media will get some access throughout the spring, so there will be updates, just fewer of them. Fans still have a chance to see the Red-White game on April 20. Perhaps not having practice wide-open all spring will boost attendance at the spring game? Maybe this gives fans the incentive to fill the stands in April the way other SEC powers do.

But this is more about competing with those SEC schools in the fall than in the spring.

Think back to the day Bielema was hired. He wasn’t all jokes and pig farming stories.

Bielema spoke that day about wanting to give the Razorbacks something they’d never had before. Fans have never seen an SEC title and Bielema is working to make that a reality.

If the guy puts some hardware on display in the football museum, nobody will mind they can’t get an extended look at Razorback spring practice.

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  • dmartig

    closing practice has nothing to do with winning or losing, distrations or evaluating players. nolan richardson won a national championship with open practices, as did frank. this has to do with paranoia being the new normal

    • Hawgfan100

      Well, it’s certainly not the ‘new normal’ on message boards.

  • Mark Carter

    Good stuff….but. “Maybe this gives fans the incentive to fill the stands in April the way other SEC powers do.”

    I think it should be the other way around. Here’s the 2012 SEC spring game attendance numbers for each school (in 2011, the 42k at the Red-White game was fifth best in the league).

    Alabama: 78,526
    Arkansas: 45,250
    Auburn: 43,427
    Florida: 38,100
    Georgia: 44,117
    Kentucky: 4,500
    LSU: 33,000
    Ole Miss: 25,000
    Mississippi State: 22,604
    Missouri: 18,614
    South Carolina: 34,513
    Tennessee: 35,421
    Texas A&M: 15,000
    Vanderbilt: 8,500

    Again, we seem to right up there with the SEC powers in spring game attendance.

    • CBahn

      Mark, that’s a one-year sample. Traditionally the attendance has not been comparable. Perhaps I could have worded that better.

  • David W.

    There is a reason he’s the guy we picked to be the head coach. I say we trust him a little bit. I have no doubt he wants to meet these kids and see how they react to his practices and philosophies without having to also have to answer questions about it at the same time. This is going to be a learning process for us as fans and for the players and our program the next couple years. Lets all be patient.

  • Will

    It’s actually Hugh Goodwin, not “Hugh” where Bielema is pictured. Since I went there, I couldn’t let that pass.

    • Thanks for the catch. Updated with correct school name now.

  • Tx-Travler

    I like it that he is at a school and spends at least a photo op with the younger kids. And seems to be a “natural” when interacting with the public. That goes a long way to help attract players and program support. I suspect that considering what happened to the Hogs last year and the fact he is new along with a mostly new staff; the closed practices is a way to implement his “system”. The spring game will tell us a lot about where he and the team is going. And if they can win the season games, I’m all for it.