After Further Review Hog Fans on Board with Bielema

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An eight-month long coaching search kept Arkansas fans busy. As the 2012 season turned into a raging dumpster fire, it was much more interesting to tune into to Monday Night Football to see what color tie Jon Gruden sported.

By Week 3 it was time to bone up on Boise State coach Chris Petersen, and learn more about the power struggle that could send Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy to Fayetteville. With each passing loss there was a candidate added or discarded. Art Briles, James Franklin and Tommy Tuberville and the list went on and on and on.

There was news of a potential Les Miles offer and then subsequent raise at LSU. After months and months of speculation and a multitude of whiffs by bloggers and wanna-be journalists, the natives were restless.

Finally, a week ago there was a report by ESPN that Arkansas had landed its man — Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema. Who?

The Dean of Arkansas sportswriters, Harry King, admitted he had to Google the spelling of the coach’s name. Thirty minutes after the report I had received 10 texts from family and friends asking, “Who is this guy, and why did we hire him?”

By the time we began taking calls on the Shawn Arnell Show that afternoon, many had done their homework. They had seen the sparkling record at Wisconsin and the three straight Rose Bowl appearances the Badgers recorded. There was a cautious optimism heard in most calls.

My advice to the listeners, keep an open mind and give the guy a chance. It may not have been the conventional hire, but his track record equaled or surpassed the names that had fans salivating for months.

A day after the announcement Arkansas fans heard from Bielema at the introductory press conference. That’s when the cloud of doubt disappeared. It’s hard for Hog fans not to become enamored with a guy who grew up on a pig farm. It’s hard not to pull for a walk-on who played through a torn ACL.

One by one, he answered questions with anecdotes from his life. He was humble and funny, and down to earth. He made a connection.

More importantly he addressed some glaring concerns. For those that worry about his ability to recruit the South, he was quick to point out that three-fourths of the Wisconsin secondary hails from Texas. For the critics that question his devotion to the running game Bielema pulled stats that supported the balance his Badgers maintained while being known for dominating linemen and bruising backs. He also added that Wisconsin was one of the least-penalized teams in the country.

So, the guy was a self-made success on the field, dominated the Big 10 as a coach, stresses attention to detail, thinks he can lead Arkansas to its first SEC title and has a smoking hot wife. Can you say, home run?

The callers on Wednesday night’s show were nearly all positive. Bielema had clearly won the press conference. There was take after take lauding the surprising and gutsy call by Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long. Even Long’s most vocal critic, “Forrest City Joe,” chimed in to offer his congratulations for luring Bielema to Fayetteville.

A week later, the optimism continues to rise as it is revealed that Bielema is pursuing big-time recruits with the vigor that he chased ball carriers as a Hawkeye. It didn’t take him long to visit with North Little Rock star running back Altee Tenpenny, who is committed to Alabama. There have been plenty of other stops along the recruiting trail in his short tenure.

Soon there will be announcement of coordinators and staff. Razorback faithful hope there are at least a couple of coaches with Texas ties included. Others hope defensive line coach Bobby Allen, whose two sons (Brandon and Austin) are talented quarterbacks, is retained along with recruiting coordinator Tim Horton, the former Hog who is a hit with in-state prep coaches.

I’m convinced Bielema’s bandwagon gets even more crowded with the announcement of a staff, the potential for an improved recruiting class, and the unveiling of the squad during the Red/White game this spring. The attention to detail and order that will be evident during those workouts and scrimmages will be much appreciated after the disastrous three-ring circus that John L. Smith orchestrated.

The tide may continue to turn during the season, although the rigorous schedule is going to make it tough to contend. Hog fans don’t want to settle for 7-5 and a bowl game, but after a series of beatings and an abysmal 4-8 record it would be an accomplishment. It’s definitely possible if Bielema can get a core group of returning players to buy in and improve.

While no one is making room for an SEC title banner just yet, most agree that the former pig farmer is the right man for the job.

Arkansas Razorbacks Head Coach Bret Bielema
Courtesy Walt Beazley

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