Jim Harris: Bielema Spells Out Future Plans Plainly for Razorbacks


First, we need to address what a lot of reporters tend to confuse: a determination if a coach is interested in a job, and a downright offer of the job. All athletic directors first determine who is interested in the job, and they determine how strong the mutual interest is, before ever a job offer is extended.

Footballscoop.com, an Internet rumor mill about coaches for coaches and fans, wanted the world to believe that Bret Bielema was Nebraska’s top target for the Cornhuskers’ job opening. And, that idea, it makes complete sense, because Bielema won at Wisconsin and can build a program that should be able to win what looks to be a rather weak Big Ten West Division (which Wisconsin, coincidentally, won this year). It also makes complete sense that Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst would try to determine if Bielema had any interest, because both worked together when Bielema was Wisconsin’s head coach and Eichorst was an assistant athletic director for Barry Alvarez.

But Bielema didn’t have interest in moving, and this was probably more likely expressed through his agent, and he wasn’t offered the job.

When Oregon State’s Mike Riley expressed interest that he wanted the job, the AD was ready to offer and the two sides set down for an agreement.

An AD’s offer isn’t made until the coach has agreed he’ll accept. That way, coaches who are mentioned for all these jobs can deny a connection, and athletic directors can happily say they got the man they sought.

But asking a coach if he’d be interested is not offering the job. This isn’t football recruiting, where coaches throw out dozens and dozens of scholarship offers seeing who will take it. The process is to determine which coach will take the job, then it’s offered.

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This will no doubt happen for Arkansas again: the sudden urgency all around the state, on message boards and radio talk shows and TV that the head coach might suddenly be leaving. If and when the Iowa job comes open next year or two years or whenever, the FootballScoop.coms of the world will proclaim Bielema No. 1 on Iowa’s list. It makes complete sense. It’s 2 plus 2 equals 4, so it must be true, Bielema the chosen one returning to his alma mater, where he arrived as a walk-on, became a starter in the defensive line, and then coached under Hayden Fry. We’ll hear they are in talks, even if they aren’t. We’ll also hear he was offered the job, but he turned it down.

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Unless Bret Bielema wakes up one day and realizes the SEC West mountain is impossible to climb at Arkansas, he will turn down all the overtures, even the ones that seem most sensible to pull him away from here. The guy is too stubborn not to; much too determined to not just compete in the SEC but win a championship to return to old haunts and win what he’s won before.

The coach has a plan that has been obvious if one has followed the recruiting successes of the past two classes and is taking note of what’s happening this year. And, for the first time since 2008, which benefited Bobby Petrino’s run to success in his third and fourth years, Arkansas is producing perhaps double the typical output of SEC-level talent in this senior class of high school players, which will help immensely.

No matter what conference it has played in, Southwest or Southeastern, Arkansas’s successes have directly correlated with the production of talent within the state’s borders.

There are those who theorize that Texas recruits are what have made Arkansas successful, and that is no doubt part of the equation. But it’s the in-state recruiting classes of 1970 or 2000 or even perhaps some of the more recent in-state hauls that have precipitated drastic drop-offs on the field for the Razorbacks.

The 1970 class is unlikely to be topped for recruiting futility in Arkansas history, and realized that it came together while Arkansas coaches will game-planning for Texas in the fabled 1969 “Big Shootout.” Attention must not have been on the future beyond Dec. 6. The state was down; Orville Henry once wrote long after the fact that of the Texas blue-chips targeted in that class, Frank Broyles and staff went 0-for-12. Only three signees out of 50 would make significant contributions through their senior seasons, according to research by longtime recruiting follower Steve Wright when he was writing for HawgsIllustrated. Stars and rankings aside, everybody knew there was a problem in the fall of 1970, when Wilson Matthews, the freshman coach, called Broyles from Stillwater, Okla., where the Shoats (freshmen weren’t eligible for varsity ball) were playing Oklahoma State’s freshmen. “Frank, I had to call, the score is 56-0. Their favor.” “Oh, well, that’s not good,” Broyles was reported to have said, to which Matthews added, “By the way, it’s halftime.”

Houston Nutt’s 2000 class was recruited off the success of beating defending national champ Tennessee and then Texas in the Cotton Bowl, and ironically turned out to be his worst. Brandon Holmes was maybe the best of the bunch, and 13 signees were already gone before their second year in Fayetteville. If you want to understand why Nutt asked Broyles after the 2003 season for a two-year pass when he supposedly had Nebraska’s AD waiting on an airport tarmac to take him back to Lincoln, Neb., it starts with that 2000 class.

Which brings us to Bielema, who has made the most of his first two classes with out-of-state signees who have already played significant snaps. Now, he gets to enjoy the benefits of size and speed from 10 Arkansas stars that have committed to sign in this class. As many as seven total may be enrolled by January to go through spring drills.

Bielema has built it first in the trenches with offensive linemen and added more defensive linemen to the few good ones Petrino has brought in (Darius Philon, a huge steal when Alabama over-signed its class three years ago, don’t you think?)

He’s added speed at receiver in this recruiting class, the most obvious deficiency at Missouri (next to a quarterback dealing with an oblique injury; those keep Major League Baseball players on the disabled list for weeks). The Hogs are bringing in more defensive backs and linebackers to continue bringing a defense, now well-coached by Robb Smith and staff, up to SEC speed.

Bielema took a year of humiliation in the league last year; this season, national eyes were on a resurgence of the program in just year two, with the Razorbacks battling closely everyone, including Alabama, and thumping LSU and Ole Miss late in the year at home.

The next step is winning on the road. Some have paralleled the program’s improvement to the way Petrino built his Hogs over years one through three. Those Hogs couldn’t win on the road in year two, but then turned the corner with two close SEC road wins in year three.

Bielema’s program has the makings of doing the same next season when the Hogs travel to Tennessee, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU. Are there two wins there? Can they continue what we saw against LSU and Ole Miss and make SEC teams dread the trip into Fayetteville? Can they turn the A&M series in Arlington, Texas, back Arkansas’s way, where Petrino had it?

Anyhow, you don’t give a Nebraska job much consideration when all that’s in front of you, as Bielema finds it.

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Fans can check out two of the Razorbacks’ in-state commitments Saturday at noon at War Memorial Stadium when Fayetteville and Bentonville meet for the Class 7A state championship. Safety Dre Greenlaw and tight end C.J. O’Grady will be playing for Fayetteville.

Pine Bluff has some talent that will be recruited next year, and the Zebras are at War Memorial against Benton on tonight at 7. If the teams can even come close to duplicating their regular season finale, won by Benton 39-36 on a last-second field goal, the game will be entertaining, to say the least.

Junction City is everybody’s favorite to return to next week’s Class 2A state title game, and that means athletic defensive end Jamario Bell will be performing for the Dragons.

bret bielema pregame

Bret Bielema pregame. (Copyright Mark Wagner 2014)


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