This is a column I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas. You can read it in its entirety here.
It wasn’t unexpected that Bret Bielema’s lines about Alabama and Nick Saban became national news for a week. The same people who ripped him for being too brash are the same people who ridiculously debated whether or not South Carolina defensive end Jadaveon Clowney should sit out his junior season to prepare for the 2014 NFL Draft.
The uproar caused Bielema to explain that he’d "be more guarded" going forward. It’s an understandable reaction, but I have to ask, is that even possible? I’m not sure Bielema has it in him. And even if he can, he probably shouldn’t.
Bielema has been criticized for things he’s said before, and he hasn’t toned down his act yet. As Jim Harris noted last week, his comments about Urban Meyer bringing SEC recruiting tactics to the Big 10 was roundly ridiculed. His willingness to needlessly respond to biligerent fans on twitter is well-documented. He isn’t afraid to run up the score on helpless opponents. He’s big. He’s bold. He doesn’t hold back. That’s who he is. That’s what got him this far. And now he says he wants to tone it down because of some meaningless offseason heat brought on by touting his own record?
If anything, Bielema should be more brazen. Not only is his Big 10 record much better than Nick Saban’s and almost every other Big 10 coach in history, but he’s a whopping 18 years younger than Saban. He probably hasn’t even hit the prime of his coaching career, and he’s already earned trips to three Rose Bowls, he’s already been the head coach of 22 players picked in the NFL Draft, and he was the hand-picked successor of a local legend in Madison. And then you know what Bielema did?
He left because, even though he accomplished all those things, he couldn’t afford to keep has assistants. He left because, even though he accomplished all those things, he had one of the smallest recruiting budgets in all of BCS-level football. And in just a few months, Bielema has been able to keep offensive line coach Sam Pittman from leaving to join Nick Saban, and put together a higher-ranked recruiting class than any of his Wisconsin classes.
The number of coaches in college football history who can compare to Bielema’s record at his age (he’s 43) is very small. The odds of Bielema or any other coach winning four national titles is also very small, but Bielema is on track to have a very successful career. That’s exactly what Bielema should be trumpeting as loudly as he can. He should let every recruit know about it. He should let every donor know about it. UA should make sure every reporter knows it.
Of course, we’re not saying Bielema is a better coach right now than Nick Saban. There’s no denying Nick Saban has Alabama squarely at the top of college football, and there are multiple SEC schools closer to the mountaintop than Arkansas at the moment, but Bielema didn’t leave Wisconsin to keep the Arkansas program where it is.