This is an excerpt from a column I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas. You can read it in its entirety here.
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.
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."
Why is this important for the Razorbacks? I explain in the rest of the column.