This is an excerpt of a column I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas. Read it in its entirety here for further elaboration and context of the situation Bielema inherited.
One of the worst things Razorback fans can do for themselves right now is compare Bret Bielema to the other new SEC coaches. It’s an inaccurate, unfair comparison, and it’s one that will only take Hog fans to an even higher level of despondent insanity.
Simply comparing the performances of teams with new head coaches like they all started with a blank slate is superficial. Whenever a new coach takes on a new program, the coach always inherits whatever the last guy left behind. Every program is a different situation.
Kevin Sumlin inherited a very talented team at Texas A&M. Remember how the Aggies blew all those halftime leads in 2011? Then he was the beneficiary of grooming a lightly recruited high school quarterback who turned out to be one of the best ever in college football. It’s literally nothing like Arkansas’ roster situation. The Razorback quarterbacks were also lightly recruited (although higher-rated), but they’re as far away from Johnny Manziel as humility.
Sure, Hugh Freeze has done a great job at Ole Miss. But that first year turnaround many fawn over? He took advantage of historically awful Arkansas and Auburn teams and beat Mississippi State. The other three wins came against cupcakes. He hardly lit the world on fire. Freeze was able to follow that up with a good recruiting class and now they’re a respectable program. However, they, like Arkansas, were still shut out against Alabama. Although they allowed about half the points Arkansas allowed.
Gus Malzahn is really a first year coach in name only, considering his heavy involvement in putting that roster together as the offensive coordinator. Because of that fact, many people suspected he’d see the most immediate success of any of the new coaches. This would be like Arkansas’ situation if Bielema was a Petrino assistant and spent three years putting his type of players on Arkansas’ roster, and now those players are ready to go for him. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but the only players Bielema put on Arkansas’ roster are the true freshmen and the few junior college players he signed. The remaining 75%-ish of the roster were recruited for a different type of football. Clearly an unusual, foreign type.
And don’t forget what happened to Malzahn in 2011 when Auburn had to rely on a bad quarterback. They were mediocre only because of a good running game, and were putrid in 2012. Not even the Great Gus could turn Kiehl Frazier into a competent SEC quarterback. Malzahn even moved Frazier from quarterback to safety and then to wide receiver this season.