clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Bret Bielema Finally Embraced At SEC Media Days

New, 11 comments

After two years of skepticism and doubt, the rest of the conference seems to be joining Arkansas in BieleMania.

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Razorback fans accepted Bret Bielema almost immediately when he was hired in December 2012. It wasn't hard and, frankly, it didn't take much. After nearly a year in football purgatory, we craved any semblance of stability and positive trajectory, which he instantly provided.

It didn't hurt that he also said nearly all the right things. Bielema seemed to take to Arkansas and all of our traditions and culture as much as fans took to him. That's not to say some fans weren't a tad hesitant during that tortuous 2013 season, but by and large there was faith things would get better.

Outside the state, however, Bielema faced doubt and skepticism at nearly every turn and often was in a position in which he had to defend himself and the program.

"He thought it was a joke? I'm not a comedian." That line from SEC Media Days 2013 is basically what started the entire Bielema vs Malzahn narrative that still lives on today.

Indeed, much of those first two years were spent defending comments about concerns over the hurry-up no-huddle offense associated with coaches like Malzahn. When Bielema failed to win an SEC game in 2013, further comments and an attempt to alter the snap rules were seen by people around the country as whining and a desperate attempt to gain a competitive advantage. Whatever Bielema's motivations, it was clear he was losing the public perception battle.

Of course, many around the league took great pleasure in making the coach of consecutive Big Ten champions look as ridiculous as a full sweatsuit in 100-degree heat. He couldn't work in the SEC because he was a Big Ten guy at his core. His style of play was too Big Ten. He said something derogatory about SEC recruiting while he was in the Big Ten so he won't be able to cut it recruiting in the SEC. He went 0-8 in the SEC in Year 1 and he'll likely be 0-16 after two years.

These were all things people were saying about Bielema or asking him about during the last couple of SEC Media Days. But as fate would have it, Bielema's fortunes changed while blowing out Ole Miss, Texas, and LSU (and giving Alabama, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State all they could handle).

The pace of play debate subsided, and now that more and more schools are adapting to some sort of hurry-up spread offense, Arkansas now features the unique offense for which teams have make special preparations. Bielema represents a power offense dominated by hulking offensive linemen, tight ends, and fullbacks. That's the program's identity during the Bielema era, and nowhere is that more evident than the portrait of the starting linemen on the cover of Arkansas' media guide - normally a spot reserved for coaches, quarterbacks, and speedsters.

In a game becoming more and more dominated by speed, Bielema is sticking to his original philosophy of power. He's embraced and loves to promote lineman culture. They're throwing touchdowns, they sit in first class on the team charter, they get the media guide cover. It's what two years ago was widely derided as Bielema's "normal American football." It's what I like to call "High T Football". After winning those games, questions about style of play were at this year's Media Days were few to none, and if there were any, none of those answers generated viral soundbites.

With little concern about Bielema being desperate or whiny or arrogant, many in the national media were able to see what those of us in Arkansas have seen for the last  couple of years: that Bielema is genuinely likable and pretty good at what he does. Just look at this sampling of tweets about Bielema from media outside the state:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Bret Bielema’s different – just what the SEC needs <a href="http://t.co/95TBvN00aN">http://t.co/95TBvN00aN</a></p>&mdash; Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) <a href="https://twitter.com/JoshatTheState/status/621666349610311680">July 16, 2015</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">SEC Notebook: Fun-loving Bret Bielema deserves success at Arkansas <a href="http://t.co/vg5Bl7jNNB">http://t.co/vg5Bl7jNNB</a> via <a href="https://twitter.com/CBSSports">@cbssports</a></p>&mdash; CFAA (@CFAAEliteClips) <a href="https://twitter.com/CFAAEliteClips/status/621665510082613249">July 16, 2015</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Bielema is as entertaining as we pretend Spurrier still is</p>&mdash; Connor Tapp (@MeetMeAtTapps) <a href="https://twitter.com/MeetMeAtTapps/status/621422827019837440">July 15, 2015</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I would go work for Bret Bielema right now. Dude just gets it. All of it.</p>&mdash; Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) <a href="https://twitter.com/Chandler_Rome/status/621408858003472384">July 15, 2015</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Marcus Spears after Bret Bielema’s press conference: “I feel like a better man after hearing him.&quot;</p>&mdash; CoachingSearch.com (@coachingsearch) <a href="https://twitter.com/coachingsearch/status/621410322558156800">July 15, 2015</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">When Saban retires can we hire BERT? I&#39;m aroused at this prospect.</p>&mdash; Erik  (@gothlaw) <a href="https://twitter.com/gothlaw/status/621431265854668800">July 15, 2015</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Between the recent success on the field and the lack of "death certificates" blunders off it, Bielema's quickly becoming a media darling. It's not just about buzz for this season's Razorbacks (although it certainly helps) but it's more about the accepting of Bielema, his style, and personality.

Rebuilding a program is not easy, but it's even more so when doing it against a flood of jokes and criticism. Bielema's past that. Now he's accepted and even embraced. At least in theory, that should make things easier in the future.

#BERTLYFE