"Probably doesn't need to be said in here how much I hate Auburn." - Bielema.— Eric Bolin (@ericwbolin) August 29, 2015
We're finally just laying it out there.
No more claims of friendliness. No more saying the rivalry between Bret Bielema and Auburn is a phony media narrative. Bielema made that statement at the Razorback Football Kickoff Dinner, in front of fans and media members. He's hinted at it before. He recently said that playing Auburn following a bye week this season "makes my heart smile," but he's never been this blunt about it before. From Bolin's report on the dinner:
The Arkansas coach is hardly afraid of speaking his mind. He knew the media were gathered Friday night. Television cameras lined the back of the room directly across from where he spoke at the podium. The day-to-day print folks gathered at a table nearby.
The words were calculated. They were moderately tongue-in-cheek, but definitely purposeful.
It should be noted that Bielema didn't say anything about Gus Malzahn by name, and the two are probably perfectly able to be professional and pleasant when they interact in person, but since that is his program we're talking about, there's clearly something there.
If nothing else, this should help create some extra buzz surrounding Arkansas/Auburn games going forward. Fayetteville is already predicted to be a possible landing spot for College GameDay the week of the game, and this probably won't hurt those odds.
The whole storyline began before either coached their first SEC game. At SEC Media Days in 2013, one of the big topics was Bielema's insistence that hurry-up offenses created a higher risk of injury. When Malzahn was asked about it, he said he thought it was a joke. When Bielema spoke later and was asked about Malzahn's response, he said, tersely, "He thought it was a joke? I'm not a comedian." He then went on to preach about the importance of keeping players safe.
Since then, there have been several, albeit mostly minor, incidents feeding into the storyline.
On the field, an act of gamesmanship spiced up a showdown in Fayetteville.
Just days after Bielema voiced concerns over game film provided by Auburn, he used a swinging gate formation to pick up a crucial first down on fourth-and-3 late in the third quarter.
The play used was similar to the swinging-gate formation Auburn used on point-after attempts, which Bielema said was omitted from Auburn's game film. Was it a show of gamesmanship by Bielema in the 35-17 loss to Auburn?
"No," Bielema said at the time. "You guys read too much into that. No, we didn't even call it a swinging gate. It's called Field Goal Buehner because (Brian) Buehner is in there."
Moments later, Auburn linebacker Anthony Swain looked to the sideline and tumbled suddenly to the turf and grabbed his right knee. The tumble drew the attention of ESPN broadcasters, who questioned the validity of the injury.
"No," Malzahn responded when asked about the fall. "We don't tell our kids to fake."
Bielema voiced concerns to the SEC earlier in the week when Auburn, he said, failed to include a wide angle view of one of the Tigers' 2-point conversion sets, which it calls "Batman," before the Tigers' trip to Razorback Stadium.
The rivalry seemed to cool down when the Hogs and Tigers opened the season in 2014. Auburn pulled out of a 21-21 tie at halftime to win 45-21.
But in that 2014 game at Auburn, and with the game tied at halftime, the elevators that were supposed to take the Arkansas coaches from the box to the locker room mysteriously malfunctioned, preventing the Arkansas coaches from reaching the locker room to work with players in person. They had to use phones. The incident drew plenty of mocking commentary in the days after the game, but if that had happened in the Iron Bowl, there would already be a 30 for 30 made about it.
Of course, the fact that Malzahn first truly made a name for himself in Northwest Arkansas as a high school coach and Arkansas' offensive coordinator in 2006, creating an extremely loyal following in the Razorbacks' home region that has lasted even after Malzahn became the coach at Auburn, helps fuel everything as well.
Seems like this will be a conversation that lasts as long as both men hold their jobs.